Employee engagement is a choice

The research on engaged employees is clear. They are happier, more productive, stay with the organisation longer and perform better across a whole host of measures.

So, it’s no surprise that like its cousin on the customer side, loyalty, engagement is getting a lion’s share of people and culture attention. And like loyalty, engagement is a choice of the individual; I volunteer for the gig, no one can make me do it.

Programs, platforms and models abound to drive engagement, which Gallup defines as employees who are “emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organisations every day”. And as I’ve noted before, this is not only an internal issue — how employees feel and what they do is connected to customers, which means engagement is also a customer experience issue.

To learn more about the employee and customer experience loop click here.

A recent Harvard Business Article asked the question: “Why can’t organisations engage their employees?” It’s a good question, and I’ll add another: why does so much of what they do fail?

[Dis]engagement surveys

The beleaguered engagement survey is a good place to start, lagging so far behind what’s actually going on it could almost be in a different race. And despite being well intentioned, once people have done one, the mention of it is enough to send a shudder down their spine.

People have to complete the (usually lengthy) survey, answer the hopelessly skewed questions, crunch the results, share it with the executive and board, and that’s before they agree on anything to address the findings. All in all, it seems like an inefficient and disengaging way of getting at the issue of engagement.

Going back to the point I made in the opening paragraph — engagement is something I volunteer, not something I can be made to feel. It’s no wonder the program driven approaches so often fail. So, what can organisations do to enlist me as an engagement volunteer?

Know who your employees are

Whether you run a big organisation or can see all your employees with a spin of your chair, getting a handle on how people feel about doing their jobs well is a fundamental part of running a business of any kind and the doorway to engagement.

It starts with people feeling their work has meaning. I’m not talking about “doing good” meaning — this is more personal and intrinsic and can be found in all kinds of day-to-day work. What gives people that feeling? In his book Barking Up the Wrong Tree, author Eric Barker describes it as “doing something that’s (a) important to you and (b) something you’re good at”.

Of course by that description what’s meaningful to me will be different from what’s meaningful to you and you and you. So how is an organisation supposed to harness all those meaningfuls into a general level of engagement?

Back to the Harvard article for one perspective:

“Engaging people is therefore very much about talking to them and listening actively to them … taking a keen interest in what is going on in people’s life at work and sometimes outside of work.” He added, “Everybody needs to be touched by someone who cares.” Of course, this takes time that many managers don’t feel they can spare. As Guy put it, “Improving employee engagement is not done through some blanket program run out of HR or Admin or whatever —it’s improved by every single leader in the organisation working one-on-one with all of their employees … It’s hard —damned hard.”

Let’s circle this back to the brand (something else that’s damned hard). My formula of a brand as a result of identity delivered through promises and experience relies on engaged employees. You simply can’t have a robust, resilient brand if your employees are robotically punching in and out.

And from reception desks and checkout counters to tech support, accounts departments and warehouses, people in every part of your organisation will volunteer to be engaged if you show them you care about who they are, not just what they do.

See you next week.

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