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Engagement takes over as key employee measure

Research is starting to reveal the important connection between an engaged workforce and performance. By Business Journalist Tim Cooper.

Engagement is taking over from job satisfaction as one of the most important goals for both employers and employees.

Employers used to measure satisfaction, with the assumption that a happy workforce was more productive. But studies by a number of organisations have started to reveal the more important connection between engaged employees – who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work - and business performance.

Gallup, for example, has done extensive research over the last few years showing a strong connection between engagement and performance outcomes such as quality, customer ratings, productivity, turnover and profitability.

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has identified a range of strategies that impact upon engagement levels. According to the CIPD, human resources practices do not impact directly on engagement; it comes from job fit and line management style.

Helping employees find meaning in their work is the most important driver of engagement for all employee groups. Having a voice in the organisation also has a strong link.

Senior management vision and communication is another important driver, whereas senior management effectiveness is negatively related to employee engagement. Finally, positive perceptions of line managers are strongly linked with engagement, according to the CIPD.

Outcomes of engagement

The CIPD also identified a range of positive outcomes for individuals and organisations as a result of increased engagement. Engaged employees perform better and mostly do well in appraisals. They are more innovative than others and more likely to stay with their employers.

Engaged employees enjoy greater levels of personal well-being and they perceive their workload to be more sustainable than others. However, moderation is needed as excessively high levels of engagement can lead to ill-health and burnout, warned the institute.

Clare Haynes, Trainer and Speaker at Wildfire UK, says successful engagement results in job satisfaction anyway, so employers and employees should focus on the former.

‘The problem with measuring job satisfaction through a simple staff questionnaire is that it doesn’t show how the results feed through to productivity or profit in the organisation,’ she says.

Haynes agrees that perception of managers is important, adding that a large percentage of people who leave a job do so because of their boss. So, for employees, ensuring your own engagement starts before you even accept a job.

‘At the first interview; you need to ask have you met your boss and do your personalities gel? Do you want to work with them as much as they do with you?

‘For example, is your boss going to let you take responsibility, be more autonomous and contribute more? One area where employers can get engagement wrong is assuming it’s about just information flow; it is more about contribution.’

She says both engagement and satisfaction are not about detail, but about emotion.

‘We are becoming increasingly aware of the power of emotion at work. If we can sometimes stop being so factual, which may be a struggle for some, and tap into the emotion, that gets people excited.’

There are simple ways to do this – the first is just to have more conversations with employees about how they feel about work.

‘Managers [need to question] whether staff are being allowed to feel part of the team, and to share their ideas, without risk. Sometimes finance people won’t commit to an idea where there is a perceived risk to their reputation or their pride [so you need to understand that emotional aspect].’

Beyond this, Haynes suggests coaching could also help. ‘Coaching has a good long-term impact on engagement because it gives people an understanding of what they bring to the role with their own personality and how that fits in with others.’

She proposes four areas in which managers can boost engagement, or which individuals can work on to achieve it themselves.

  • Purpose – employees need to know what impact their job has in the wider organisation and beyond.
  • Autonomy – trusting them to get on with the job, without undue interference.
  • Camaraderie, which fosters good teamwork.
  • Equity – treating them fairly.

To read more on this area, Haynes recommends the work of ‘Drive’ author Dan Pink.

Another crucial way to boost engagement among finance staff is to get them educating non-finance people in the organisation, which helps them prove their worth to others, adds Haynes.

Simple ways to enhance engagement

David Ingram, Managing Director of digital marketing agency Bring Digital, is a strong proponent of employee engagement. He believes that there are several simple and inexpensive ways that all businesses can improve it.

Ingram says there is a big difference between satisfaction and engagement and that he has seen a definite shift in focus towards the latter over the past few years.

‘Satisfaction is no longer enough for both employers and employees, and people want to work for a business that they truly care about,’ he says. ‘Despite the reports about millennials being job-hoppers, people entering the job market now do want a career and a place where they can grow and develop. And you can’t build a career in a business that you are not engaged with.’

Ingram says satisfied employees will be happy in their role, but may not put in the extra effort to help a customer or complete a project to a high standard. By contrast, engaged employees feel passionate about their jobs; want to succeed; and want the business to succeed, which sets them apart even further.

He says running surveys about these issues with staff is a great way to find out how they really feel. ‘The feedback you can gain is incredibly valuable, but be sure to action their comments and to track your progress.’

Fun perks for staff such as parties and days out are great for morale, but they do not by themselves create a culture of engagement. More importantly, people want careers, to have a purpose and to feel valued.

Ingram says progression plans for each employee are an important way to achieve this - mapping out their future in the company with goals to hit along the way. ‘This gives people incredible motivation and it allows for constant improvement and development,’ he says. ‘Also open and honest communication about the overall business is a must. Companies tend only to share good news, but they should share both good and bad things with everyone. This will help people feel part of the success of the business.’

Ingram agrees that responsibility for engagement rests with both employers and with employees themselves. Steps staff can take include being more vocal and involved in the way that the business runs when senior management present the opportunity.

‘Employees can also help by thinking about their future progression,’ he adds. ‘What role do they want and where do they want to improve? If people have goals to work towards, then they will feel more motivated to go the extra mile for their development and for the business.’

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