How to understand the relationship between the employee experience and employee engagement

Employee engagement has been a blisteringly hot topic in 2021. Gallup’s annual State of the Global Workplace report noted that – around the world – employee engagement is dismally low. Just 20% of full-time workers feel enthused and motivated by their jobs.

That global apathy affects productivity, innovation and, ultimately, revenues. But in trying to address this decline, the term “employee engagement” has itself come under fire. Those who dislike it say it suggests a particular and unhelpful assumption about the relationship between employer and employee. They see engagement as shorthand for the attempt to persuade employees to support their company’s vision, purpose and goals.

“Employee engagement asks the question: ‘Here’s what we did. How happy are you?’,” according to Elliot Nelson, a partner at the human resources consultancy, KennedyFitch.

Put like this, engagement is a one-way street. The argument is that if you want to see genuine and dynamic employee commitment and contribution, it’s not enough to seek buy-in to the company’s goals. The company must also understand and connect with the employee’s individual purpose.

The difference between experience and engagement

Recognising and facilitating individual purpose within the workplace lets employees align their goals with those of the company. That enables them to bring their best selves to work, powering productivity. This is what’s termed the employee experience. And that focus on experience needs to be front and centre of internal policies and communication. 

Here’s Elliot Nelson again: “Employee experience asks the question, ‘how can we enable you to do your best work and connect with your purpose?’”

This isn’t simply semantics. It’s a shift in mindset that challenges how companies should understand the relationship between employers and employees, and it has profound implications for the ways in which organisations think, operate, and communicate.

We’re seeing companies becoming increasingly aware of this. Two years ago, the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report found that 84% of employers acknowledge the importance of a positive employee experience. Yet only 9% felt ready to address the issue. Since then, the pandemic has seen workplace connection dip.

Forging stronger employee connections

So how do organisations re-invigorate the workforce, building the employee experience that drives both engagement and productivity?

Our answer is that this upward trend starts with mindset – employees can only be free to excel if they feel both purposeful about their contribution and empowered to succeed. It becomes embedded through consistent and impactful two-way communication. And it is trusted when action follows words.

The organisations who are getting the employee experience right pay attention to their employees’ emotional needs, ask what matters to them, listen to their answers, and act on the points that are raised.

Here’s the second key point. To build an effective employee experience, the human-to-human connection is paramount. We live in the age of tech, at a time when companies are racing to invest in shiny digital tools and platforms, which offer the promise of seamless collaboration. But tech only facilitates connections. It doesn’t create them.

So, investing in tech alone is not enough to drive the relationships and shared culture; it’s focusing on the employee experience that builds engagement, supports talent attraction and retention, and enhances productivity. 

It’s how you listen, what you say, and how you react that defines and shapes your workplace culture. That’s why a strong and inspiring employee communication strategy supports employee experience and engagement and drives growth. 

How a strong comms strategy drives growth

 A strong employee comms strategy:

  • Aligns the fundamental goals and motivations of the employee with the goals and purpose of the organisation.
  • Emphasises the role of every individual in driving your shared success.
  • Communicates the values and purpose of your brand to all colleagues, creating an inclusive community with a clear, shared and meaningful identity.
  • Drives digital transformation.

This approach builds the employee experience and in turn, that drives engagement. The effects of this can be amplified when used across digital channels by:

  • Inviting open, two-way communication.
  • Showcasing internal achievements and sharing best practice.
  • Enabling agility and innovation by accessing a huge pool of problem solvers.
  • Enhancing a culture of openness and transparency.
  • Sharing updates, news and messaging across your entire organisation, whether local or global.
  • Providing engagement data that can be used to refine and improve ongoing campaigns.
  • Promoting informal colleague learning.
  • Keeping colleagues connected and entertained.

All these activities feed into the employee experience, inspiring colleagues, building engagement, and creating a workplace culture that fosters growth.

Using comms to power change

All communication journeys need to balance the transactional – elements of process and information that need to be recognised and appreciated by employees – and the emotional – sharing the information in a personal and inspirational way to achieve impact and action. When these two components are connected effectively, they become a tool for driving change. Transformative employee journeys can be created using a series of key principles:

1. Tell the story. 

Show leadership in setting out a clear, simple and impactful vision of the purpose of your organisation – and what it means for colleagues, teams and customers.

2. Build a consistent communication framework.

Streamline your colleague communication so that it permeates every colleague touchpoint, identifying what different colleagues want, to ensure that messages land successfully. Provide tools and resources for leaders and managers to support action.

3. Make the messages targeted and personalised.

Draw on colleague data to make communication relevant and timely, putting an equal emphasis on all areas of the business and using the right channels for the right groups.

4. Be people-led.

Anticipate and understand potential people challenges and opportunities, creating a culture of two-way conversation and ownership, which hears, respects, and responds to the voices of all colleagues. Proactively celebrate success.

5. Activate and embrace technology.

Make technology accessible to everyone, adopting and sharing innovations where necessary, and using gamification to recognise and reinforce new behaviours.

Linking employee experience and engagement ensures organisations find effective ways of supporting employees to thrive and business to flourish.

The author is Elizabeth Spencer-Phillips, founding director and MD at Caburn Hope (part of the Buck family).

This article is provided by Caburn Hope.

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