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The case for employee engagement

Employee engagement is different from the measure of employee satisfaction that many organisations monitor. Employees may be satisfied at work with their role, terms and conditions or working conditions, but not necessarily willing to demonstrate whole-hearted commitment. Engagement however is exactly about their willingness to go above and beyond their standard job description because they believe in their organisation, are committed to serving their customers and proud to belong.

Studies define employee engagement as having 3 key features:

  1. Organisational citizenship
  2. Willingness to give discretionary effort
  3. Intention to stay

Research in the last few years point to the fact that the higher employee engagement is rated, the more successful the organisation - in sales, profit, return on investment and customer satisfaction. The evidence gathered by MacLeod and Clarke in their 2009 report “Engaging for Success” (1) showed clear, defined and repeated correlations between employee engagement and organisational success.

So how do we work to create employee engagement?

True engagement is built by the quality of relationships people develop at work – especially with their manager.

How well these relationships are built is determined by the quality of conversations held between a line manager and their employee.

To really understand what motivates and engages a person, it is important to start with an understanding of the neuroscience behind it.

We are social animals; the brain is the organ of relationship. We make decisions based upon our emotions – and its other people that evoke our most ardent emotions!

When there is trust in a relationship we are open to ideas, possibilities and collaboration. However, stress causes our brain to shut down and revert to primitive responses.

Essentially, our basic primitive response is to approach and maximise rewards and avoid and minimise risk.

In 2012, the Engage for Success workgroup’s report “Nailing the Evidence” (2)  underscored the link between engagement and business performance, highlighting research evidence from Aon Hewitt, Gallup, Hay, Kenexa  and Towers Watson, amongst others, which year after year consistently demonstrate the benefits of high employee engagement across the full range of business performance metrics.

 “The Corporate Leadership Council reported that engaged organisations grew profits as much as three times faster than their competitors.” MacLeod  (1)

In any economic conditions, salary and productivity levels have a significant influence on bottom line results and are a key performance indicator.

Being able to fine-tune performance and delivery both from a skills and engagement perspective, even in the best organisations, can therefore create commercial advantage.

However, while organisations have rightly seen the value of adding skills to employees, true engagement often slips past and remains difficult to influence.

Organisations create maps of connected roles but the real map, of relationships, can look quite different.

Where there are weaknesses in relationships, or potential for improvement, engagement is lower. This presents a risk that opportunities for performance enhancement can be missed, and may result in an increased burden on resources due to higher attrition and absenteeism rates.

In 2007, The Oxford Group was commissioned by AstraZeneca to create a workshop called “Constructive Conversations” for R&D line managers to build engagement and performance.  The programme covered 1400 managers in Sweden, the UK, the USA, Canada and Japan and ran from September 2008 to March 2010.

We received exceptional feedback and delivered measurable improvements in employee engagement and performance.

Immediate impact:

  • Feedback from participants in the survey after the workshops was invariably positive.
  • 88% said they would recommend the programme to colleagues
  • 87% said they felt more capable and that the programme would help improve their performance
  • 87% said their self-confidence and self-motivation to manage difficult conversations had improved

One year impact:

  • Behaviour change: 56% said that this programme had been more impactful as a means of changing their behaviours than any other development intervention in their career
  • Performance: participants felt the programme had helped improve their performance.
  • Employee engagement:
    • the employee engagement survey results for R&D improved significantly in the areas covered by the programme
    • 59% of participants surveyed said that the programme had definitely helped them improve their ratings
  • Business impact: business impact examples included:
    • ‘I am more prepared to have the challenging conversations, both related to underperformance and coaching of high performers’
    • ‘Team engagement has improved significantly for several reasons, but I would say 50% of this is down to my interventions following the course. The impact is that now we will deliver and next year we will be even better’

As a result of its success, the programme was rolled out across the organisation. Read the full case study

References
1. McLeod D and Clarke N ‘Engaging for Success: enhancing performance through employee engagement’, Office of Public Sector Information (July 2009)

2. Rayton, B., Dodge, T. & D’Analeze, G. (2012). The Evidence: Employee Engagement Taskforce, “Nailing the Evidence” Workgroup. Engage for Success