Employee Engagement? Maybe the Holy Grail is Really Employer Engagement

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”More than one in three surveyed employees hopes to be working elsewhere in the next 12 months,” concludes MetLife in its 9th annual study of employee benefits trends.

It adds: “And this intent is true no matter the company size. Employers – lulled by a period of low turnover – may have become less focused on employee job satisfaction and retention.”

There’s another side to the employee engagement discussion that seems to be ignored. I like to state it as this: Give us a reason to be engaged in what the organization is doing. I’m not talking about a mission statement or the top three corporate values, or even the company brand or its long history of innovation, etc.

Consensus a driving force

I’m talking about the efforts a company makes when it truly believes that employees are valuable, that they’re not just “human capital” or “our greatest asset.” I’m talking about a kind of excitement that comes from the top, the energy that flows through every level of the organization.

Call it “Employer engagement.” To me it makes sense that if the employer isn’t committed to its employees and isn’t collaborating with them to achieve its objectives, then the level of employee engagement will never improve (or be well founded) no matter how many satisfaction surveys the company takes.

Consensus in what drives employee engagement seems to settle on the following traits of an employee who is proud to be engaged in pursuing the aims of the business. Call it the “Holy Grail” of engagement. I’d like to turn them around to face back to the C-Suite – are you an engaged employer?

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How to get to the “Holy Grail” or engagement

  • Belief in the organization. We all want to believe in the company – that its processes, practices and policies are fair, reasonable, and help us accomplish what we want to accomplish. It’s a workplace culture thing, sure, but does the company actually make the effort to ensure that the organization is effective (beyond just being efficient, which usually translates into fewer staff and resources to do more work)? Is it supportive of individual initiative that furthers the “mission?” In other words, does the organization believe in its people?
  • Desire to work to make things better. We all have ideas on how to improve things. Are they taken seriously? Or is the status quo the “way we’ve always done it,” the supervisor’s micro-management style, the sometimes insulting, usually intrusive, and often inflexible HR set of policies, all given the hands-off treatment? How does the organization show its own desire to make things better for employees?
  • Understanding of business context and the “bigger picture.” Information isn’t knowledge or understanding, but it’s probably fair to say it’s where engagement begins. Unfortunately, information is often tightly controlled or is simply not available. Ask around – “Name our top 10 (or  five, or three) clients.” “What is our business model – how do we make money?” “Who are our chief competitors, and what makes us different from them?” “What is our ‘value proposition’ to clients?” And of course, “How are we doing financially?” Everyone in the company should know those answers. They are the big picture.
  • Respectful of, and helpful to, colleagues. Do working policies and operating procedures help us connect with the work, with clients, and with colleagues? Is the executive suite approachable at all? Is it a natural practice among managers to say “good job” every so often? Or, is the focus on mistrust of employees, and the environment one of “they need to be told to just do their work.” If capacity is strained, are there any release valves for pressures, any commitment to improving things, or is the thought of getting all this work from so few people just too enticing?
  • Willingness to “go the extra mile.” This is called discretionary effort — the extra effort I make when I have to deliver on time or solve a customer’s problem, or how I work at a full resolution to the problem. Sure, I’ll go the extra mile, but what about the company? Will management make the effort to (a) encourage me; (b) support me with the necessary tools, resources, and time; and, (c) provide clear recognition of these efforts? (From “thank you” to other tangible recognition?) It’s not always possible for the employer to provide the right recognition – say a promotion, or financial incentive. But “going the extra mile” means being seen to make the effort, so that I truly feel that my own efforts make a difference.
  • Keeping up-to-date with developments in the field. Sure we want to keep up, even be ahead of those developments, but is there a policy against time spent online getting this information? Is there a source from the company itself that is actively supported/promoted by management (a link to an industry site, for example, or a newsletter that company will subscribe to or pay for)? Regular briefings available to all employees (not just managers)? Recognition of and support for attending local industry events?

It seems to me that engagement stems directly from leadership. An organization’s leaders who do what they can to remove procedure/process barriers, who humanize its work policies, who put people skills ahead of task skills in appointing managers, and – most of all – who communicate their enthusiasm for the business and its customers are going to have engaged employees at virtually every level of the enterprise.

That’s the Holy Grail.

This was originally published on Steve Laird’s editor & writer blog.

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4 Comments on “Employee Engagement? Maybe the Holy Grail is Really Employer Engagement

  1. This is a very important point. I’ve argued for years employees want to be part of something meaningful. Give them insight into why their work is meaningful within a bigger picture, and you’ll see engagement – both employER and employEE – skyrocket

  2. Great perspective and 100% agree with, “engagement stems directly from leadership.” In fact, I mention this in my new book based on Kenexa’s survey work with over 10 million workers in 150 countries. Leaders drive massive engagement when they create a culture that fosters three things:
    – Growth
    – Recognition
    – Trust

    See the details at http://www.WeTheBook.com

    Best,
    Kevin

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