What is Employee Engagement? | S1 E17

First published: 29 September, 2020

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What is Employee Engagement? | S1 E17

What Is Employee Engagement?

In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Susan Elliott, who is an Employee Engagement Experience and Wellness Specialist.

Susan has a wealth of experience and has held positions as Head of Internal Comms and Employee Engagement with Allied Irish Banks, Head of IC as well as People Engagement for Tesco Bank, and is also a qualified CliftonStrengths coach with Gallup. Susan helps organisations’ employees to connect with their business and play a part in achieving the company’s goals.

Defining Employee Engagement

There are copious amounts of content claiming to define employee engagement. But Susan cuts through to the evidence-based theories of what engagement really is. She recalls how the term ‘employee engagement’ originates back to a study by William Kahn in 1990, who believed that different working conditions affect how people behave at work – that if people are engaged, they show up as their ‘preferred selves’.

Susan explains the three conditions of employee engagement:

1.     Meaningfulness

A confined meaning in what an employee is doing – that they feel they’re making a difference, and they feel valued.

2.     Safety

Psychological safety – permission for an employee to be themselves, “without fear of negative consequences”. When an employee does not feel as though they have to change or be different, and instead are celebrated for who they are and what they can bring to the table.

3.     Availability

Capacity to do the job – be it social, emotional (distractions outside of work), or physical (not enough sleep etc.), organisations should be addressing these obstacles and identifying the tools to help.

As Susan summarises, “Engagement is very simple. There are lots of definitions. But for me, it’s how you feel going to work. Because we behave differently depending on how we feel about something. So, if we’re connected and happy, we bring a very different energy to what we’re doing.

The benefits of Employee Engagement to an organisation

Of course, an organisation will reap the rewards of successful and developing progress when their employees are engaged. Data unanimously shows that an increase in employee engagement certainly links to an increase in productivity. But Susan explains that statistics cannot evidence everything with regards to the success of an engaged team. Data cannot portray the importance of the effects of how an employee feels.

As opposed to simply looking at data, an organisation should look at its people and why their high-performers are performing the way they are.

Susan urges organisations to ask themselves, “Can you see people in your group who you think are engaged or disengaged, and can you see a difference in their performance?

An organisation must identify trends. These are likely to be the three conditions for employee engagement. The high-performer will feel valued and associate meaning to their purpose within the organisation. They’ll feel safe and protected, and they’ll have been provided the tools to help do so. Cut through data and learn to discover how and why the employee feels the way they do.

Where salary sits in the importance of Employee Engagement

Susan agrees that salary can play a role in the engagement of employees, but in an indirect manner. Firstly, all employees should be rewarded according to their performance, and if this is undermined it can have a detrimental effect on long-term engagement.

Financial difficulty because of an individual’s role can also affect his or her capacity to do the job. This causes personal issues which then ricochet back into the working environment, affecting the individual’s engagement. If the root of this financial struggle is the salary, then an organisation should address and discuss this with the employee.

However, salary is not the biggest impactor on the enjoyment of an individual’s role and their meaningfulness within it. Organisations should be talking with their employees and discovering their motivations.

As Susan explains, “You will only find the answer if you go and ask those people: What would help? What would make a difference? It is, of course an element of making people happy, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about giving them that meaning in their work, making them feel valued, and ultimately performing better, and having a more efficient and effective organisation.”

Practical implications – what can organisations do?

Susan believes that organisations can address the three conditions of engagement by being conscious of each one, filtering them into actions and decisions with the employee in mind. She also sets out five very simple focal points that help organisations drive engagement within an organisation:

  1. Talk – Ask your employees, what would make a difference ‘that’s within our control’? Find out what could help them.
  2. People are people – Whatever our role, we all have the same human needs. Ask them what they need to be themselves. Don’t make assumptions on how an individual feels about participation.
  3. Change is not a valid excuse to ignore engagement – Change can be an opportunity and can be the key to engagement success.
  4. Positive and negative consequences – Leaders must be held accountable. Those not taking it seriously will have negative consequences; equally, there are positive consequences for those who are.
  5. Support your leaders – Which is key to success. Gallup found 70% of engagement is driven in a team level. Support your leaders and talk to them about the tools they need to help them develop.

Integrating into the Internal Comms community

The internal communicator plays a vital role in deciphering how an organisation’s employees feel. A powerful part of their job is to define how people are made to feel from an organisation’s message, which is a factor often completely overlooked. It is no longer simply about knowing and doing, but is about feeling, too.

The internal comms person can be seen as, in Susan’s words, “the champion of the employee’s voice” – the one who discovers the true feelings toward an organisation’s message, and how this can impact the future of employees’ engagement.

Summing Up

We think Susan sums up this podcast perfectly herself:

The thing to remember is that it can get clouded by technology and fancy solutions. The key to it is really simple. You’re talking to people and just to remember that, and look at people as individuals, and that the answers are often quite simple, and when you come across an answer that is simple, it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong… They are often the most effective ways to bring change about.”

Useful Links:

Susan’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/susan-elliott-40374832/

Susan’s Website address: https://www.susanelliott.ie/

Send Susan a message: https://www.susanelliott.ie/get-in-touch

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