The employee engagement gap
We would like to start this blogpost with defining employee engagement. According to professor W. Kahn (Pr. Organizational behaviour at Boston University) and his research, employees are far more emotionally and physically engaged with their job when they experience:
- Psychological meaningfulness: a sense that their work is worthwhile and makes a difference,
- Psychological safety: a feeling they are valued, accepted and respected,
- Availability: routinely feeling secure and self-confident in a positive work environment,
We can relate psychological meaningfulness to company purpose and psychological safety to culture, leadership and respect. All aspects which very strongly correlate with employee engagement, as discussed in my previous blogpost.
We see employee engagement is winning interest from top executives in most companies. However research from Brian Solis (award-winning author, prominent blogger/writer and keynote speaker), shows employees and executives think differently about engagement and engagement initiatives.
First of all, do engagement programs work? Well, the answer is YES. Though overall engagement level in most companies remains very moderate, research shows engagement programs do have a statistically relevant impact with a 25% boost in overall engagement.
Looking deeper at the most commonly used engagement initiatives (see below), research shows that overall small group interventions, job rotation and positive feedback or employee recognition are most impactful for employee engagement.
However the main driver for engagement remains the intrinsic psychological meaningfulness of the job, work itself. Without purpose, there is no foundation for engagement. And this works both ways:
- Substantially higher engagement when employees believe their work matters to the company, society.
- Substantially lower engagement when employees do not believe their work matters to the company, society.
Solis’ research shows that companies where employees can not relate their work to a clear purpose, have toxic engagement levels, with employees talking negatively about their company and putting strain on overall productivity.
Knowing daily experiences on the job and meaningfulness of the work are the main drivers for employee engagement, one could ask who’s responsible for employee engagement. The answer is every leader, manager within the business and not just the HR department as often thought.
A study, executed by Bain & Company, clearly shows better engagement results with a business led-approach.
Companies which lead in employee engagement are characterized by:
- Line managers, not HR lead the charge;
- Managers are well prepared (coached by HR) to hold candid dialogues with their teams on how to improve employee experience, ideally based on anonymous employee feedback (e.g. eNPS);
- Teams rally around the customer, adding meaningfulness and purpose;
- Engagement initiatives are tailored for different employee segments (employee persona’s), as within marketing ‘the’ customer does not exist, we all have different emotions and attitudes;
- It’s all about the dialogue, not the metrics.