Greater employee engagement is an elixir that organizations have been searching to accomplish a variety of objectives: reduce attrition, enhance performance, generate internal goodwill, greater employee branding, competitive pressure etc. However, it appears that most of the strategies followed so far yield temporary ‘feel good’ factor at best, or have no impact, at worst.
Therefore ‘employee engagement calendars’ have surfaced to inject the ‘feel good factor’ at periodic intervals, typically driven by centralized HR in large organizations with scope for ‘some’ customization in organizational units. Consistency and periodicity of events have led to employees believing that such activities are not just ‘flavour of the month’ which is a great step forward; is it enough?
What is employee engagement
Just so that all readers and the author of this article are on the same page, employee engagement is about employees willingly putting in that discretionary effort and performance which makes a significant positive difference to their work outcome.
What can generate greater employee engagement
Research and many motivational studies indicate that employees are most engaged when they:
- Believe that their work challenges their intellect and their capabilities which means that the work should be appropriate to the skill / competency levels of the individual (match between job and person in HR lingo) and individuals should have the resources needed to do the work, while getting a sense of learning and growing professionally. This is very work focused and more supervisor/manager influenced; essentially it is about employees being appropriately challenged relative to their capabilities.
- Feel valued as individuals because of the way they are treated, recognized and rewarded. This, in addition to being supervisor / manager influenced, is dependent on the culture and leadership of the organization; the ‘psychological’ dimension in organizations.
- Have a sense of connect with the larger organizational purpose and the people they work with. This is about the ‘social’ aspect of the organization and is influenced by the leadership of the organization, extent of communication and interaction among the people, the quality of the colleagues and the connection with them etc.
Most employee engagement activities focus on (c) above while not including (a) and (b) in their domain. Unless we widen the scope of employee engagement to include all aspects defined above, the comprehensiveness of the engagement model, and therefore, its impact may be limited or at least, not as impactful as desired.
How can the scope of engagement be made more comprehensive:
- Right hiring ensuring proper fit between job challenges and employee capabilities,which is often the key to most people issues in organizations.
- Supervisor / managerial development, coaching, assessing and rewarding for supervisory behaviours.
- Facilitate greater constructive interaction and dialogue between supervisors and the employees they supervise.
- Like with many things in today’s world, introduce the concept of ‘internal customer feedback’ on organization’s direction, proposed changes, proposed policies, issues facing organization etc. and seek insights. All of this will help generate greater involvement, a feeling of being valued if inputs given are considered on merit.
- Leverage the power of ‘peer connect’ to engage people. Technology today enables you to do this more easily leveraging technology and popularityof social media.
- Power the desire for greater knowledge by building platforms that engage and connect people who have more knowledge to people who desire knowledge. It is like setting up a clearing house of knowledge connecting those who desire knowledge with those who have knowledge. Leverage the concept of “Wikipedia” to introduce an enterprise wikipidea…a store house of internal knowledge base around various topics.
- Forget the ‘clock’; manage through managing performance and outcomes; shift focus to outcomes from focus on ‘time spent’.
Leveraging technology for engagement
In today’s world, social media technology allows actions (d) to (g) above without intermediate administrative overheads. Technology allows people to connect, share, recognize others, reward others, share knowledge, learn from others, generate opinion, generate curiosity and generate action more powerfully than anything we have seen for ages. Significant political, social movements have taken place fuelled by the power of social media and technology e.g. Arab Spring in the Middle East in 2011, protests in Iran in 2009. If this medium has so much power to initiate social and political movements, why can’t it be used to generate greater involvement and engagement at the work place?
Especially with the Gen Y work force who expects to be counted, have opinions they articulate, have greater demands from their organizations, are used to the freedom of expression and comfortable with the technology.
With changing work force, changing demographics in India, changing social mores and norms, organizations have to become much more egalitarian in their approach to employees. This calls for a leadership that is more inclusive, open and willing to accept employees as resources that can make a significant difference as opposed to machines which are expected to execute mechanically. Technology is available to harness the capabilities of employees; but is there the leadership will and capability to do so?