According to Gallup, disengaged employees can result in 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability within the workplace. This shows just how costly it can be to run a ship with a disconnected and unengaged crew.
Employee engagement is not about the satisfaction felt from receiving material benefits; rather it refers to the emotional commitment an employee has to their organisation.
Despite these statistics providing a very clear narrative on why employee engagement is so integral to business success, the reality is that businesses often misjudge how to address it properly. More often than not companies address engagement from the top down. The result? These strategies often fail to address the real issues at hand and do not reflect the wants and needs of the employees themselves.
The impact of Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly given businesses even more of a reason to focus on employee engagement. As businesses closed their doors and moved to a remote (and somewhat fractured way of working), they witnessed employees feeling cut off from their peers and line managers. Employees also needed to adapt to new ways of working and deal with differing motivations in their personal lives; leaving employees feeling anxious and uncertain.
This sudden shift forced HR and leadership teams alike to question how to keep their employees engaged through such an unusual and challenging time, and specifically, how to do this at a time when the purse strings were tight.
Sky high Google searches
Businesses across the UK took to the internet in a bid to find answers to their questions. In fact, in December 2020, search volume for the term “employee wellbeing” reached its highest ever level – 300% higher than the same month in the previous year. Plus, in May, the question “how to engage employees” was searched more than it had been since 2008.
Whilst the internet does, of course, provide a wealth of information, what many businesses often fail to recognise is that the answer to creating a fruitful employee engagement strategy can often be found much closer to home and within their teams themselves.
More often than not, businesses can make the mistake of treating employee engagement as an HR issue. Here’s the scenario, you may know it all too well: the HR team convinces the CEO to commit some budget to an employee survey. Once the survey is complete, the data is then kept locked away, senior leaders brainstorm ideas and then implement changes that they believe will engage employees. This is where we see those extrinsic initiatives such as free fruit, early finish Fridays, lunch and learns, and perhaps a monthly Zoom quiz. The example above demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of what employee engagement is.
Employee engagement is not about the satisfaction felt from receiving material benefits; rather it refers to the emotional commitment an employee has to their organisation, specifically its vision, purpose and goals. This is the difference between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.
This management led approach to the implementation of an employee engagement strategy means front-line leaders are acting as the regulators of employee engagement. It’s being developed through the lens of one or a few senior individuals, and this has the potential to result in something that is dangerously disconnected. The key learning here is that leaders should never assume they have all the answers.
There is a lot to be said about belonging and feeling part of a greater ‘whole’. Nurturing the emotional connections between employees and their workplace will motivate them to remain committed to the company in the long term and bring tangible benefits for everyone. The key to creating this feeling of belonging is to focus on techniques that give all employees a real voice. For instance, where solutions to problems that the company faces are found by the team themselves collaboratively and are not dictated by those at the top.
It all starts with collaborative problem solving and giving each team member greater autonomy to be part of the solution. It’s important to gain employee buy-in to corporate efforts to re-engage by empowering and enabling. Without doing this, you may face a sea of shrugged shoulders and find your engagement programme fails to make significant progress.
Giving a voice to people at all levels in the workplace and facilitating structured opportunities will ensure employees feel like they are a driving force. So rather than feeling like the company is pulling them along with instructions from the top, they will feel wholly connected to its vision and its goals. Ultimately, this is what we need in order to love what we do.
Interested in this topic? Read How collective leadership leads to sustainable growth.