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Employees are the building blocks of any successful company. Without dedicated team members moving the day-to-day operations of an organisation forward, a company cannot grow or progress. It goes without saying, then, that when employee engagement is at its highest, a business thrives.
So, what exactly is employee engagement? What does it mean for a company’s team members to be fully invested in and engaged with its mission and values? And how can leaders and managers use today’s best HR practices and tools to ensure employee engagement within the workplace is thriving?
What is Employee Engagement?
First off, it’s important to clarify what employee engagement is not.
Employee engagement is not the same as ‘job satisfaction’—a common misconception. Of course, job satisfaction is crucial to productivity and retention in the same way effective engagement is, but there are still differences between the two.
Employee satisfaction, while an important metric, doesn’t necessarily correlate with high performance. A team member’s satisfaction with their job simply measures their contentment. However, this contentment can simply be tied to having gainful employment that allows them to earn a living wage. In other words, it tends to lean more toward being a surface-level metric. An employee can be satisfied with their job, but that doesn’t automatically translate to them being engaged with their work.
The same is true when taking into account an employee’s happiness, which can often be a transient state of being based on that week’s workload or stress levels. An employee may feel happy to receive praise or recognition for their work, but that happiness may drop if they lose an important client later in the week. As a result, due to the way happiness levels can fluctuate, they are hardly a reliable metric when it comes to measuring employee engagement. Again, a team member can be happy about their accomplishments or about being on the receiving end of occasional perks (a pay raise, for instance), but that doesn’t automatically lead to increased engagement with their work.
It’s also important to note that workplace wellness, while essential to a positive working environment, also does not equal employee engagement. The best working environments make employee wellbeing a priority and have many ways of achieving this: from offering lunch-and-learn sessions about ways to effectively cope with stress to providing perks such as telework flexibility, gym memberships, and opportunities for personal development and career advancement. Such workplace ‘amenities’ as these nurture a person’s wellbeing, which can certainly lead to better engagement down the road, but in and of itself, high employee wellbeing isn’t the same as high employee engagement.
When we speak of employee engagement, what we’re truly referring to is the emotional connection that an employee feels toward their organisation, and that organisation’s mission, values, and goals. This emotional connection translates to an overarching commitment, where the employee has ‘bought into’ the company’s vision and believes in it enough to put forth their best work, often to the point of going above and beyond.
Engaged employees take ownership and responsibility for their roles and are committed to producing excellence across the board in every facet of their work.
Some common characteristics of engaged employees include the following:
- They adapt easily and embrace change, eager to use new opportunities to grow further, improve their skillset, and learn new methods of achieving outcomes.
- They actively search out ways to improve the company and its current ways of conducting business, making recommendations for how the company can elevate strategies and approaches for better efficiency.
- They deliver results consistently and thrive in a culture of excellence, regularly seeking out ways to exceed expectations and raise the bar.
When employee engagement is at its highest, the results speak for themselves.
High-performing team members who are committed to a company’s mission and who are emotionally invested in their work collectively bring an organisation to a high level of operation that drive better business outcomes again and again.
Why is Employee Engagement Important?
Employee engagement is crucial to the success of any organisation.
As already mentioned, when team members are engaged with the mission, values, and goals of the company for which they work, it leads to high-performance that elevates the quality of their work ethic.
However, there are many other benefits of employee engagement that allows a workplace to thrive when engagement is fully developed and effectively sustained.
It goes without saying that when employees are driven in their work and invested in their company’s overall goals, productivity increases. When team members believe in the work they do and in the larger impact it has on the company as a whole as well as on the world beyond the four walls of the company building, they are naturally motivated to put forth their best work and take the initiative to move projects forward in their progression from inception to completion. High-performing and effectively engaged employees are best known for how incredibly productive they are in the workplace. In fact, a Gallup study suggests they are 17% more productive than their peers.
Commitment comes in many forms, but one of the most visible signs of it is in a reliable worker who shows up and does the work. According to Gallup, engaged workplaces see 41% lower absenteeism, which makes a significant difference especially in high-performing working environments, where the presence of every team member counts and multiple projects are managed simultaneously with big-ticket outcomes dependent on them. When a company’s employees are engaged, leaders and managers can count on hard-working and dedicated team members to be there when needed.
