Employee engagement – what does it mean, and where do you start?

In any week, we often spend more time (awake) with our work colleagues than our much better other halves, family and friends. As a rule, you don’t marry someone you don’t trust and you do not befriend people you do not like, however some of us find ourselves spending over 8 hours a day in a business we do not 100% trust, working with colleagues we do not really like – how did that happen?

Every retailer knows that an engaged workforce will be:

  • more loyal
  • less inclined to be looking for other employment
  • more productive

… therefore saving the company money in recruitment and induction training, and saving time in managing underperformers.

All great news, however with an ever changing mind set and changing expectations regarding work / life balance, what factors influence employee engagement?

Research shows that the following areas will most affect whether people are engaged in working for your organisation, rather than just being happy in their job. In descending order:

1. Trust in leaders – Does the business clearly communicate their goals (vision, mission, etc)? And is the top management’s behaviour consistent with those goals? Do they keep their promises and do as they said they were going to do?

2. Relationship with immediate line manager – Does your organisation hire people who fit the company culture? Has the company culture been defined? Do managers behave and lead accordingly? What do line managers do to develop strong working relationships with their teams?

3. Environment – We have all heard about the Google offices and perks, not every business can (afford to) replicate that, however as we often spend more time in the office than home, it should look and feel more than acceptable – from furniture to technology, from wash room facilities to break-out areas, from the reception area to the meeting rooms. An easy rule of thumb: would you be proud to show your mother around the place you work?

4. Belief in the organisation – Do the people working for the organisation feel that the purpose of the business is worthwhile, or do they at least like the purpose? Is there an emotional connection? Easier in an upstanding charity business than in an investment bank I’d say….

5. Opportunities for career growth – Do people understand where they fit in and how they relate to others in the structure? Is there a clear path for promotion? Do people understand what would warrant a promotion?

6. Opportunities for development – Do individuals feel that they are coached, mentored, trained, developed, or are they just coming in to do a job, do it well and go home? Do people feel that they are developing their career or do they just have a job with a monthly pay cheque?

7. Relationships with colleagues – How does the business engender relationships and mutual understanding across the business? Not only is it helpful to know how your work ‘fits’ with the rest of the business, it also develops respect for each other when you all know how, together, you make the business tick.

8. Enjoyment of work – The job is the job is the job. Why do people enjoy their work? Different strokes for different folks. Find out from your team what makes them tick, look for common ground – how can you make their work more enjoyable?

9. Compensation level – Funnily enough, compensation is not no.1 in employee engagement, however it clearly is an important factor. If your business is a top quartile payer, than you’ll reduce staff turnover (after all, not all other businesses can match their pay), but you will also be able to recruit the top performers, who are more likely to be interested in career development.  And as long as you can deliver that, you will further reduce staff turnover … more stability in the business equals higher productivity.

10. Recognition programme – Is there a clear and consistent manner in which good work and good ideas are publicly recognised within the business? This is not difficult, yet so many businesses struggle with this or at least struggle to keep going once they have set up a recognition programme. Make it someone’s responsibility to drive this. So easy and so effective.

11. Business transparency – This really links in with point 1. Is everyone in the business clear on why they are there, what the objectives are and how you plan to meet these goals? Do you give regular, company-wide feedback on progress? What has gone well, what not so well? What are the obstacles in your way? Who has good ideas on how to deal with these? Those businesses, where everyone is in the same boat and all are rowing in the same direction, will reach their goals quicker and give their employees a real sense of achievement, belonging and pride!

At a time when demand outstrips supply of talented individuals, we’d better spend time and energy on keeping the ones we have. As a result you may just create the environment and engagement that attracts more talent!