Avoid the Employee Engagement ‘State of Flux’
I’ve been so very fortunate in my career over the last 20+ years to partner as a consultant on the topic of employee engagement with many well-known organisations across multiple industries. I’ve experienced every conceivable survey, focus group, Q&A session and even contributed to the design and execution of the watered-down ‘pulse’ questionnaire. I have been privy to (and created) every league table (aaah the power of manipulation to complete said survey) and graphical representation of the data, that is then used to whittle things down to the 9-point plan that will deliver us to our ‘engaged employee haven’.
My facetiousness is obviously for effect, as many organisations have become far more sophisticated in their approach, rather than using it as a tick-box exercise and have realised that the term ‘engagement’ actually reaches right into the core purpose and values of the organisation – shouting loud and proud what it really stands for. I’ve learnt so much along the way and there is one significant, yet crucial factor throughout all of those initiatives.
You don’t have to look too far to find the copious amounts of research conducted that is saturated with empirical evidence from across the business world – the more engaged an employee is, the better their work will be and the less likely they will be to leave. I’m sure that I don’t need to remind you, but just in case you did need clarification on the benefits of an engaged workforce, well here are my top 18 things to consider…
All of these benefits require a workforce that care, are creative, take responsibility and are prepared to challenge the status quo – which is why the presence and influence of leadership is so important to nurture the psychological safety that our people so desperately need. However, cultivating effective and consistent employee engagement as the catalyst for this is something that many organisations still struggle to implement. Is it this state of flux that is holding organisations back?
For so very long, the term ‘employee engagement’ has been a critical focus but for some, an ‘HR buzz word’ for senior leadership teams, who are all connected in their search for that unique magical formula – one that will deliver and sustain high levels of engagement to drive better, more consistent performance.
The challenge we face, however, is not just about creating happy environments with more foosball tables, healthier vending machines or sleeping pods (as great as they are). It must be about building better capabilities across our management communities to maximise the impact of those environments, to create the best conditions for performance and to support our people by ‘clearing the path’ where obstacles may lie. So what does it take for leadership to make all this happen? According to the research by leadership development experts Dr. Brad Shuck and Maryanne Honeycutt-Elliott,
“Higher levels of engagement come from employees who work for a compassionate leader – one who is authentic, present, has a sense of dignity, holds others accountable, leads with integrity and shows empathy”.
As we know, the key to any successful organisation is its employees/staff. In fact, while we are at it, I really don’t like those terms and have always attempted to avoid using those words to describe our ‘people’…they’re our team members…our team…our people sounds so much better. But it is much more than just a phrase. When you think about them (and all of us in this light), you begin to create a very subtle, yet important psychological shift in terms of their importance.
Firstly, they’re not just a number. Secondly, they’re human beings who bring a beautifully rich and diverse set of capabilities to benefit our businesses. Thirdly, their needs for feeling engaged, motivated and connected to our brilliant purposes are all so very different. This is what makes engagement, the motivation of our people and our strategies for achieving this so very complex and variable and is completely dependent on the current climate and challenges that we face. There are so many permutations!
Our leaders hold the secret for our engagement solutions being agile enough and actually working. Those organisations that understand their team member’s wants and needs and build the internal leadership capabilities across their management communities, are those that will navigate the stormiest of economic environments. The difference that leaders make is significant! As reported in the Harvard Business Review article ‘The Key to Inclusive Leadership’, what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included – a significant catalyst for an engaged workforce on a post-pandemic era! Therefore, it is clear to me that leadership is a conversation and leadership is an action!
Let us take a moment to consider levels of engagement as we begin to see some light at the end of a very long ‘global pandemic’ tunnel. This past 15-18 months has been some of the most catastrophic experiences on society in living memory and will send shock waves through all generations for years to come. What do we do about engaging our employees now? Will our strategies from pre Covid-19 days still work? It is this climate that we find ourselves in that will benefit from more authentic and inclusive leadership experiences that interweave with many important aspects of the human enterprise of the organisation.
I’ve observed that employee engagement in all its guises may have begun to mature into something far more specific, with greater clarity and far more agility rather than a generalised ‘umbrella’ term. Organisations are becoming clearer on what is actually challenging their people and what they find most attractive about their employment. How brave those organisations are going to be to invest and address those matters is another topic of discussion, but an extremely important one. Our people need to feel supported and included in matters such as mental health and wellbeing, work life enrichment, financial stability, their career prospects, development and growth, social inclusion, social responsibility and corporate responsibility. Just a few areas which have become very real challenges that employee engagement must aim to address or risk just not hitting the mark!