There are, of course, many definitions of engagement in the world of human resources and business. Our own view is that engagement can be defined as:
“Working in a trusting climate in which individuals experience a sense of being valued, a desire to be here, feel motivated to give the best of themselves, participate and take ownership for their own and the team’s success, and consequently feel pride in their organisation and its work.”
Researchers say that engagement can be most observed in the workplace from three angles:
The energy angle: This has to do with how much energy someone puts into their actual work and day to day routines.
The focus angle: This has to do with attention and concentration. How much someone is focused at work, while they are at work – rather than doing their shopping list in their head or thinking about arranging their next holiday.
And the emotional angle: This has to do with how they feel at work. How much dedication for – and connection with – what they do day to day, the people they work with, and the organisation itself.
This last angle is a really important one from our point of view. We think there are three foundations stones on which all employee engagement gets built. These are: Trust, Climate and Emotion.
From our own research and working real time with clients on the subject, we believe there are at least six key elements relating to employee engagement.
One important element is that employee engagement is about connection. Experts say that connection is key. Engagement is about having a deep connection between what we do and who we are. This is true about most things in life because we will tend to put more of our heart and soul into those things we care most about. It’s like having a hobby or interest that we are passionate about. When we disconnect, we disengage with the subject or activity.
Employee engagement at work is about enabling people to feel connected in meaningful and authentic ways with their roles and responsibilities, their colleagues and what the organisation is trying to deliver to its chosen customers. It’s about having a belief in – and passion for – what we are trying to do together. And of course this state of engagement is observable through behaviour.
Another important element is that employee engagement is variable, not an absolute. Employees aren’t either engaged or disengaged. Several studies have shown that approximately
31% of employees are “actively engaged,” – as I’ve described above
52% are “neither fully engaged or fully disengaged,” just sort of neutral, and
17% are “actively disengaged”, that is actively focusing on other things while at work.
The truth is that we can’t expect everyone to sustain high levels of engagement all of the time. Frequency, amount and conditions are all factors, so when leaders reflect on the level of engagement they perceive in their work group they need to ask themselves several questions: How engaged do people really feel? How often do they feel fully engaged, and under what circumstances do they feel that way?
This leads me to another significant element in employee engagement. Because it’s a variable this challenges the annual engagement survey that organisations employ. I’m not saying that the information it produces is not useful – of course it is. But we know that large surveys are usually too big and not frequent enough to give us an accurate picture. In the interval between annual surveys, individuals may have swung through different levels of engagement at any given time.
We would argue that employee engagement really has to be temperature checked often so that a team leader can adjust what she or he does in order to sustain high levels of engagement in the team.
Ownership is another very important element of employee engagement. The individual is the only person who can say whether they feel engaged or not. No one can have greater ownership about how I feel about what I do, than me. This is so important to my psychological and emotional well-being at work, that I can’t wait for management to Do something about my engagement. I have to take the first step. The trouble is that in many organisational setting employees are waiting for managers to engage them, often with the unintentional consequence of creating a ‘moaning climate’ when they are disappointed.
The only caveat here is that people need to feel they are working in a culture and climate that enables them to take ownership for their engagement; enables them to consider and reflect on it, and, with their colleagues, enables them to connect in the way that I have described above.
We also believe that another key element is that employee engagement is fundamentally about relationships. A recent study showed that 97% of respondents cared very much about their relationships with work colleagues. We believe that if employee engagement is about how I feel about being here, then my colleagues and my boss, the nature and quality of my relationships with them and other people – perhaps departments across the organisation – is going to be critical. To what extent do I get what I need at a personal level from my immediate boss and my work colleagues? What kind of trusting relationships do I have and what is the nature of the work climate those relationships foster?
Another important aspect of employee engagement is that the combination of these elements must produce something meaningful for people. In other words organisations don’t chase the holy grail of employee engagement just because it’s a good idea in itself. Organisations put a lot of effort into creating highly engaged workplaces because people give the best of themselves in these circumstances. When people work in open, trusting environments in which they enjoy working, they connect with their job beyond the day to day tasks and more with the mission and vision of the organisation. As a consequence they feel pride in what they do and look forward to giving of their best. This is so important. After all when is the last time you heard someone say “I’m glad it’s Monday”, rather than “I can’t wait for it to be Friday.” This pride in something more meaningful than just the day to day tasks leads to more discretionary effort, with all the business benefits that produces.
So, as you can see, employee engagement is complex. Like cogs in a giant machine, there are a number of elements that must exist, working together to create a high performance, highly engaged workplace. Our research points to a number of key indicators of employee engagement that exists at that fundamental operating unit I talked about earlier – the team.
Here, I have outlined our thoughts on the six key elements of employee engagement that leaders should be looking out for. Our next question is, what can leaders actually do about those key indicators to help foster employee engagement?
But perhaps that’s a subject for next time.
Joe España is Managing Director of Performance Equations, a specialist organisational development and change consultancy. Performance Equations helps companies and individuals become more competitive by directly linking strategy to people and business performance. Our areas of focus are: Organisational culture & change, Leadership development, Team development and Service excellence. Joe and his team provide measurable solutions that are bespoke to particular needs, and that deliver performance where it matters most; the bottom line.For a free information pack call +44 (0)1252 545171. Joe can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Performance Equations and how they help organisations achieve better results, visit www.performance-equations.co.uk.