There is little doubt that employee engagement is an important issue for those in Human Resource Management and leadership roles, and it is a topic of conversation in many organizations today.
In a nutshell, employee engagement means:
The employees’ willingness to go above and beyond what is required in their role to help the company achieve its goals. It is the commitment employees feel to the organization, the passion they have for the work and the discretionary effort they are willing to put in.
The X Model of engagement by BlessingWhite provides a compelling overview of what engagement means for employees and the organization Check out the BlessingWhite Model here.
Engaged employees speak positively about the organization they work for. They are committed, stay longer with a company, and they are inspired to do their best work every day. Isn’t that what we want for our organizations? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves?
While we nod an resounding YES to these questions, we know from experience that creating a work environment where employees remain engaged and go above and beyond is not just a one-time initiative but requires ongoing focus from leaders and HR professionals.
The State of Employee Engagement
According to Gallup, an American research based consulting company, only 32% of employees in the US are engaged. Globally, the numbers are even more dismal with only 13% of employees being engaged at work1. This means, that most of our employees are not contributing fully in the workplace.
Engagement is an Inside Job
The best way to have engaged employees is to hire them.
In his writings about motivation, Daniel Pink, famous management thinker and author, finds that high employee engagement is primarily an inside job. Engaged people are intrinsically motivated. They get inherent satisfaction from doing the work itself. They have an internal force that drives them to achieve personal and company goals, and they do not depend on outside rewards such as compensation or manager feedback for their motivation.
However, we know that the problem is not with new employees. They are generally engaged. They are excited about their new role, the organization and the opportunity to grow and learn. It is employees who have been in their job for a while that tend to become disengaged and turn positive energy into negative attitudes or behaviour over time. So, the question is: what stands in the way of employees remaining engaged in their workplace?
If engagement is an inside job, and we can’t make people “be engaged”, what can organizations do to help employees stay engaged during the entire employment relationship? Willis Towers Watson, a global advisory company, introduces the term sustainable engagement in their 2012 global workplace study expanding employee engagement from the traditional definition to include two additional terms:
Enablement – a work environment that provides the necessary resources and supports productivity. 2
Energy – a work experience that promotes health and wellbeing.2
In our ever changing and demanding work environments, employees may be engaged and willing to invest their discretionary efforts toward high performance but are often prevented from contributing fully through barriers in their work environment such as lack of resources, unmanageable workloads or a negative work environment.
Instead of trying to get more out of people, organizations must invest in meeting the needs of their employees, to create an energizing environment where people can bring their whole self to work.
Drivers of Sustainable Engagement
Here are four key factors to help you meet the equation of sustainable engagement:
Engagement + Enablement + Energy = Sustainable Engagement2
People: First of all, hire people who are passionate about what they do and who are intrinsically motivated to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Create a recruitment strategy that helps you attract, identify and select engaged individuals. (Engagement)
Leadership: Leaders have the greatest impact on creating an energizing and enabling work environment. Ensure your leaders are effective in guiding the organization, live the company values and take an interest in their employees as human beings. Front line supervisors have a direct, day-to-day effect on employees and are often one of the most important relationship employees have at work. Supervisors need to assign tasks that are suited to employees’ skills and coach them to be successful in meeting their goals. That means, removing organizational barriers that stand in the way of effective teamwork and productivity.2 (Enablement)
Work Environment: Maintain a physically and psychologically safe environment with a healthy work life balance and enough resources so employees can do their work well. How people feel at work has a direct impact on their level of performance. People who are energized and have enough gas in their tank perform more consistently over time and experience less stress and burn-out. Employees who have flexibility in how they do their work, can take care of personal issues when required and feel the organization supports their needs are more loyal and speak highly of the organization. (Energy)
Goals and Objectives: Make sure employees understand the purpose of the organization and its reason for being. Communicate and live the essence of the organization; align decision-making and planning with the corporate vision, mission and values. Line of sight: tell employees the steps they need to take to achieve their goals and how they contribute to the organization’s overall objectives. (Energy and Enablement)
Above all, get to know your employees, their passion, skills and goals. Help them become the best they can be by enabling them to apply their talents and strengths to their work. Give them autonomy in how they do their job and help them feel connected to a deeper purpose.
This is what Abraham Maslow calls self-actualization. Self-actualizing people who can be their very best at work find fulfillment in achieving not only their own goals but those of the organization. This is ultimately how people and organizations grow and prosper.
1 Mann, A., Harter, J. (2016). The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis
2 Willis Towers Watson. (2012). Global Workplace Study