Employee Engagement: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Posted  | 1 Comment(s)  |  by Elaine Varelas, Keystone Partners

Employee engagement has become the holy grail of business.  While not a new concept, it still remains elusive for many companies.  According to a recent Gallup poll, only 30 percent of employees in the United States are engaged at work. 

Engaged employees possess a strong commitment and passion for their work, are invested in the success of the organization, and become the thought and action leaders within the company.  They work like owners, bringing increased energy, innovation, and productivity to the job. It’s no wonder that organizations are looking for new and effective ways—and spending millions of dollars—to promote, encourage, and measure employee engagement. 

Engaged Baristas make better lattesWe know engagement when we see it—that barista who is determined to make your skim mocha latte just right—and when we don’t—the cable employee who doesn’t care that you’re now two hours late for work despite your appointment being an hour earlier.

What is more difficult to determine is how to engender engagement.  How does an organization create a base of engaged employees?  And if you do in fact have engaged employees, how do you know? 

Measuring engagement is an industry unto itself.  Many large organizations hire consultants to assess their employees’ commitment, productivity, and passion.  Tens of thousands of dollars later, HR professions get a boatload of results, not-so-great news about their current engagement efforts, and strategies for scrapping what they’re already doing and starting over. 

This information is often overwhelming and the work to fix it is daunting.   In all of this costly measurement and evaluation, many organizations lose sight of a fundamental question: engaged to what?

Defining Engagement Goals

Before asking, “Are our employees engaged?” and “How do we know?”, HR professionals need to push company leaders to define  engagement goals.  Organizations must first understand the “what” of engagement in order to effectively communicate that to employees.  Typically, engagement stems from the company’s mission and culture, but it needs to be formed and morphed into its own force and must include where employees fit into the mix. 

One of my favorite examples of engagement is from a janitor at a Boston-area hospital.  He believed that his job was central to the mission of the organization: to help people get healthy and recover more quickly.  From an organizational perspective, the janitor’s job was just as important as a surgeon or an administrator.  His goal was clearly defined, his work was valued, and as such, he was highly engaged with his job.

Recognizing and Rewarding Engagement

Recognize & Reward Engaged EmployeesIn addition to understanding the “what” of engagement, organizations need to align their recognition and rewards systems to those goals.  The janitor must be recognized for upholding the hospital’s goals—keeping the hospital clean to promote healthy patients.  If hospital employees were only recognized for overtime and working long hours, there would be disconnects between the goals and the rewards, which damages engagement. 

HR professionals should look around their organization to identify their most engaged employees.  Who are they?  What qualities do they possess?  Where are they in the organization?  Beginning with your own employees and building off of their engagement is a less intimidating way to promote engagement throughout the organization.  

How can an organization take the engagement of a handful of people and replicate it elsewhere?  The key may lie with managers.  According to Gallup research, managers take on the primary responsibility for employees’ levels of engagement.  Managers who empower employees, give them challenges and opportunities, partner with them to solve problems, and value their contributions produce engaged employees. 

Who are the managers of the engaged employees in your organization?  What are their most significant management skills?  What makes people want to work hard for them?  What is it about the employee/manager relationship that is encouraging engagement?  Who can manage engagement best at your organization? These questions and others like them can help to identify what managers currently do to promote higher employee engagement.

Managers Need Tools to Engage EmployeesIt isn’t enough to discover the qualities a manager must possess to foster engagement.  Organizations must also give managers the tools and training they need to keep employees engaged and then hold managers responsible for follow through.  The expectations around engagement should be clear, measured, and rewarded. 

Employee engagement functions should be a part of a manager’s core assessed proficiencies, and not treated as a “bonus” skill.  Managers hold the key to employee engagement, yet they need the skills, support, and backing of the organization to be successful. 

Employee engagement is invaluable.  An organization’s success or failure can hinge on employees’ dedication to their company and passion for their work.  While hiring a consultant to determine your employees’ levels of engagement and develop strategies for improving it is an option, it isn’t a necessity. 

Instead of trying to institute externally-derived engagement strategies, build off of your own organization’s internal successes.  By working with your managers to promote and measure engagement with employees, you can develop engagement strategies that align more closely with your organization’s culture, mission, and goals.  

Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

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  1. Russ Knight's avatar
    Russ Knight
    | Permalink
    Here is the link to the Gallup information, which is great, by the way. http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx

    Don't confuse employee engagement with happiness.

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