How much is performance really linked to employee engagement?

The idea that happier workers perform better has been around forever and is widely believed. Today, engagement strategies aimed at generating more positive employee attitudes and feelings that can be converted into better performance are common. But how can employers make sure this works in practice?

How much is performance really linked to employee engagement?

It’s complicated

Studies have shown some correlation between employee attitudes and performance, but Rob Briner, professor of organisational psychology at Queen Mary University of London, believes it isn’t as straightforward as that.

He says: “Of course, there are many kinds of links between attitudes, feelings and behaviour, but the happy-productive worker can be seen as too simplistic and overstated.

‘Has employee engagement really made a difference?’ is a good and important question to ask, but not always easy to answer. There’s lots of energy and activity around engagement but there is always room for more evidence to show how these initiatives matter,” he says. 

There is no shortage of real-life success stories where engagement strategies are making a difference.

What employers need to know:

1) Measurement is important

Look closely at the relationship between increased employee engagement and performance; it might mean there is more to be done on strengthening the link between engaging more with staff and the effect it has on their performance.

Briner says: “I conducted an overview of this issue a few years ago. While some of this more recent evidence suggests employee engagement plays a role in outcomes such as performance, other parts of it are more mixed.”

2) Be objective in your analysis

While engagement strategies may look like they are being effective in their impact on the performance of employees, it’s vital to analyse the data collectively at senior management level. Inevitably, there will those who have a vested interest in any engagement strategy being seen to work, so it’s important to get an objective view.

Briner says: “Any company or consultant or manager can stand up and make hugely impressive statements about the links between, for example, engagement and performance. But these statements aren’t always fact-checked or scrutinised.”

3) Is engagement the answer?

Improved engagement with employees within an organisation is undoubtedly a positive development. Equally, if engagement declines, it can be seen as a negative issue. However, fluctuating engagement patterns doesn’t necessarily deal with performance related problems.

Briner says: “If you think you might have a problem with, say, performance or employee turnover or absence then examine that problem. Look at the evidence and data to understand the problem in depth, its causes and identify possible solutions. If HR does this it may be that engagement will not turn out to be the solution.”

4) What does performance look like?

This might seem obvious, but how do employers measure performance? It might depend on the business. Sales may be an obvious measure, but not all workforces can be measured that easily.

High staff turnover may be seen as an example of poor performance in some sectors, while in others, such as retail, it is sometimes a fact of life. So engagement strategies must be clearly linked to identifiable performance measures that are specific to the organisation.

There is undoubtedly a need for more evidence to show a direct correlation between an effective engagement strategy and a boost in performance. However, anecdotal examples and success stories point to a link between a performance and engagement among staff.

To stand a chance of making that link work it’s important that employers don’t overlook the genuine effectiveness of their engagement strategies and follow the tips above.

Andy Philpott is marketing and sales director at Edenred UK. 

This article was supplied by Edenred UK. 

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