The importance of employee engagement

There is no shortage of research to indicate that the engagement of your people is critical for your continued success. So why do so few organisations invest time and energy on getting this right? We explore some of the reasons you may be missing out on the key to improved performance.

“Workplace engagement is just another corporate fad I can ignore”

It would be easy to assume that the recent intense focus on engagement is yet another example of someone swallowing a management textbook and finding something new to blame for their poor business results. However, the research speaks for itself; according to the independent Employee Engagement Task Force ‘Engage for Success’ (backed by the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills), companies with high employee engagement scores enjoy 18% higher productivity, 40% lower staff churn and twice the annual net profit of those with lower scores.

Breaking that down, what strong engagement can really do for your business is incredibly far-reaching. Beyond the obvious connection between morale and productivity, you can also address:

  • High spend on recruitment and attrition
  • High sickness and absenteeism
  • Shortage of drive to ‘go the extra mile’
  • High stress levels
  • High level of customer complaints
  • Poor brand reputation

The ripple effect of low engagement might be quite scary when presented in such a list, but the good news there are some very simple steps you can take to turn it around.

“I know my employees are engaged because they smile when I arrive."

We all know that, sadly, people are complex beings and you can rarely assume that those who appear to be happy on the surface are actually feeling fulfilled, motivated and valued. It is especially tricky for those at the top to obtain an accurate picture of their organisational health, unless they truly do have an open-door policy for unsolicited and unfiltered feedback.

Outward behaviours are therefore not enough to assess the real psychological engagement of your people. So what are you looking for?

  • Do your people have sufficient freedom, clarity and fulfilment in their roles?
  • How much are they praised, appreciated and given opportunities to develop?
  • Are opinions respected and colleagues supported?

Understanding these core drivers for personal engagement will help you to analyse how well your business caters for the psychological demands of each of your employees – and what you need to do about it.

“Walking the floor is enough to secure employee happiness”

Being a visible leader is an absolutely crucial element in maintaining employee buy-in, but it only scratches the surface, especially if you’ve just identified some uncomfortable truths via the questions above. Where roles are not sufficiently challenging, or teams are not working together, specific remedial action needs to take place and any outputs tracked.

Every organisation will be different, not only in the pros and cons highlighted in such an assessment, but also in recommended actions that are appropriate to that working environment.

The one rule that rings true for all, though, is that the entire organisation must embrace this focus on engagement and play their part in either reinforcing areas of strength or addressing areas of vulnerability.

“I can’t afford to do anything about it”

This is the biggest barrier of all! Luckily, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Since morale is not intrinsically tied to financial reward, you can (and indeed must) get creative when designing engagement programmes that will truly capture the hearts and minds of your most valuable asset.

Employee engagement is, after all, all about people – so it’s not about buying happiness, it’s about changing behaviours!

Concentrating time and energy on developing such a programme will save you money in numerous ways:

  • You will avoid investing in ineffective / mismatched incentive schemes
  • Productivity will increase
  • Attrition and sickness will decrease
  • Customer experience will improve
  • Revenue will naturally grow as a result

In short, you can’t afford NOT to!