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Jack Wiley

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Driving employee engagement higher


How does an organisation increase employee engagement? Jack Wiley identifies four ‘pillars’ of engagement which need to be addressed, and outlines the significant role played by managers.

Research has shown that employee engagement is linked to improved productivity and commitment, higher levels of employee retention and reduced absenteeism, not to mention enhancements in service quality, customer satisfaction and overall performance. It’s easy to see why organisations want to drive engagement to a higher level. The question is, how do they do it?
Let’s start by defining the term. We see employee engagement as: "The extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to the organisation’s success and are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplish tasks that are central to the goals of the organisation."

Breaking it down

In order to measure engagement levels, we break engagement down into a combination of pride (I’m proud to tell people I work for my organisation), satisfaction (I’m satisfied with my organisation as a place to work), advocacy (I would recommend my organisation to others as a good place to work) and retention (I rarely think about looking for a new job with another organisation). By averaging the percentages of favourable responses in these areas, it’s possible to create an employee engagement index score.
Using this measure (Engagement Index Score = Pride + Satisfaction + Advocacy + Retention), we’ve surveyed over 25,000 employees in 18 countries around the world.
The results have been enlightening. Firstly, we found that the UK is behind India, Brazil, the USA, Canada, Russia, Germany and Spain, in its country-level employee engagement index score, but it is ahead of other countries such as France, Italy and Japan. But more importantly, the results have given us an insight into what causes people to feel engaged.

Top 10 drivers

Our study shows that, although they’re broadly similar, each country has slightly different drivers of engagement. 
In the UK, what people want from their work is to feel excited, fulfilled and motivated by their role; to feel confidence in the future of their organisation; to feel they have a promising future; to feel their organisation supports work-life balance; to feel that safety is a priority for their organisation; to be satisfied with their level of recognition; to have opportunities to improve their skills; to have a manager who does a good job; to have leaders who are concerned about the well-being of employees and for colleagues at work to give their best.
The important point here is that if you believe engagement can be managed – and if you believe that driving engagement scores higher in your organisation will have a positive impact – then these are the top 10 areas on which you need to focus.
Admittedly, 10 is a long list, so let’s break it down to four macro drivers that engage employees. These are:
  • Leaders who inspire confidence in the future
  • Managers who recognise employees and emphasise quality and improvement
  • Exciting work and the extent to which employees can improve their skills
  • Organisations that demonstrate a genuine responsibility to their employees and the communities in which they operate (work-life balance, safety, corporate social responsibility).
We call these the ‘four pillars of engagement’. The box below highlights the different factors that influence each of these pillars.
The four pillars of engagement – and the factors that influence them:

Leaders who inspire confidence in the future:
·         Executive assessment/selection
·         Quality of strategic plan and execution
·         Leadership development
·         Communication abilities/employee orientation
·         Performance management systems
Managers who recognise employees and emphasise quality and improvement:
·         Management assessment/selection
·         Management development/behaviour modelling
·         Performance and talent management systems
·         Quality and improvement plan/initiatives
·         Use of feedback systems, from customers and employees
Exciting work and the opportunity to improve skills:
·         Employee assessment/selection
·         Person-job match
·         Employee involvement in decision-making
·         On-the-job training/‘stretch’ assignments
·         Performance and talent management systems
Organisation demonstrates a genuine responsibility to employees and communities:
·         Safety procedures/training/compliance
·         Work-life balance programmes/support
·         Genuine, consistent leadership/management support
·         Corporate responsibility investment level
·         Public relations and employee awareness


The role of the manager

While each pillar is important, our study found that in the UK – more so than in the other countries – the role of the manager is crucial in terms of driving employee engagement.
In fact, employees who regard themselves as working for an effective manager have three to four times higher engagement scores than those who work for managers they regards as ineffective.
So, the simple truth is that you can drive employee engagement higher in your organisation by making your managers more effective. Logically, the next question is then: what causes employees to view their manager as effective?
Our study reveals that UK employees want to be able to say: my manager treats employees fairly; my performance is evaluated fairly; my manager makes good use of employee ideas; work problems are corrected quickly; communication is open and two-way; my manager builds confidence in the senior leaders; my manager’s behaviour is consistent with the mission and values of the organisation; my manager assures me I have a promising future and my manager gives me the opportunity to improve my skills.
In other words, effective managers are seen as fair, they provide recognition, they’re open and communicative, they’re problem solvers, they build confidence for the employee, they behave in ways consistent with the vision and values of the organisation and they encourage their employees to develop their skills.
Each of these aspects of managerial effectiveness will be influenced by further factors. For example, to be an effective problem solver, a manager needs an awareness of the issues, a sense of urgency, knowledge of how the workplace operates and an understanding of how to create and communicate a plan for how the problem will be resolved.
Using the aspects of managerial effectiveness, it’s possible to create a framework of skills, competencies, abilities, values, attitudes, behaviours and knowledge that your managers need. You can then assess your managers against this framework and create development plans to close any gaps.
The same approach – of looking for the root cause and taking action on the factors that will have a direct impact – can work equally well for the other three pillars of engagement. By making a concerted effort to address each pillar, you can radically raise the level of employee engagement in your organisation.
Dr Jack Wiley is executive director of the Kenexa Research Institute. Internationally-recognised as a researcher and author, he has over 30 years of experience in survey research

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