Employee Engagement is now a phenomenon that’s deeply implanted in the collective consciousness of progressive HR leaders. This is supported by the huge surge of content, conferences, awards, Internet chatter, and Facebook and LinkedIn social media groups solely focused on Employee engagement.
From Job Satisfaction to Employee Engagement
Though employee engagement has generated considerable buzz within the HR community in recent years, it’s still early days. Many veteran HR practitioners are still grappling with understanding how and why job satisfaction has morphed into employee engagement.
William Kahn first mentioned employee engagement in his seminal 1990 article, “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work,”. Kahn’s article marked a paradigm shift in personnel management owing in good part to the article being timely. Western economies were in the early stages of evolving from manufacturing to service, knowledge-based economies. Employees make products in manufacturing economies, in contrast, employees are the products in service, knowledge-based economies.
Employees Are the Product
Claiming that employees are the product in knowledge-based economies may appear a bit of a stretch. But it’s a fact, which applies equally to manufacturing companies as well as to service companies. This is precisely why engaged employees are vital to the success of any company competing in today’s global economy.
The premise that employees are the product may likewise lend itself to debate. But, most people prefer and buy brands, not commoditised products or services. An impressive body of research accumulated over the years by the global brand consultancy, Millward Brown, consistently confirms that strong brands outperform weak brands based on numerous metrics:
- They command and maintain superior prices over competitors
- They bring in new customers
- They create loyal customers that discourage churn
- They create reservoirs of goodwill & brand advocacy
- They help companies move into new categories and geographic regions.
If there’s doubt that employees are a vital component, if not the totality of the brand gestalt, it’s telling that companies rarely stay in business using the poor-customer-experience business model.
In this age of employee engagement, most successful companies explore innovative ways to deploy their employee assets as brand ambassadors. And, to be effectively deployed as brand ambassadors requires that all employees internalise their personal connection to the company’s brand and that means engaged employees
What does an Engaged Employee look like
Despite the volumes written about employee engagement since Kahn first coined the term 26 years ago, there’s been a lack of uniform consensus about the definition of the engaged employee. Kahn observed that “people act out momentary attachments and detachments in role performances.” These intermittent spurts of engagement/disengagement led Kahn to define personal engagement as the:
“… simultaneous employment and expression of a person’s ‘preferred self’ in task behaviors that promote connections to work and to others, personal presence, and active full role performances.”
Kahn went further in elaborating on his definition of personal engagement by positioning meaningfulness, safety, and availability as the key pillars that influence engagement, where:
- Meaningfulness is the “positive sense of return on investments of ‘self’ in role performance.”
- Safety is the “ability to show one’s [true] ‘self’ without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.”
- Availability is the “sense of possessing the physical, emotional, and psychological resources necessary for completion of the work.”
Since Kahn’s landmark paper, many researchers have augmented the fundamentals of Kahn’s employee engagement principles by tinkering around the edges without altering Kahn’s employee engagement scaffolding. Later in that decade, researchers discovered that the two primary faces of employee engagement, job engagement, and organizational engagement, had separate cognitive, emotional and behavioral components. soon after it was discovered that for meaningful work, which engages employees, must include opportunities for training and learning.
A Work in Progress
After 26 years of researchers, academicians, and consultants being actively engaged in improving employee engagement in all its variations and subtleties, it still remains a work in progress. Most of the planet’s employees remain disengaged despite the best efforts of the best minds and the significant investment in employee engagement. Gallup, the patriarch of all employee engagement tracking studies, reported in January 2016 that only 32% of U.S. employees were engaged with a dismal 13% engaged employees worldwide.
The 7 Pillars of Effective Engagement
This leads to the current state of affairs regarding employee engagement best practices based on what is known and proven successful. Unsurprising, Kahn’s initial three postulates of 1990 remain immutable, but updated with the business-speak of 2016 and augmented with new revelations. Hence, effective employee engagement when viewed through the lens of what is known today is easily distilled down to seven pillars:
The organisation facilitates engagement when employees trust they’re in a safe, healthy environment; when they trust their team leaders and management have the integrity to do what’s right; when coworkers have trust and respect for each other; when the company keeps employees in the loop on matters affecting the company’s strategic goals and them personally.
The job facilitates engagement when employees can make an impact; when they have the requisite tools and resources to complete tasks with speed and perfection; when employees’ work has distinct and measurable consequences; when employees are self-motivated to explore new and better ways to get things done.
The job facilitates engagement when it aligns with the employee’s feelings of personal accomplishment; when the job has clarity of purpose; when the employee feels the work is meaningful; when the employee sees how the job helps the company meet its goals and objectives.
The organisation and the job facilitate engagement when the employee feels empowered; when the employee has a sense of satisfaction and contentment working for the company; when the employee is empowered with the autonomy of freedom and discretion to do work; when the employee is sufficiently informed to make independent decisions; when the employee is self-motivated to exceed the norm.
The organisation facilitates engagement when employees get feedback and encouragement on their performance; when employees feel valued for the work they do; when employees are formally and publicly recognised for their work.
The organisation facilitates engagement when employees get ongoing training to do their jobs proficiently; when employees can grow personally by updating their skills and learning different jobs; when employees have opportunities for professional development and there’s a clear and understandable career path.
The organisation facilitates engagement when employees perceive the workplace as an inclusive environment that recognises and respects individual uniqueness; when the organisation provides opportunities for all employees to grow to their full potential; when teams work well together; when employees can attain a balance between their work lives and their private lives; when teams inspire team members to be their best; when employees take pride working for the company; when employees have fun while working.
What gets measured moves
What’s clear is organisations can no longer ignore the impact of a fully engaged employee. Engaged employees are happier, work at their full potential and are more productive. The good news is employees want to be engaged on a deeper level and feel an emotional attachment to a company. Furthermore, if managers are more empathetic, they’re perceived as stronger , inspiring leaders, and achieve higher results.
Organisations serious about engagement will be taking steps to track & measure these 7 pillars with follow-up tactics to optimise and improve. Asking employees a weekly pulse question that looks at one of several elements of a pillar in a confidential and anonymous manner will give you precise, actionable insights. Displaying real-time results in dashboards shared transparently throughout the organisation will also offer better context for engagement across all these 7 pillars.
While still in its infancy, overall people analytics movement is beginning to give organisations the data and tools to understand what drives engagement, perhaps even better than employees understand themselves. So start increasing engagement, and watch productivity and profitability soar!
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