Employee Engagement – why is it so difficult? A blog by Business Butler

Employee Engagement – why is it so difficult?

A guest blog by Rob Baker, HR expert.

It is now 10 years since the pioneering work of David MacLeod and Nita Clarke highlighted the gains to be achieved by securing the positive engagement of your workforce. In the intervening period, everyone from the CIPD to ACAS – and dozens more – have extolled the benefits of engagement as a means of gaining commitment and extracting discretionary effort from employees. The links with well-being, both physical and mental, are very strong.

So why is it that so many organisations are yet to get this right?

Research shows that positive Employment Engagement will:

  • Boost Productivity
  • Increase customer satisfaction
  • Help retain your best people
  • Enhance Company culture
  • Be a symptom of success

88% of employees responding to a Workplace Survey felt more engaged with their work as a result of having what they perceived to be, good well-being. (Limeade & Quantum 2017 Workplace Survey)

So what is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is generally regarded as a workplace approach resulting in employees of an organisation giving their best each day, being committed to their organisation’s goals and values and motivated to contribute to organisational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being. Increases in productivity, customer relationships and satisfaction, in conjunction with reduced absence levels, can be evidenced by organisations which are serious about engagement; those which invest in making it happen, and which value the concept as both a key and explicit organisational objective.

However, those organisations in this highly positive arena are, sadly, it seems only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface many organisations ‘talk a good game’, or at least a good intent, but fail to put in place the foundations for effective engagement to prosper.

How many organisations do you know (maybe even your own) that have tinkered with well-being events for staff, or introduced a set of values that have no strength or top-level support behind them? Could your average employee describe the neatly written Strategic Plan?

Have you seen Employee Surveys undertaken, which have then failed to produce action plans of any worth? Or worse still, the results are used to construct a fallible narrative, in which “70% of staff think this is a good place to work”, whilst steering clear of that fact that only a small minority of staff believe the top team to be effective. I know I have.

Engagement at organisational level

Many years ago, my organisation at the time engaged with Professor Gareth Jones who, along with Rob Goffey, had written the book “Why Should Anyone be Led by You”? It advocated the idea of ‘Authentic Leadership’, and whilst I fully advocate that individual leaders and managers must be authentic, I would elevate this requirement to organisational level too. Staff will soon see through ad hoc and unsustainable attempts to ‘value their wellbeing’ or secure their engagement like it’s some favour the organisation is offering. We have to get real about what engagement is and start to build organisational pillars and frameworks that can support a sustained, and genuine effort to put these things in place.

“Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required.” —Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D.

I love the term ‘discretionary effort’ – I believe that employees are paid to do a decent job but getting the much-coveted ‘extra mile’ is something most organisations fail to achieve; yet it reaps the greatest reward. Employees should be as valued as an organisation’s capital and financial assets, and until then we will continue to miss out on a fantastic opportunity.

Putting your people first is something that seems to be said constantly – but we have to get serious about doing it. Invest some top-level time and effort to find out what makes your workforce tick and what they would like their experience at work to look and feel like – then deliver against realistic promises which will make your people realise that you mean it. Now we are talking culture change! Happy engaging.

Rob Baker runs his own HR Consultancy, Afon HR specialising in positive transformational change, organisational development, staff engagement and wellbeing. He champions diversity and inclusion. To find out more about how Rob Baker can help you with any HR issues click here.

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