Epitome of engaging employees

Sunday, 14 November 2010 23:15 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

“Employees are our most valuable asset”. This has become a hacked statement that appears in almost all the corporate reports.

It is easier to say than do. Not all employees are assets. Some are liabilities for sure. Yet, one thing is quite clear. Engaged employees achieve excellent results.

Employee engagement has become a buzz word in management circles, mainly due to its attractiveness as a tool in getting work done. What do we mean by employee engagement? Interestingly, it means different things to different people. According to research by Macey and Schneider, the meaning of employee engagement is ambiguous among both academic researchers and among practitioners.

It captures the essence of employees’ head, hands and heart involvement in work. It refers to employee’s psychological state (e.g. one’s identification with the organisation), his/her disposition (e.g. one’s positive feeling towards the organisation) and performance (e.g. one’s level of discretionary effort). In brief, it captures affective (feeling), cognitive (thinking) and behavioural (acting) dimensions of an employee.

There are overlapping aspects captured in the concept of employee engagement such as psychological contract (unwritten expectations concerning the relationship between an employee and an employer) and commitment (identification and involvement with an organisation). Hence, it can be more treated as an umbrella term encompassing many related concepts.

It deals with specific human behaviours that were in existence for a long period of time, with a renewed focus. In essence, as some critiques call it, employee engagement can also be perceived as “old wine in new bottle”. If it is the case, one may ask why we should focus on it. The global tends reveal the timely need of it and vital deeds associated with it.

What could be the status of employee engagement in the global arena? This has been one of the most surveyed managerial aspects in the recent past. The Workforce Survey for the year 2010 done by Towers Watson is one such instance, where interesting patterns have emerged.

It, in a way pinpoints a watershed moment in the evolution of the employment relationships around the world. From the global recession and financial defaults to changes in business models and strategic priorities, both employers and employees are being forced to revisit some fundamental assumptions about how they deal with one another.

Their study, fielded with over 20,000 employees in 22 countries, reveals a recession-battered workforce — one with lower expectations, increased anxiety and new priorities. Such a scenario calls for urgent strengthening of employee engagement.

In another front, the Gallup Management Journal publishes a semi-annual Employment Engagement Index. The most recent results pertaining to USA indicate that:

  • Only twenty nine percent of employees are actively engaged in their jobs. These employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. People that are actively engaged help move the organisation forward.
  • Fifty-four percent of employees are not engaged. These employees have essentially “checked out,” sleepwalking through their workday and putting time, but not passion, into their work.
  • Seventeen percent of employees are actively disengaged. These employees are busy acting out their unhappiness, undermining what their engaged co-workers are trying to accomplish.

Rivenbark, a researcher in the field of organisational behavior (OB) , cautions, that the finding of some of these surveys have to be taken with a pinch of salt, as the employee engagement surveys are only as good as the questions they are built on.

These contain two types of engagement questions. One type covers “core engagement issues” such as “do I have what I need to do my job?” The other covers “enriching engagement issues” such as “do you believe in the mission of the organisation?”

As Fredrman, also from the field of OB, observes, whilst broad questions about mission are important, the core issues of day-to-day resources are vital to employee engagement. “If I don’t have a computer to do my work,” Federman opines, “I’m not thinking about the mission of the organisation.”

Vance, another OB researcher, outlines ten ways of measuring employee engagement, in a more straight forward manner. These are:

1.Pride in employer.

2.Satisfaction with employer.

3.Job satisfaction.

4.Opportunity to perform well at challenging work.

5.Recognition and positive feedback for one’s contributions.

6.Personal support from one’s supervisor.

7.Effort above and beyond the minimum

8.Understanding the link between one’s job and the organisation’s mission.

9.Prospects for future growth with one’s employer.

10.Intention to stay with one’s employer.

Irrespective of the constraints associated with the surveys, the general trend is a clear indication of how much engaged employees are. There is ample evidence to demonstrate how employee engagement has acted as a driver for organisational success.

What are the success stories available across the globe on engaging employees for enhanced performance? A lot can be cited not only globally but locally as well. How can we improve employee engagement? There are tested and proven techniques.

I suppose these can be further discussed in more detail, owing to their importance and impact on business. Such endeavours would no doubt pave the way for humane results. Let me discuss these aspects in more detail in next Monday’s column.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a Senior Faculty Member and a Management Consultant attached to the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He also serves as an adjunct faculty in International Human Resource Management at the Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA. He has over two decades of both private and public sector working experience in diverse environments including Unilever and Nestlé. He has engaged in consultancies in more than 10 countries. He is a Commonwealth AMDISA Doctoral Fellow and Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow. He holds a Ph.D. and an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Moratuwa. He is also a member of the Chartered Management Institute, UK.)

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