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Ian Luxford

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Top tips: Employee engagement


The most practical definition of engagement is whatever it takes to convince someone that their job is worth doing, so that they enjoy doing it and want to do it well. Here are some top tips on working with employees to release motivation.

We must never lose sight of the fact that research has shown that the more motivated someone is, the more they will have higher levels of interest, excitement and confidence, and consequently perform better. Finding out what makes each staff member tick is key to getting the best out of them.

Many people believe that motivation is an inborn personality trait, but in fact there is much that can be done by employers to encourage and promote it. As well as providing appropriate incentives and rewards, organisations must ensure their people have as much autonomy as possible, feel confident and valued in what they are doing and have adequate personal support. Yet despite its significance to a company, employers often fatally overlook employee engagement, as attitude is something which cannot be taught, and traditionally, organisations are used to teach people to do things.

There is a good argument to be made that engagement is not merely part of managing people, but very nearly the whole of it. It is not just about wise words from the latest motivation guru or a pep talk from the managing director. The most common complaint made by employees is that they are neither told nor consulted enough, and whilst this may be largely the product of reflex rather than reflection, it is nevertheless an issue worth addressing – and being seen to address. Those responsible for directing resource and effort to achieve business aims must begin by explaining to individuals, clearly and persuasively, what is required and expected of them, and how their role fits into the bigger picture.

Employers can only achieve employee engagement by tapping into their emotions and getting them charged about their role. This is such an integral issue to the successful running of a business, that many advanced companies now even have in-house teams that look after this issue. 

Taking into account the outstanding effects of engagement, there is every incentive for managers to promote and improve levels of engagement among the workforce. At the very least, employers should ensure each of their staff has a voice that is heard by their colleagues and managers, developing internal communications to ensure staff are well-informed and the role model effect that they themselves can deliver as a committed manager. Managers should also consider carefully what is most important to their own staff, as this may differ from team to team.

Implementing an effective engagement strategy builds a positive psychological contract between employer and employees and means that staff are more likely to act as organisational advocates both internally and externally. Staff can play a powerful role in promoting their organisation as an employer of choice, as well as endorsing the product it offers. Employees represent an organisation in their actions and words, whether intentional or not and organisations would naturally want their employees to do this in a positive way.

Employers need to look strategically at making engagement happen, as it does not happen of its own accord. Employers that strive to charge their employees up will reap the benefits, and customers, colleagues and shareholders will notice the difference!

In our experience, there are four basic ingredients to successful employee engagement:

  1. Communication – is it absolutely clear what is being asked and why? Many managers and team leaders fall into the trap of issuing instructions without setting them in context or conveying how the work to be carried out fits into the overall picture.
  2. Education – does the person have the requisite skills and competencies? If not, how can any necessary training be obtained?
  3. Measurement – are there well-defined goals and evidence of progress towards them, in any given project as well as in the individual’s overall career?
  4. Reward – how will success be recognised? This is absolutely key. Read almost any employee survey and a cry for greater recognition is invariably high up on the wish list.

The first three of these underpin the fourth, reward being, as it were, the icing on the cake.

Yet while rewards offer a tried and tested method of incentivising and motivating staff, we must not forget that, in the final analysis, why we do what we do varies enormously from person to person, from task to task, and indeed from organisational culture to organisational culture. So, whilst the basic ingredients of employee engagement might be known, it is the way in which they are combined and the nature of the additives that can make all the difference.

Ian Luxford is Learning Services Director, Grass Roots


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