Employee Engagement – what’s it all about then?

‘Employee engagement’ can be something of a fluffy term, and for companies to tackle it, it needs to be defined first of all. What does it mean to you and what does it look like in practice?

Definition of the term needs to happen within the organisation – while certain elements remain consistent, organisational culture and vision has a large impact on how that organisation sees engagement and subsequently how it chooses to measure it. It is about how we create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential.

Despite there being some debate about the precise meaning of employee engagement there are three things we know about it: it is measurable; it can be correlated with performance; and it varies from poor to great. Most importantly employers can do a great deal to impact on people’s level of engagement. That is what makes it so important, as a tool for business success and employee wellbeing.

Employee owned organisations often have a head start in improving engagement – transition is a perfect opportunity to do something different, and of the four main drivers of engagement, EO organisations are naturally strong in three: the story of the organisation (giving purpose and meaning), the voice of the employee, and trust and integrity.

What it looks like in practice is buzzing, energetic workplaces, where people have a spring in their step on Monday morning. There’s a great sense of team work, of being ‘in it together’ and having a common goal or vision. There is trust through all the layers of the organisation and everyone feels they can speak out with contributions, problems, solutions. What you do as an organisation, you do well and engagement isn’t something you do to people, it’s just the way you get things done. Every day.

What are the biggest barriers to employee engagement?

Initial barriers are organisations and leaders not realising the power of engagement, or simply not knowing what to do about it! Once you have recognised the importance of engagement, and perhaps developed a plan, then you come across people… Being an engaging leader is emotionally demanding, therefore different and scary. As human beings we don’t like change, and changing our own habits and behaviours is hard work, never mind tackling it at an organisational level. It’s also a two way process, we as employees should be prepared to take part.

Looking at engagement transactionally, perhaps purely based around a survey rather than looking more holistically, or running an engagement campaign, will only get you so far. Sustainable engagement, so deeply embedded in the DNA of the organisation that is has simply become ‘the way we work around here’, is much harder to achieve. Leaders need to be able to clearly articulate the story of the organisation, and employees need to see and feel how they fit into and contribute to that. Managers need to manage well, treating people as individuals. Employees need to have a voice, trust that they are heard and acknowledged. And the organisation has to have integrity, living its values at every level.

Why should we bother?

Research shows a strong correlation between higher levels of engagement and higher levels in customer satisfaction and related measures such as customer advocacy, in business performance measures like productivity and efficiency, and in people metrics like wellbeing and retention.

However, as I was standing at a coffee shop at Birmingham International the other day, receiving great customer service from cheerful and helpful staff even though they had run out of everything I asked for, the lady next to me remarked ‘your customers are only as happy as your staff’ – it’s just common sense really!


Engage for Success https://engageforsuccess.org/the-evidence

CIPD https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/relations/engagement/factsheet