Deep and meaningful employee engagement is usually an aspirational goal for many HR and business leaders, but many stumble when trying to pull together a cohesive strategy, given that there is a perception that engagement is an intangible process. However, there are tangible ways that brands can embark on pulling together the foundations of a tangible framework.
What is employee engagement?
To begin, we need to first clearly define what employee engagement is. Often people will get this term confused with employee satisfaction, and while there are some overlaps, these are two very different metrics with extremely different outcomes. Employee satisfaction can be described as a transactional exchange, and the fulfilment of expectations related to their compensation. Or in layman’s terms – how happy an employee is with their current situation.
On the other hand, employee engagement is the feeling of contentment that an employee gets out of a job and how connected they feel to an organization. While this might sound similar, the differences are more apparent in their behavior. A satisfied, but unengaged employee may feel content and satisfied while working at minimal productivity. However, a fully engaged employee is focused and intensely involved in the work they do. They are enthusiastic and have a sense of urgency. Engaged behavior is persistent, proactive and adaptive in ways that expand the job roles as necessary. Engaged employees go beyond job descriptions in, for example, exemplary service delivery or innovation. This is the difference between an employee who turns up on time and delivers exactly what’s required, and an employee who comes in early and looks to constantly improve processes and deliver more than what’s expected.
It is critical employees are engaged as it often leads to better business outcomes – great organizations are often correlated to great employee engagement. Studies have convincingly shown that organizational commitment – the emotional commitment one has to their organization and its goals – drives higher levels of discretionary effort and has a deeper impact on business unit performance. Employee engagement can lead to higher service, quality, and productivity, which in turn leads to higher customer satisfaction. This results in increased sales (from repeat business and customer or business referrals), which leads to higher levels of profit, ultimately leading to higher shareholder returns (i.e., stock price). There is also an implicit effect of engagement, namely increased employee safety and health. There may be lower absenteeism, higher retention, and greater employee loyalty, all of which has a profound but often understated impact on an organization.
The makings of a tangible plan
Formulating a tangible plan towards achieving employee engagement is challenging given the nature of what it means to be “engaged”. One simple way to start is by asking the right questions, typically revolving the themes of meaningfulness, safety, and availability. It’s always good to deploy a healthy dose of empathy and ask yourself what made you feel engaged at work? From there, some of the questions that you can ladder up to include:
- Do employees find their work meaningful enough (to the organization and to society) to warrant them engaging their full self?
- Do employees feel safe bringing their full self to work without the risk of negative consequences?
- Do employees feel mentally and physically able to harness their full self at this particular moment?
While the specific approach will need to be customized for different companies based on size, industry, markets and a host of other factors, there are general guidelines that organizational leadership can use to make a tangible plan, including:
- Getting senior leadership buy in: Employee engagement needs to be at the core of an organization’s business, it needs be clearly and publicly spear-headed by leadership. Senior leaderships buy-in are critical and this can be done through building a compelling business case which demonstrate how these investments have led to positive, measurable business outcomes for the organization or other businesses. Once senior leaders are on board, they need to champion initiatives to underscore the importance of engagement across an organization.
- Developing a compelling business case based on sound data: Annual employee engagement should be measured tangibly with appropriate survey items linked to the organization’s key performance measures, such as profitability, productivity, quality, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. The eventual outcomes of employee engagement research should also include the identification of the highest-impact engagement levers and priority areas to be improved. By building a business case anchored in data, it creates a way to measure, plan and optimize engagement efforts.
- Creating an “engagement culture”: This can be done by clearly communicating the value of engagement in the organization’s mission statement and executive communications. This will ensure that business units implement their engagement action plans, monitoring progress, adjusting strategies and plans as needed, and recognizing and celebrating progress and results. This also means creating a culture where employees can understand and feel that they are genuinely being heard.
The immeasurable intangibles?
While concepts revolving around “engagement” and “passion” may sound intangible and frivolous, it does not make them any less important or immeasurable. There are two key factors that influence employee engagement levels and getting data around this.
Firstly, organizations must look at the often overwhelming and indecipherable tangible data from “end results” of engagements through key performance measures, such as profitability, productivity, quality, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. However, these invaluable data often display a siloed one-sided view of employee “value” and it can be difficult to discern the engagement gleaned from it.
This is when ERP software can play an important role where CRM modules, productivity modules, ERP and financial management are powerfully linked to a platform. For example, SAP’s Customer Experience and CRM solutions are an essential tool for enabling meaningful employee work experiences and allows for a deeper understanding and profound engagement of an organization’s audience and customer base which is further translated into unique insights for better anticipation and service, and delivery of hyper-personalized experiences. SAP’s other ERP and Financial Management tool allows for real-time, streamlined embedded analytics, evaluation, analysis and forecasting capabilities to make sense of the “end results” of engagements.
Adding on to this level of analysis, organizations need to also ask the right questions to employees when considering engagement drivers. These questions should focus on behaviors and its relation to customer service where possible, avoiding loaded and uninformative questions such as “Do you look forward to going to work on Mondays?“. Open ended questions can be helpful in uncovering themes not addressed in surveys. The results garnered from the survey questions are vital in identifying the gaps in engagement drivers which can be broadly separated into two categories of organizational and management drivers.
Organizational drivers which have the greatest impact on employee engagement can be identified as such:
- The leaders of their organization are committed to making the organization a great place to work.
- Employee’s implicit trust in the leaders of the organization to set the right course.
- A strong belief that the organization will be successful in the future.
- A keen understanding of how the employee fits into the organization’s future plans.
- The leaders of the organization value employees as their most important resource.
- The organization makes investments to make employees more successful in their job.
At a deeper and personal level, management drivers have shown that employee engagement increases dramatically when the daily experiences of employees include positive relationships with their direct supervisors or managers. The following behaviors of an employee’s direct supervisors that have been correlated with employee engagement include:
- Employees enjoy a good relationship with their supervisor.
- Employees are equipped to do their job well.
- Employees have the necessary authority to accomplish their job well.
- Employees have more autonomy to make the work decisions which will benefit the organization in the long run.
In order to guide and make sense of the survey findings as well as identify the gaps in engagement drivers, the tangible hard data and intangible raw findings need to be incorporated into a single employee experience management platform capable of deciphering the numerous data points and information. The flexible survey creation, customizable impact reports and guided action planning of the employee experience management platform can be paired with the ERP and CRM tools to form the basis of the structure to a tangible plan for better leverage of employee engagement.
An effective employee engagement strategy is critical to any organization and will need to be intentionally and mindfully managed for an authentically engaged and satisfied employee base to reap the rewards of better business outcomes. Companies that do this right will ultimately see the benefit of a workforce that feels and knows that they are heard and are unafraid of using their voice to engage the organization in meaningful tangible ways. However, with that said – a strategy is vital, it is both getting constant feedback and quantifiable action on the feedback that will enable organizations to make a difference in the level of engagement in employees. In this new age of COVID-19 normalcy, it is also important to take into consideration the mental wellbeing of new and current employees coping with both the demands of work and personal lives.
It may be difficult to draw the line between work and personal life when most employees are working from home or a foreseeable hybrid work arrangement. It will also be prudent to ensure that employee engagement starts off on the right foot with a guide [Link in word “guide” to previous article] to forging authentic experiences through virtual onboarding.