‘Employee engagement’ is a term coined by William Kahn, an American psychologist, in 1990. His research was based on the premise that ‘people can use varying degrees of their selves. Physically, cognitively and emotionally, in work role performances’ that ‘has implications for both their work and experiences.’
- Physical – the actual work and effort we put in and the types of places in which we work
- Cognitive – the employee knows what is expected, understands their objectives and is helped and trained to fulfil their role and grow within the organisation
- Emotional – our connection to the organisation and its values and to our colleagues, line managers and the organisations leaders and the extent to which there is two-way dialogue.
Kahn talked about a set of psychological conditions required to create engagement:
- ‘Meaningfulness – Sense of return on investments of self in role performances.’
- ‘Safety – Sense of being able to show and employ self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.’
- ‘Availability – Sense of possessing the physical, emotional, and psychological resources necessary for investing.’
In simple terms, employee engagement is about dialogue, understanding what drives and motivates your people, how they work best and how that changes as their tasks change. It calls for trust, two-way communication and genuine interest in their welfare. In return it can improve performance and encourage innovation, reduce attrition rates and therefore recruitment costs and create competitor advantage.
Employee Engagement is not just for Christmas
Many business owners say our people are our business, but do they really mean it?
Sometimes we relegate bonding, interacting and listening to special occasions like team-building days, annual reviews and the office Christmas party (and I am being generous here because the office party is often not about meaningful communication!).
People engagement is not just a nice idea for which you don’t have time. It deals with the issues that can improve your chances of attracting and retaining the best staff; the people that can make your business great. If you don’t know what your staff think of you, maybe now is the time to find out.
Business leaders sometimes see this as a way of creating a flexible workforce for them at low cost or saving money on real estate costs. While there are definite business advantages, it has to be a mutually beneficial process.
It’s not just about how employees can work better for you, on zero-hours contracts for example, but how you can work better for them. Would they benefit from some home-working, especially if they have children to get to and from school? Or hours outside the normal 9 to 5?
Do they have different spaces to work in for different tasks or are they all in open plan for everything they do. Good workplace design principals encourage us to think about space for concentration, space for collaboration, private space and space for serendipity (the all-important water-cooler moments).
Like any other project, the basic process is to know where you want to be, assess where you are and then decide what you need to do to get there.
Obviously this needs continuous assessment and for all parties to be open to change. For example, senior management will often create and hang on to visions and values that are either in themselves meaningless or do not relate to their staff and customers.
How many mission statements have you seen that say ‘we want to be the best provider of x’. There is no meaning here. No definition or criteria against which this can be measured. You might then add that you want to deliver cheaper products faster, and have less returns, than your competition. Which is better, but still doesn’t describe how this will be measured. Do you know these statistics for your competitors?
Also, is this the right way to go? Your staff might have other ideas about how to become market leader. After all, they have visions of their own. They have an idea of the sort of company they want to work for and what would make them proud to be a part of that organisation.
When employees are happy, their work balancing better with the rest of their lives, they work better and tend to give more not just in effort but in innovation. This then feeds into the needs of the business. The need to reduce cost, increase performance, support innovation to ensure the sustainability of the organisation.
There is more information here about what the engagement process might look like.