Employee Engagement – Why bother?

Employee Engagement is one of those topics that sparks a variety of views and perceptions. On the one hand you have those who support it and see the benefits of investing time and money in improving employee engagement within their organisation. On the other hand you have those who see it as a waste of time and energy, with very little business benefit.  However, given the current economic environment, when organisations are looking to reduce business costs and overheads, many are seeing employee engagement as a key enabler.

So, how does employee engagement work?

Consultant organisations will tell you there are a number of ‘drivers’ to show organisations how they can go about engaging their people and how it can be measured. Examples of common key drivers include:

  • Understanding the business strategy and objectives
  • The relationship between the employee and their line manager
  • The leadership skills of senior business managers within the organisation
  • How employees are recognised and/or rewarded
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities and how these fit with business strategy
  • Employee pride in the organisation and how they are treated

Key drivers are normally measured via surveys; carried out by independent research organisations to ensure anonymity. Statements are used to assess the extent to which employees agree or disagree with them. Scores are then given against the responses to provide a baseline for each driver. Future surveys use the same statements so that a comparison can be drawn to measure any improvement or decline in engagement.

How does an organisation go about engaging its employees?

It is vital to do some benchmarking of other successful organisations to understand how they have approached employee engagement and the resources involved in supporting their initiatives. The idea is not to copy, but to take inspiration, as essentially you will need to go with an approach that supports the values and culture of your own organisation. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Most importantly, the organisation must be prepared to take the results of any survey seriously; being open with the workforce on the results and trying to involve as many people as possible in developing actions/improvement plans to help improve the organisation and move forward. The organisation must also be prepared to make any necessary changes in order to meet the expectations they have set out to employees.

How are changes made as a result of any survey communicated?

The internal communications team play a vital role here. They ensure any business changes implemented, as a result of employee engagement, are communicated effectively and efficiently to the organisation at large. It is important to monitor these communications, to ensure that their messages remain consistent and do not getting fragmented or diluted when communicated down the line. This increases the value and integrity of the survey and any subsequent focus-group activities, ensuring that employees understand that ‘they said and you did’.

Who should lead employee engagement?

Human Resources (HR) are normally the enablers of this type of initiative but essential there must be buy-in from senior leadership down through the entire management structure, to avoid line managers resisting any actions coming from the first set of survey results as well as any future support for improvement.

Is there a right way to do it?

There is no right or wrong answer on the approach to employee engagement, but one thing is important to remember in ensuring any success; it must support the overall business and people strategies of the organisation in order to be truly effective and trusted by the workforce at all levels.

If all this is in place, how does employee engagement improve the bottom line?

Firstly, research will show that engaged employees are less likely to leave an organisation, so recruitment and training costs are reduced.  Secondly, they are less likely to build up high absence rates, so sick pay and temporary cover is reduced. Thirdly, they will also be more productive, thus increasing output and profits and reducing overtime costs. Finally, they are more likely to support change and help the organisation move forward to meet the changing requirements of the markets in which they operate.

Engaged employees generally feel more in control of their work, their career and their future job prospects and have a good relationship with the organisation’s management community. All this, quite simply, improves the bottom line profits!

How much does all this cost?

This will depend on your starting point and the time and effort needed to kick-start the process and activities. Normally there is a cost to setting up an engagement survey and for carrying out further surveys. There are also costs in employees attending workshops or focus groups as part of action planning, but these costs should be self-funding from the improvement in the bottom line.  One thing is clear, for most organisations, this is not a short-term fix. In most cases a timeline of around 2-4 years (depending on the size of the organisation) is required to embed employee engagement in to everyday life and reap the business benefits.

So, is it worth bothering with employee engagement?

If you search on the internet you will not have to look far to find details of numerous studies carried out by consultant organisations on the benefits of employee engagement. All of them will confirm there is a link between an engaged workforce and an improvement in business bottom line profits of between 5% to 20%.

Remember, it does not matter what size organisation you work in. Employee engagement can be just as effective in small organisations as large ones if it is carried out seriously and with the full support of management at all levels of the organisation.  Most organisations in the FSTE Top 100 will have an employee engagement strategy in place, supported by funding and resources. Most will have changed many of their practices as a result of issues highlighted by their employees and corrective actions implemented to improve engagement.  Certainly they will all have looked at employee engagement as an enabler to business performance and would have tailored their approach to support their organisation’s business strategy and vision.

*Alan has over 30 years’ experience in the management field having spent the last 15 years in Human Resources and currently as an HR Director for Thales.