Research: piecing together the engagement conundrum


Achieving employee engagement is not always straightforward. In fact, Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace study found that globally just 15% of employees are engaged, highlighting just how tricky it can be to connect people with their work and organisation.

Research: piecing together the engagement conundrum

Gallup’s definition of employee engagement is those who “are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace”, while the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) suggests that employee engagement consists of different levels, ranging from the job to the organisation.

What engagement means to you

For employers, deciding what engagement looks like is key. Is there something specific you want employees to engage with, such as benefits or company values? And what is the aim of the engagement? Do you want employees to be highly engaged with their work with the hope of increasing productivity? Or perhaps you want to increase benefits take-up with the aim of improving wellbeing.

Whatever the reason, organisations must decide what engagement means to them, so it can be measured and improved. And data has to behind any engagement strategy.

Bridging the gap: an evidence-based approach to employee engagement from the IES puts forward several actions for employers to create an engagement strategy. Beyond using technology effectively to measure engagement, the report advocates being agile to incorporate changes based on real-time feedback, while line managers are also key for providing data and translating strategy into action.

Always on engagement

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report explains that the changing world of work is driving what engagement means for organisations. Everything from the nature of work with the growing gig economy, generational differences, changes in working lifecycles, greater transparency and calls for socially responsible operating are all having an impact.

“Engagement, in many ways, is the temperature gauge of a company’s ability to proactively address all these issues on behalf of the workforce,” finds the report.

To tackle these changes the report notes that engagement is not an annual activity, it has to be a constant. And you have to measure it regularly – a feature that technology enables. Quick pulse surveys can offer near real-time feedback on key issues and offer an effective alternative to the lengthy annual employee feedback survey.

The link between engagement, experience and culture

Listening to employees’ feedback is very important to engagement. However, O.C. Tanner’s recent 2020 Global Culture Report found that only 51% of employees say their company excels at listening. The report noted that listening is more than hearing, and improves employee satisfaction.

Key to satisfaction is the link between the employee experience, engagement and workplace culture.

“[Workplace] experiences connect employees to the cultural norms, values, and behaviours that add up to a thriving workplace culture. That culture, in turn, creates a strong, sustained influence on engagement levels, productivity, innovation, and many other core metrics of success,” states the report.

Workplace experiences are often driven by leaders who have daily interactions with staff. The report found that just 42% of employees feel good about their daily experiences at work. It argued that the impact of poor leadership is disastrous – particularly for those companies that maintain traditional leadership approaches. Instead, it advocates managers who use mentoring, connections and recognition.

The bigger picture

The concept of connecting and engaging employees with the organisation’s values is nothing new. But what has changed is employees’ desire and interest in working for an organisation that has a wider purpose. Businesses are quickly realising that employees want to work for socially conscious companies that are environmentally aware. And so they are engaging employees with their wider social missions – to help local communities, the environment and to push for inclusion and positive change.

There is no quick solution to employee engagement, nor one way of improving it. What the latest research proves is that employers have to listen to employees and understand what matters to them.

The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.

The concept of the conscious organisation will be discussed by Evelyn Doyle, HR Director EMEA, Patagonia at REBA’s Innovation Day on 28 November in central London. Read the full agenda here



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