Does your workplace encourage employee engagement? Probably not. But, it should. It's a powerful factor in business success. Engaged employees are more productive, customer-focused, and profit-generating and employers are more likely to retain them. According to the Gallup organization, employee engagement is a necessary strategy for companies that want to succeed in the marketplace.
Employee engagement is not a Human Resources initiative that managers are reminded to do once a year. It's a key strategic initiative that drives employee performance, accomplishment, and continuous improvement all year long. It's the outcome from how your organization interacts with people to drive business results.
Just as I do not believe that organizations can create employee empowerment, employee motivation, or employee satisfaction, engagement is up to your adult employees who make decisions and choices about how involved they want to be at work. What is the employer's responsibility, however, is to create an environment that is conducive to employees making the choices that are good for your business. And, engaged employees are good for your business.
Engaged Employees Are Good for Business
The Gallup organization’s research indicates that, "The average working population ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is near 2:1. Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line, while breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to the bottom line to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone." (To see all of the data, click on their report entitled: Employee Engagement: What's Your Engagement Ratio?)
Gallup’s research also says that organizations need to pay attention to four specific priorities to engage employees.
What Produces an Environment Conducive to Engagement?
Employees are more likely to become truly engaged and involved in their work if your workplace provides these factors.
- Employee engagement must be a business strategy that focuses on finding engaged employees and then, keeping the employee engaged throughout the whole employment relationship.
- Employee engagement must focus on business results. Employees are most engaged when they are accountable and can see and measure the outcomes of their performance.
- Employee engagement occurs when the goals of the business are aligned with the employee’s goals and how the employee spends his or her time. The glue that holds the strategic goals of the employee and the business together is frequent, effective communication that reaches and informs the employee at the level and practice of his or her job. Engaged employees have the information that they need to understand exactly and precisely how what they do at work every day affects the company's business goals and priorities.
(These goals and measurements relate to the Human Resources department, but every department should have its own set of metrics.)
- Employee engagement lives when organizations are committed to management and leadership development in performance development plans that are performance-driven and provide clear succession plans.
Gallup indicates that when their clients have actively pursued employee engagement through these four factors, it has soared to a ratio of 9:1 with concurrent improvements in business success.
Why Are Organizations So Bad at Employee Engagement?
If employee engagement is so critically important to an organization’s success, why do organizations pursue it so ineffectively? The answer to the question is that incorporating a business strategy such as employee engagement is hard work - work that many employers cannot see affecting their bottom line immediately.
A succession of such strategies have garnered the attention of managers and organizations over the past twenty years. Employee involvement, employee empowerment, continuous improvement, management by objectives - I am sure that you can think of many more - have all had the same fatal flaw in implementation. Most organizations implemented them as a program that was ancillary to the actual business. By thinking about employee engagement, as a planned business strategy with expected and measured business results, perhaps it can escape the onus of just another HR program.
With this in mind, employee engagement takes effective managers who are committed to:
- measuring employee performance and holding employees accountable,
- providing the communication necessary to align each employee’s actions with the organization’s overall business goals,
- pursuing the employee development necessary to ensure success, and
- making a commitment (time, tools, attention, reinforcement, training, and so forth) to keeping employees engaged over the long haul because they fundamentally believe and understand that no other strategy will produce as much success – for both the business and the employees.
Additional Critical Factors to Ensure Employee Engagement
These factors also influence the willingness of employees to stay engaged and contributing.
- An effective recognition and reward system: in a recognition system that promotes employee engagement, recognition is available, frequent, and recognizes actions that are truly worthy of recognition. Effective recognition always involves verbal or written acknowledgement from the employee's manager in addition to any physical reward supplied.
- Frequent feedback: the downside of the standard employee performance appraisal is that it is a one-time deal. Effective performance feedback takes place every day, minimally, weekly for employees who need less interaction with their manager. Effective feedback focuses on what the employee is doing well and what needs improvement. It is clear and specific and reinforces the actions that the manager wants to see the employee regularly perform.
- Shared values and guiding principles: engaged employees thrive in an environment that reinforces their most deeply held values and beliefs. Employees are most successful in an organization in which their personal values are in sync with the organization's stated values and guiding principles.
- Demonstrated respect, trust, and emotional intelligence on the part of the employee's direct supervisor: managers who relate effectively with employees, who demonstrate that they are personally interested in and care about their employees, and who elicit employee input and opinions, are golden.
- Positive relationships with coworkers: engaged employees need to work, not just with nice people, but with coworkers who are equivalently engaged. Coworkers who demonstrate integrity, team work, a passion for quality and serving customers, and who are passionate about what they do at work, make ideal coworkers in a workplace that fosters employee engagement.
Employee engagement is fostered by a work environment that exhibits these characteristics. Want to make progress? Start work in each of these areas. Your success is ensured.