What is employee engagement and why does it matter?

Employees who are in good jobs they enjoy and are managed well, will not only be happier, healthier and more fulfilled but are also more likely to drive productivity and innovation.

That’s according to The Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD), which adds this ‘mutual gains’ view of motivation and people management lies at the heart of employee engagement, a concept that’s become increasingly mainstream in management thinking over the last decade.

But, for some, it’s tempting to think workforces are engaged simply because they turn up to work when they’re supposed to and pick up their wage slip at the end of the month.

This just isn’t the case.

Presenteeism versus engagement

Presenteeism refers to people who turn up to work and go through the motions – the fact is they don’t under-deliver, but, neither do they offer any additional input to the business, and in the event of expansion or crises will not step willingly into the gap to ensure business continuity.

So just because your staff are reliable attendees and don’t flood your screen with complaints, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve bought into the company team ethos and objectives.

If we take the generally-accepted definition of employee engagement to be ‘the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organisation, and therefore be happy to put discretionary effort into their work’ then surely this is something that would benefit all size businesses.

Having an employee engagement policy in place could potentially —

  • Increase staff retention
  • Eliminate presenteeism
  • Reduce absenteeism
  • Generate higher customer service scores
  • Increase productivity
  • Lead to more staff flexibility
  • Improve profitability

Moving things on

So how do staff members move from disengaged to engaged?

Unsurprisingly there are aspects that act, each in their own way, as links in the engagement chain leading from senior management down to each and every employee.

Remuneration is often considered the main driver of engagement, but the reality is that even well-paid staff can be disengaged — so when starting the engagement process, we should assume that remuneration is competitive, and it is other things we need to consider.

When looking at successfully engaged workforces, one clearly identifiable aspect is all individuals understand their role and how its performance impacts on colleagues and the business itself.

This may sound obvious, but the sense of job satisfaction and self-worth generated by people understanding they are key components in creating the bigger picture is hugely self-motivating and encourages all staff members to be the best they can be.

The power of communication and commitment

This seems a fairly simple concept, but unfortunately, despite management buying into the engagement process, it just doesn’t happen in many instances. And that’s often because communication hasn’t hit the mark.

Communication and transparency go hand in hand if effective engagement is to be achieved, so if business leaders buy into transparency, then ensuring all staff understand the organisation’s goals, progress to date and their role as employees both individually and collectively in delivering these objectives, there’s likely to be an environment where each staff member understands their contribution and appreciates their value in building the company’s success.

So effective employee engagement not only requires two-way communication but top-down commitment.

The practicalities

Clearly whilst the principles of communication and transparency seem straightforward too, delivering them can be a little more challenging depending on how the workforce is made up, where people are, and the existing communications infrastructure in place, including technology.

Therefore, as a key step, the logistics of total communication needs to be established, as the alternative where information is shared with only some of the workforce often proves divisive and detrimental.

There has to be a realistic acceptance too that employee engagement is not achieved overnight, and that staff cynicism will not be removed in a revelatory flash of understanding. Rather engagement is developed incrementally as employees learn to rely on the channels of communication and to trust and value the content.

The benefits of an engaged workforce feeds through to the business’s bottom line in many ways not least recruitment and retention, better productivity and workforce flexibility.

However, this isn’t a ‘once and done’ action. In reality, it’s an ongoing, valuable process that requires continual monitoring and adjustment as the workforce and its environment evolve.

Nigel Saunders is an Employee Benefits Consultant at Acumen Employee Benefits and can be contacted on nigel.saunders@acumeneb.com or 01224 001946