Put the Employee Back in Employee Engagement

Last check, engagement was still the hottest buzz word in the HCM world. Ask ten different HCM professionals what “employee engagement” means, and you will likely get answers that include words or phrases such as organizational commitment, job satisfaction, happiness, discretionary effort, or “likely to recommend us as a good place to work.” Unfortunately, all too many organizations have strayed from the path. A look at just the twelve most popular engagement survey providers reveals wide and varied definitions of engagement – no wonder we are all so confused.

The fact of the matter is that most “engagement” surveys either do not measure engagement at all, or lump so many unrelated things in that the final engagement score that is tabulated no longer is a measure of “engagement” at all. Given this scenario, maybe organizations should revert back to calling them “climate” or “employee” surveys.

“Engaged” employees know what is expected of them in their roles, are provided opportunities for growth and development, feel supported by their colleagues (managers and supervisors) and are given autonomy to perform tasks. An engaged employee finds their work to be psychologically meaningful, feel a sense of purpose, and have a belief that the work they do makes a difference.

At Aberdeen, we believe that engagement initiatives should be about aligning individuals with the mission and priorities of the organization in order to drive business results. This strategy, however, requires an intimate understanding of your employees, what motivates them, what skills they possess, and what roles they fill, all in an effort to help identify the human drivers of business results which are most critical to your organization. Engagement is not about what drives your aggregate engagement scores; rather it is about each and every employee and how their collective efforts make or break the success of your organization.

No matter what definition or approach is taken, it is imperative to look at engagement at all levels in an organization: organizational (macro), segment/sector level (meso), and at the department/individual level (micro). While measurement at the micro level is not always feasible or reliable due to sample size or the lack of resources, organizations still need to direct their efforts to increase engagement to each and every individual in the organization.

Business results are impacted not only by increases in revenue, but also by reductions in expenses. People-related expenses are typically only thought of as costs for salary, benefits and training, but if we look at this through an engagement lens, companies have an opportunity to save on people-related expenses such as the cost of turnover, the impact of knowledge loss on achieving strategic goals, and even stress and mental health related medical claims. Leaders and managers have to do a better job at making sure their employees know that they truly see them as our most valuable asset not just in their words but in their actions too.

Here are a few recommendations for employee engagement that we should all keep our eyes on:

  • Measure why people stay, what motivates them to perform, what they value
  • Personalization of engagement action plans
  • Employees owning their engagement
  • Measuring engagement over the employee lifecycle – hire engaged workers
  • Focus on more than just the drivers but a shift to focus on the outcomes – track and monitor employee engagement in conjunction with other outcomes such as customer satisfaction levels or turnover

These days, employee engagement isn’t just a “nice to have;” it’s critical to organizational success. How else can you help your employees connect meaningfully with their work and with the company as a whole?

Resources: “The Age of Employee Engagement

This post was first published on on September 17, 2014.

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