Engaging Employees

The phrase ‘employee engagement’ has become‘…the new management mantra’ (CIPD, 2006). Companies are keen to be recognised for their employee engagement - witness The Times newspaper's "Best 100" companies to work for.

But what do we mean by employee engagement, what does it look like and how can we achieve it?

Employee engagement may be defined as when employees are satisfied, not only with their terms and conditions of employment,but also when they can demonstrate an understanding of business needs, a commitmentto their work and hence, are more likely to exert discretionary effort (IDSReport, 2009). 

And discretionary effort is ‘…effort that is not necessaryfor the employee to give, but effort that they want to give..’ (Woodruffe, 2006). 

Employee dis-engagement - or ‘active disengagement’ – as defined by the Gallup Organisation (2003) is problematic for any business, whatever the size. We have all worked in businesses where a number of employees have been..."...physically present, yet psychologically absent." What a splendid way of putting it! 

This situation though can have a significant impact on the business and profits. In the Gallup example, their investigation at New Century Financial Corporation in the USA found that disengaged employees were 28% less productive than their engaged colleagues. 

So, what can be done? Well, as with most things that involve people, the answer is simple but the application is more complex. 

The simple answer is that employee engagement may be achieved through implementing strategies that bolster commitment [from the employee and the employer] AND motivation [from the employee and the employer]. These together will create higher performance.

What can be done?

In practice, as a business, you could look to several case studies for inspiration. As a line manager, allocating time and meaningful effort on your part to fair and equitable people management is a good start. As a business, see what MacDonald's did in the UK. Their HR Director, David Fairhurst, lead a response to the adoption by the Oxford English Dictionary of the word 'McJob', essentially meaning a poorly paid / no prospects job. 

Fairhurst (2008) sought to develop a management response that demonstrated management commitment to their employees whilst also seeking better engagement. One result was that now, up to 80% of restaurants have management sourced from 'crew'. Does your business relate to staff through simple principles such as MacDonald's, namely:

  1. individual recognition – where restaurants gave daily recognition of performance
  2. team citizenship – by involving employees in local community initiatives
  3. company growth – so employees know how their restaurant and the company are performing
  4. individual respect – shown by allowing similar skilled employees to change shifts without having to seek permission
Check it out next time you visit.

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