Misinterpreted & Misunderstood

Two recent studies on employee engagement, have highlighted the very real need for employers to come to grips with, and, to focus genuine attention on the key challenge of Employee Engagement if they wish to become "Employers of Choice".

Gallup research conducted a two year survey, released recently, which found that only 23% of New Zealand employees were mentally or emotionally engaged in their jobs. More than 60% of New Zealand respondents were found to be "not-engaged", meaning they were uninspired, lacked motivation and would do just enough to fulfil their job requirements. Another 15% were "disengaged" meaning they were not only unhappy at work but likely to act out of unhappiness.  I.e. actively adopt a disruptive, negative or possibly a destructive approach within their workplace.  

Gallup estimates that actively disengaged workers cost the New Zealand economy $7.5 billion a year.

The AON Hewitt 2013 surveys on trends in Global Employee Engagement reveal a similar picture. Although New Zealand is not singled out, its findings for the Asia Pacific Region as a whole show that 42% of all employees are either actively disengaged or only passively engaged.

Remarkably, Global figures covering a wide range of geographies tell a similar story.

So.....what is Employee Engagement and what can be done capture and maximise it??     

Employee Engagement, also called Worker Engagement, is term often used out of context, and, as a result its meaning is frequently confused with other management descriptors.

I like the following extracts, taken from Wikipedia, which sum up my own observations of those companies/organisations I believe have recognised and embraced what is a relatively simple concept albeit a challenging one - viz:

"Employee engagement is the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission and vision of the organisation. Engagement therefore can be seen as a heightened level of ownership and involvement where each employee shows a high level of enthusiasm and wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organisation as a whole".

Given that it is a measurable degree of an employee's positive or negative emotional attachment - not only to their job but also to colleagues and their organisation, it profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work. Employee engagement therefore is distinctly different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organisational culture. (It does of course lead to, or influence all three).

It is recognised that there are between six and eight key factors which need to be addressed in order to effect Employee Engagement:

  1. Job importance - an employee needs to know and to understand where their role fits and how it is important to the organisation.
  2. Role clarity - every employee needs to be very clear on what both the organisation and their manager expect of them.
  3. Career opportunities/advancement - employees need to see a transparent and equitable system for career advancement and to understand what they need to do to secure future opportunities within the business.
  4. Input and reward  - the ability to provide input and improvements is important, as is being rewarded for doing so. (Recognition/Thank you/$$ where appropriate)
  5. Regular feedback and dialogue with superiors - Feedback is the key to giving employees a sense of where they are going - both positive feedback and constructive feedback on how improvements can be made.
  6. Quality of working Relationships with peers, superiors, and subordinates -communicating both good and bad news is important - as is the manner and style in which it is delivered.
  7. Perceptions of the values of the organisation -"Inspiration and values" are key to employee engagement - Inspirational leadership and the management team being seen to "live and breathe the values" is one of the most important drivers of all. Without this, employee engagement is difficult and highly unlikely to occur.
  8. Consistency of actions and delivery - employees respond in an environment where there is clear direction and accountability and above all else a consistency in decision making and the delivery of outcomes. All of which must be underpinned by regular and coherent communication.

So, what steps do businesses need to take to maximise Employee Engagement?       

I believe that a number of sub strategies need to be developed under an "over arching" plan aimed at achieving a measure of improved employee engagement. Importantly it needs to have a "top down bottom up" emphasis and full "buy in" from key influencers at all levels within the business in order to succeed.

A suggested path might be:

  • Conduct an employee engagement survey to ascertain the current levels of engagement
  • Define a clear strategy and agree on the objective and what the business is trying to achieve in order to improve employee engagement
  • Once this is clear, begin communicating with the "key Influencers" - get their input before further communicating to the wider business
  • Define the values and behaviours
  • Develop statements of intent and measurement criteria
  • Develop strategies to achieve these in all parts of the business
  • If no in house expertise exists, engage credible outside consultants to assist in developing performance and people management processes
  • Every manager and leader to develop a strategy and plan which must link to, and, integrate into the "over arching master plan"
  • Managers and leaders to measure and report progress fortnightly at first then monthly
  • Develop an effective communication plan- this is a key element to achieving the outcomes being targeted
  • Work as a team, share successes, failures and develop alternative solutions at every stage throughout the process to ensure success.
  • Celebrate milestones-reward outstanding commitment and contributions!

From my experience employee engagement doesn't happen on its own - as leaders it is incumbent on us to be clearly seen "leading the journey".

Barry T Knight

Barry Knight is Executive Director of Ysker Consulting and Christchurch Chair of The Executive Connection (TEC)



YSKER P.O. Box 27 Christchurch, New Zealand, Phone: +64 21 999 799
Email: barry.knight@ysker.com
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