Employee Engagement

The Harvard Business Review surveyed business leaders in 2014 to know if they think employee engagement is a pre – condition for the success of an organization. About 71Pct of them said employee engagement was critical to the business success of their organizations, but only 24Pct of these same leaders said their workforces were highly engaged. This difference is called the engagement gap. The Gallup Employee Engagement Survey revealed that neither employees nor managers are engaged. Only 30Pct of employees are engaged and only 35Pct of managers are engaged at work. This means that if you put 10 people in a room, chances are seven of them are not happy to go to work in the morning. This is alarming!

The problem is that most companies these days talk about the need to focus on employee engagement, but they do not get it right. In Ethiopia, it is worse than expected. The quick survey I conducted to gain a little context about what companies do along these lines revealed that most corporate companies, with the exception of a few multinationals and INGOs, have no idea about the importance of an engaged workforce and the impact on company’s bottom line .

Research has shown that companies which do engagement surveys are by and large unsuccessful, even though they invest a lot in the surveys and build action plans to address the gaps. That is why the purpose of this article is to provide insights into the things that need to be done for companies to have an actively engaged workforce that will provide an edge over other industry players.

I am a big fan of engagement surveys because they give you an idea of how employees perceive the organization in general and the senior leadership in particular. There are people who say there is no need for the surveys, saying they do not add value to the business. Of course, it is a perception survey and may not always reflect the whole truth, but perception is as good as a fact. The problem is not with the survey, but rather that companies do not take meaningful and effective actions to make things better. It is strategically imperative to do temperature checks and work hard to narrow the engagement gap by addressing the key issues that matter most to the employees and to the organization

Understanding Employee Engagement
Research has shown that people are considered engaged when when they understand and believe in the direction the organization is going – its purpose, mission and objectives – so they feel part of something bigger than themselves. They also understand how their role affects and contributes to the organization’s purpose, mission and objectives. They genuinely want the organization to succeed and feel shared success with the organization. They will often put the organization’s needs ahead of their own.

Fundamentally, this means that engaged employees build better, stronger and more resilient organizations. They engage in value creation activities and do not waste company resources and time. Glenn and Debra, researchers who worked with almost 2000 organizations worldwide, revealed that engaged employees make better decisions because they understand more about the organization, their customers and the context they are operating in. Engaged employees are more productive because they like or love what they are doing and get less distracted by things that don’t further the organization’s mission or goals. Last but not least, engaged employees innovate more because they deeply want the organization to succeed.

The Engagement Bridge
Employee engagement is an ongoing process whereby organizations need to help create the conditions that will allow employees to engage with their jobs and organization. This means that there are a number of elements to consider, to create a strong and enduring bridge between the organization and employees. There are 10 elements in the engagement bridge: seven of them connect the organization with its people, and the other three they underpin and support the bridge.

Connecting Elements – Beams
These connecting elements relate to each other and a small tweak in each element helps improve employee engagement.

Open and Honest Communication
It is one of the foundations of the engagement bridge, and is closely linked to employee trust. A lack of trust is at the heart of employee disengagement, as many people continue to lie under the guise of professionalism. They act as if the business is doing well while it is performing poorly. Everyone knows about the problem in the business. The building knows the truth as well. Thus, it is imperative that everything is open, visible and public unless something absolutely has to be made private.

Purpose, Mission and Values
There is something deeply human about the need to feel part of something bigger than oneself – something that feels worthwhile, something that feels purposeful and worth the sacrifice of time. Hence, it is important to establish a clear direction and purpose plus a consistent way of behaving. This in turn drives employee engagement. However, purpose, mission and values have to be more than just words: they must be lived. Misalignment between words and actions is inauthentic, and can be a key disengager.

Leadership and Management
These are separate elements, but they are closely intertwined. Leadership is what the company says it will do, while management is what the company actually does. For example, if the leadership espouses great customer service, commitment to innovation and treating people better, but line managers at different levels don’t feel connected, empowered or driven to deliver that, then there will be an inauthentic culture. If the wall says “Delight Your Customer” but the process and procedures say otherwise, employees will spot it in a second. The CEO must be in the driver’s seat and own employee engagement and company culture because she or he is the only person with the cross-functional authority to lead and direct the actions that are needed.

Job Design, Learning and Recognition
These three distinct elements are highly connected. It starts with providing meaningful and well-designed jobs. The most successful and engaging roles have recognition (visibility) and learning (and development) built into them right from the start. On the other hand, a boring job with no meaningful output, no sense of achievement, and no one seeming to notice the changes, is not made better by sticking a recognition program and subscription to a learning development program into the mix.

Underpinning Elements – Rocks
The underpinning elements are the foundation for employee engagement through which the company progresses in its endeavour to achieve high level employee engagement.

Pay & Benefits, Workspace, and Wellbeing
These three elements are different from the seven connecting elements because they are underpinning elements – supporting engagement strategy. They do not run across the bridge since one cannot engage a workforce with these elements alone. However, they are hugely important. If these elements are lacking in a strategy, then the bridge will be built on shaky ground. Hence, engagement efforts will not progress to the expected levels. For example, pay is important to the point where people do not worry about making ends meet.

Doesn’t Company Culture Matter?
Company culture does matter. As the famous saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. But culture is the output of the actions the company takes. Culture can be changed, but only by making changes to the inputs. These inputs are the elements of the engagement bridge. It is imperative to think through the culture a certain company has and the culture the leader wants, when attempting to develop a successful organization. Culture building is so much more than writing down company values.

Finally, creating an engaged workforce needs not to be too complicated. It is not rocket science. It boils down to treating people better. The reason why this article went in-depth about the elements of the engagement bridge is to show that the engagement elements serve the purpose of treating people better and getting better business results. It bears repeating: ‘’Treating people better gets better business results.” However, many companies are still struggling to overcome the engagement gap because they lie to employees; treat them as adversaries and give them bad jobs without autonomy, excitement or accountability.


8th Year • Jun.16 – July.15 2019 • No. 75

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