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Employee engagement: What it is and why it’s not optional

10 April, 2018
Improving employee engagement is an essential goal for modern businesses. Find out more about how you can achieve this goal.

The importance of employee engagement

The importance of employee engagement cannot be understated as it directly links to business performance. It directly impacts on many things including impacts staff retention, recruitment success, productivity and profitability.  In other words, engaging your workforce is an essential rather than optional business goal.

To see this, you only have to look at the most successful and strongest businesses around the world. Those companies have employees who are passionate and committed, not just to their own salary and careers, but to their companies too.

They want the company to succeed, of course, but their engagement goes further than this. They also want the company to be the best within their personal sphere of influence and in areas they have no involvement in. They care deeply about the wider perception of the company too, and, to borrow a cliché, they always go the extra mile.

So, employee engagement means several interconnected things:

  • Employees feeling part of something bigger than their own roles, departments, or business units
  • Employees having an emotional attachment to the company and the work they do
  • Employees personally choosing to make a greater effort and/or be more productive
  • Employees having meaning and purpose in the job that extends beyond the working day

Distilling this even further, employee engagement is the difference between an employee who does a good job and one that does a good job with 100 percent passion and commitment. The latter is the type of person all businesses want to employ.

 

The British employee engagement deficit

While it makes sense that companies want fully committed and engaged employees, not many have this. Surveys show that only 11 percent of British employees feel they are engaged with their work.

In fact, there are reportedly more actively disengaged workers in Britain than there are engaged workers. Actively disengaged workers are workers who are resentful of their employer and take actions to demonstrate their unhappiness – 19 percent of workers in Britain are actively disengaged.

To improve Britain’s productivity and drive a step-change in your business performance, this needs to change. So how do you get a more engaged workforce?

 

The four essential pillars of an engaged workforce

It can help to think of an engaged workforce as being a building held up by four pillars. Without one or more of the pillars, the integrity of the structure fails. The four pillars are:

  • Harnessing the power of visualisation – enables workers to see the big picture. Crucially, however, visualisation also helps employees make a connection between that big picture and the importance of their own role within it. Much of our work at The Big Picture People over the past 18 years or so has been geared to helping organisations to do just this, with some quite dramatic results when that light bulb is eventually switched on.
  • Empowering people through good dialogue – employees need to feel connected and genuinely listened to. This only happens when the conversation is two-way, meaningful, and acted upon. This means company-wide emails are out. Instead, you need to create more situations where employees get the opportunity to converse directly and build a connection with their leaders.
  • Ensuring communications are interactive – all communications should be participatory which means ditching the PowerPoint presentations and town-hall-style meetings.
  • Clearly defining how you measure results – your team also needs to understand how you measure success. This helps them connect what they do on a day-to-day basis to the results and progress the company achieves.

 

Where do you start with employee engagement?

Now comes the task of building the four pillars above. Here are three essential tips covering each stage of the process.

Before you begin

If you want to improve employee engagement, it is important to understand you can end up on a path to failure before you even begin. This is because having the right leadership is crucial.

Employees at all levels of your business don’t just want to be told what to do. Instead, they want to follow leaders they trust, believe in, and respect. In addition, people learn by example and are inspired by authenticity. If the leaders in your organisation fail in any of these aspects, you will find it difficult to achieve positive employee engagement.

The first steps

The first steps of engaging your employees involve ensuring everyone fully understands the big picture. This covers everything from the company’s mission to your vision 10 years down the road to how you want customers and others to perceive the company. Employees also need to understand the company’s values and its reason for existence.

This is more than a company existing to sell as many widgets as possible. Instead, it is about, for example, a company pushing the boundaries of technology, disrupting a market, or making people’s lives better. Selling widgets is a means to that end, but it is not the goal – it is not the reason for the company’s existence.

As an example of this, one of our clients, Working Links, had evolved over several years, taking on new contracts and moving into new markets – staff were finding it difficult to keep track of how their new activities fulfilled their ultimate social aims. Once we clearly interpreted their journey and the strategic decisions that had been made with the help of a Learning Map, people’s understanding of the big picture dramatically improved; 97% of employees said they now understood the drivers of change and volatility for the business motivation and almost 9 out of 10 of those surveyed said that they could now see a greater connection between the values across functions, paving the way to improving overall cooperation and communication across the organisation.

Sustaining into the future

This part of the process is ongoing and must be consistent. After all, successful companies are those that evolve and adapt. For employees, that often means change and, for some, change is frightening. It is essential those employees don’t become disengaged on the company’s journey.

In addition, most companies face challenging periods from time-to-time. Dealing with those challenges usually becomes the priority, but it is important to maintain the focus on employee engagement while doing so.

Where to next?

Creating an engaged workforce is about developing a culture more than it is about implementing a strategy or suite of policies. The rewards for doing so, however, are substantial,  so the time to start is now.

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