The Informant: Issue 3

A major part of managing personnel in today’s work environment involves not simply managing but also inspiring employees.

Through your words, communications and actions, you need to engage everyone in your workplace by sharing your vision, talking about the business’s goals, and translating the broader organisational strategy into meaningful personal concepts.

Engaged employees who embrace an organisation’s culture and values are likely to be more productive, innovative and loyal to the business, and to provide better customer/client experiences. In turn, this helps improve your employee retention rate and customer loyalty.

If you want to ensure that your business will not only survive, but succeed, your employee engagement strategy should be at the centre of your commercial agenda. Use new technologies to achieve this goal, because technology is changing the ways in which people interact in workplaces – not just management with employees, but employees with each other.

Engagement as a core business strategy

Businesses with engaged employees tend to experience:

  • lower staff turnover;
  • fewer injuries in the workplace;
  • lower rates of absenteeism;
  • reduced presenteeism; and
  • more positive customer ratings.

All of which are key factors for a business’s productivity, growth and profitability.

Many, if not most, corporate mission statements claim that the organisation’s employees are at the core of their business. This is important. However, you also need to ensure that this kind of statement isn’t just meaningless rhetoric. Instead, you need to focus on how to put the concept into practice, particularly in environments where the:

  • nature of work of work is changing;
  • new technologies present both a threat and an opportunity; and/or
  • expectations of an increasingly multi-generational workforce need to be managed.

In his article ‘Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement’, [1] Josh Bersin identifies three key areas that businesses need to address.

  1. They need to expand their thinking about what ‘engagement’ means today, which involves giving managers and leaders specific practices they can adopt and holding line leaders accountable.
  2. They need tools and methods that measure and capture employee feedback and sentiment on a real-time, local basis, so that they can adjust management practices and the work environment as and when needed. In addition, businesses need to use analytical systems that help identify and predict factors that foster low engagement and retention problems.
  3. Leaders need to raise employee engagement from a human resources program to a core business strategy.

Engaging employees: key strategies

Consider some key foundation concepts for building a positive culture at work:

Engage employees vertically and horizontally

Encourage a sense of collaboration and involvement in decision-making.

It is important that this happens both vertically (between management and staff, in both directions) and horizontally (between the departments/branches/teams within a business). This type of engagement is often overlooked, with the focus directed at analysing the details of specific functions and individuals.

Encourage an employee’s growth and development

Work collaboratively with employees to identify their personal wants and needs.

When employees have ownership and control over their development and feel supported by the business, they will tend to be more engaged with the workplace.

Provide your employees with opportunities for career advancement and professional development

The reality is that most employees will largely view their work through the prism of their own self-interest. If they don’t feel they are going to progress in their chosen role or career, they are likely to look elsewhere.

Research on employee engagement shows that learning opportunities, professional development and career progression are among the top drivers of employee satisfaction.

Employees under the age of 25 rate professional development as their number one driver of engagement. It is the number two priority for workers up to the age of 35. For older employees, the focus on development shifts from mobility and upward progression, to aligning a job with their long-term career goals. All this means that if you want to retain younger staff members, you need to work harder to keep them engaged.

Think of employee engagement as an ongoing process

Employee engagement should start as soon as the employee is hired and carry on through their entire tenure with the business.

Although the factors may be interconnected, you should look to:

  • Provide opportunities for growth and development;
  • Encourage self-directed development;
  • Offer flexibility in work arrangements;
  • Create an inclusive work environment;
  • Encourage work–life balance;
  • Offer performance-based incentives, such as rewards and bonuses; and
  • Have clear, well-articulated business objectives and goals.

Make sure you engage all employees (from baby boomers to millennials)

One of the biggest challenges of engagement in modern workplaces is that employees often span across a wide range of generations. In some businesses, there may be a 50-year age gap between the youngest employees (millennials), who are in their early twenties, and older baby boomers, who may continue working into their seventies.

More than 70% of millennials expect their employers to focus on societal or mission-driven problems. The same proportion want to be creative at work. Finally, more than 66% believe that it is management’s responsibility to provide them with accelerated development opportunities if they want them to stay with the business.[2]

Interestingly, a recent Gallup survey has shown that baby boomers and gen X have the lowest level of engagement at work [3]. It is revealing that, in Australia, these two groups constitute around 90% of the workforce [4], which demonstrates how important it is to ensure that these very different employees work together harmoniously if you want to increase productivity.

In addition, a multi-generational workforce means that the demographic in the workplace is also becoming more diverse. If you are leading a business, you need to promote digital learning and communication to ensure the workforce remains connected.

Technology as a tool for engagement

Technology has not only altered the way work is performed, but re-shaped the way humans communicate and interact.

With the influx of millennials into the workforce, corporations need to re-think the way they engage with their employees.

It is important to understand that millennials rarely use email as their primary mode of communication in their personal and academic lives. Many don’t own a home phone and rely completely on their mobile phone, which they use in multiple ways.

Social collaboration tools such as text messaging and microblogging are a way of life for this generation.

This contrasts with the 1990s and early 2000s, when new technology was something employees experienced in the workplace but didn’t yet use in their personal lives. By the end of the first decade of the new millennium, most people were comfortable with using new technologies in their personal life, and were bringing their knowledge of and desire to use that technology into the workplace.

Both mobile and HR technology can be used to boost engagement efforts and increase productivity in the workplace, while also measuring the effectiveness of engagement strategies.

Popular intranet/virtual noticeboard platforms such as Yammer and Thoughtfarmer may initially present a challenge for some employees. However, the key to using such platforms as effective tools of engagement is to ensure not only that employees understand the uses and benefits of the platforms, but also that they represent the business’ established culture and embody its principles.

At a more evolved level, specific IT applications have been designed as tools for employee engagement. Popular examples include Celpax, emooter, TeamRelate, TINYpulse, Culture Amp and morale.me, which allow employers to gauge the mood and satisfaction of their workforce and individual work groups on a daily basis. These tools allow problems to be identified when they are emerging, and can be used to get on top of issues and problems that may lead employees to disengage, leave a workplace and/or lodge a claim.

A detailed list of leading employment engagement applications / tools can be found here.

In addition, there are specific platforms such as Awesome Boss, which is designed to help managers focus on engagement and recognition, providing managers with an assortment of resources to help them better interact with employees, such as coaching / mentoring text alerts; email reminders for employee birthdays and work anniversaries; gifts ideas; and coaching cue cards to help managers navigate conversations with their employees.

In contrast, businesses that do not support collaboration capabilities for their employees and management through internet-based collaborative platforms may see them take matters into their own hands. For example, employees may set up unofficial business-specific pages or sites within general public access social networking platforms. This type of rogue user development may not only cause cultural challenges, but also security, intellectual property and compliance issues.

Embracing the challenges and goals of engagement

In an era when the nature of work and technology are both changing rapidly, there are many challenges associated with ensuring that employee engagement remains a core strategy within any business. However, the very things that make it a challenge also open up new opportunities to strengthen relationships in the workplace. This includes nurturing not only the ties between senior management and employees, but also the links among employees themselves.