Gallup also suggests that engaged teams experience lower turnover. Naturally, when an employee is committed to a company’s mission, they are able to see themselves in that organisation’s ‘Big Picture’ long-term. Engaged employees have an emotional connection to the work they do, and rarely are the type to ‘jump ship’ when an opportunity presents itself such as in the form of another job offer. Rather, they stay with their company, partly due to loyalty but largely because the organisation’s vision has won their heart and they wish to continue advancing their efforts to achieve the company’s business outcomes.
As touched upon earlier, while job satisfaction, employee happiness, and an individual’s wellbeing are not the same thing as employee engagement nor the best metrics for measuring it, they are still connected to engagement in their own way. When employees are engaged with their work, it’s easier to experience job satisfaction, as engaged workers typically identify the best ways to marry their strengths and skills with the responsibilities of their role. Engaged workers are also able to identify how their position fits into a company’s ‘Big Picture,’ which gives a sense of purpose to their work. This purpose brings meaning to their day-to-day tasks, which can boost job satisfaction and make for a happier employee. Engagement in the workplace also correlates with an employee's physical health. According to Gallup, engaged team members are more likely to eat healthier and exercise, leading to lower obesity rates and lower instances of chronic disease.
How to Develop Employee Engagement
The benefits of employee engagement are many, and it’s no surprise that organisations the world over make significant investments in developing and building out engagement plans, understanding that their returns will be worthwhile and long-lasting.
When building out an action plan to increase employee engagement, however, it’s essential to understand what exactly are the top drivers of engagement to begin with.
According to Quantum Workplace’s 2020 Employee Engagement Trends Report, the top 10 drivers include the following:
- My job allows me to utilise my strengths.
- I trust our senior leaders to lead the company to future success.
- I believe this organisation will be successful in the future.
- I find my job interesting and challenging.
- The senior leaders of this organisation value people as their most important resource.
- My opinions seem to count at work.
- If I contribute to the organisation’s success, I know I will be recognised.
- I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself here.
- The senior leaders of this organisation demonstrate integrity.
- I have the information I need to do my job well.
In understanding these universal drivers, which are indicative of the mindset of the average worker, regardless of age, gender, and other demographics, leaders and managers can better understand the specific pain points that must be addressed in order for employees to feel seen, heard, and valued at their places of employment.
When instituting an employee engagement plan, organisations should rely on certain strategies that are specifically designed to address the above drivers. Such strategies include the following:
Create a Sense of Purpose
Identifying purpose is absolutely essential in the workplace. Most individuals crave to do work that is meaningful, significant and fulfilling. When workers understand the ‘why’ of what they do, and how it has a positive impact on a greater whole, it can lead to greater job satisfaction and mental wellbeing.
In the workplace, the purpose is the fundamental reason an organisation exists. It provides the connection people make between their work and the overall direction of the organisation. It frames what the organisation does in a meaningful way.
A clear, high level of purpose predicts strong organisational focus. It also brings the following benefits:
- People are more connected to the organisation’s direction.
- People feel that they are making a difference to something they consider to be important.
- And therefore, people feel that the work they’re doing has meaning.
Whatever a company’s purpose, it must be meaningful, emotive, and motivating. Rarely are purpose statements only about profit or shareholder value. In addition to that, an organisation should get as clear as it can on not just what it is a team does but why they do it and what the overall benefit of that work is.
Invest in Personal Growth
60% of workers globally are either actively seeking further education/training, or are considering it.
More than half of these workers are interested in upskilling to better their chances at receiving a promotion, meaning that companies can increase their retention rates simply by helping its employees advance in their careers.
Upskilling is essential for both companies and employees. Not only does increased training mean greater productivity in the workplace and a more competitive edge in the marketplace for a company, but employees who are regularly given opportunities to grow and enhance their skillset tend to report higher job satisfaction and engagement levels, making for a better workplace for all involved.
In the age of remote learning, it’s easier than ever to connect employees with continuing education that adds to their skillset. Online training programs and platforms such as Coursera and LinkedIn Learning are excellent tools to utilise when investing in employees’ personal growth.
Recognition in the workplace is a powerful tool. It boosts morale and creates a positive working environment where employees are motivated to perform at their best.
Recognition is essentially a form of validation, ensuring employees that they play a role in the company’s 'Big Picture' and are therefore valued and needed.
Unfortunately, it's a strategy that often gets overlooked by many organisations. A recent survey provided startling insights into the practice of recognition: While 56% of senior management felt their company was above average when it came to appreciating employees, only 23% of staff felt likewise. This despite the fact that 69% of employees reported that they would work harder if they were better recognised.
Recognition must be a part of any company’s engagement plan, as it plays a crucial role in motivating team members and nurturing their commitment to their work.
Both the environment and the social relationships that build community in the workplace have a huge impact on employee performance.
A happy, positive work environment, for instance, encourages workers to be patient and collaborative, while healthy relationships with colleagues can boost team morale and increase employee engagement. Interestingly enough, only 49% of employees admit to having strong interpersonal relationships at work unfortunately.
In light of this, it’s essential that companies make community building an integral part of any employee engagement plan. Team building exercises are especially helpful for this purpose, as are strategies that focus on developing a positive workplace culture.
Provide Open Communication
As the old adage says, ‘communication is key.’
This is no less true than in a thriving organisation.
Communication is a building block of successful companies, but only when that communication flows both ways, which is to say that communication should never just come from leadership with employees only ever serving as the recipients.
Rather, communication should be a two-way street. To foster an environment where employees are engaged, companies must be open to receiving feedback from their human capital. When team members feel heard and also feel that their opinions matter, it can lead to an increased commitment to the company, allowing employees to feel as if they have ownership of the organisation. This ownership typically translates to a higher sense of dedication to their work.
Communication is also essential when conveying news and updates about a company’s progress (or setbacks), and additionally, leaders and managers should always make themselves available to their team members with ‘open door policies’ that make them more accessible to their employees. In this way, individuals are able to feel that they can turn to their managers at any time with questions they may have, allowing them to easily overcome any barriers in their work.
Employee engagement is the foundation upon which organisations are able to thrive. When team members are fully engaged and committed to a company’s mission, productivity increase, employee morale rises, and work quality reaches elevated levels. One of the best investments companies can make in their human capital, therefore, is in a comprehensive employee engagement plan that will ensure team members are emotionally connected to an organisation’s values and goals and committed to playing a role in that organisation’s success.
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Rosalind Cardinal is the Managing Director of Shaping Change, a consultancy specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is an outstanding facilitator whose passion is evident in her work. She is able to engage and empathise with her audience, while providing challenging insight that encourages people to think outside parameters. She has a unique skill set that combines an incredible depth of facilitation and training capability with strategic understanding. With this she becomes instrumental in both shaping a strategy and also then translating that strategy into creative, engaging and high impact organisational initiatives
Ros’ many certifications include LSI/GSI/LI and OCI/OEI (Human Synergistics), Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (ebpsych), Myers Briggs Type Indicator Step 1 and 2 (APP), 4Mat Learning Type Measure/Hemispheric Mode Indicator/Leadership Behaviour Indicator (4Mat Aust.), Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, The Leadership Practices Inventory, Benchmarks and Skillscope (CCL), Political Intelligence and Conversational Intelligence®. Ros is also a certified Change Management Practitioner, an accredited practitioner in Human Instincts, an accredited Appreciation at Work facilitator and a certified Neurocoach and Neuroleader. Ros is a Certified Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute (CAHRI), a member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) a Professional Member of the Australian Association for Psychological Type (AusAPT), a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and a member of the Neuroleadership Institute. She holds a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Deakin University, an Australian Human Resources Institute Professional Diploma in Human Resources and has completed the Australian Graduate School of Management Executive Program, Strategic Human Resource Management.
In addition to Ros’ own blog, she is a regular contributing writer for Leaders in Heels, The Huffington Post, “Thrive Global”, and “People Development” Magazine. Ros’ business story is showcased in the 2014 book “Australian Entrepreneur”. In 2016 Ros released her bestselling and award nominated book “The Resilient Employee: The essential guide to coping with change and thriving in today’s workplace”.
Shaping Change has been a finalist in the Australian Small Business Champions Awards every year since 2015, and in 2015 Ros was a winner in the Australian Edupreneur Awards (Business Consulting category). In 2016, 2017, and again in 2018, Ros was awarded Leadership Coach of the Year – Australia by Corporate LiveWire in their global Innovation and Excellence Awards. In 2020 Ros was a finalist in the prestigious Telstra Business Women’s Awards. In 2021 Shaping Change was a finalist in the Australian Institute of Training and Development Training Awards for the best Diversity and Inclusion program. In 2022 Corporate LiveWire awarded Shaping Change Executive Coaching Service of the Year – Australia and Ros was a finalist in the inaugural Australian Women’s Small Business Champions Awards. In 2022, in a career highlight, Ros was a recipient of a World of Difference Award from The International Alliance for Women (TIAW). These awards recognise extraordinary women and men from around the world who have contributed to the economic empowerment of women.