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Engagement: Giving Employees a Voice

Bob Little 

October 14, 2016

Along with performance support and continuing professional development (CPD), employee engagement is one of the key learning challenges facing today’s smart organizations. So it’s not surprising that two studies on the subject, each taking widely differing approaches, have been published recently.

Brightwave Group, a UK-based learning technologies company, conducted a survey among its workers. The report examines key questions such as what creates engaged employees, what are the key business impacts of engagement, and who should be responsible for the issue in the business?

The report revealed, among other things, that:

  • In response to the question, “What three things are most crucial to your engagement at work?”, participants commonly selected supportive leadership and reward and recognition. These were followed by coaching and training, having a voice, and positive working relationships.
  • When asked, “Who’s responsible for sustaining engagement?”, the response was senior leaders (according to 98 percent of respondents), the employees themselves (86 percent), HR (63 percent), and L&D (53 percent).

Engagement can be achieved through our everyday actions and exchanges with one another. It’s about being thoughtful, aware and empathetic with others, as well as expressing our own needs,” concluded Brightwave Group.

Brightwave Group managing director Caroline Walmsley says, “We need this understanding of what inspires and motivates today’s worker and to use that knowledge to keep them always engaged, productive and aligned with the organization’s long-term mission and ambitions. It’s only by listening to this diversity of views that we can ever achieve clarity on the engagement issue.”

While it is a key issue, surveys such as those conducted by Gallup reveal consistently low levels of engagement. Yet The Starr Conspiracy Intelligence Unit (TSCIU) – part of The Starr Conspiracy marketing and advertising agency based in Fort Worth, TX, and San Francisco, CA – claims that this is changing.

In its recent report – 2016 Employee Engagement Vendor Brandscape Report – TCSIU says, “We’ve talked with thousands of companies [since 2012]. We’ve seen new solutions emerge that are doing more than automating processes that have existed for decades... Today, many of these solutions are making an impact that can be seen in engagement scores. These solutions are coming from many different categories and comprise entire employee engagement platforms.”

TCSIU says these platforms tend to focus on three key areas of employee engagement:

  • Recognition – solutions that reinforce positive behaviors and promote positive employee experiences through formal and peer recognition.
  • Wellness and well-being solutions that approach employees’ physical, mental and financial wellbeing.
  • Engagement measurement – solutions that facilitate the frequent measurement of employee engagement, in contrast to an annual employee engagement survey.

TCSIU estimates that the current U.S. market in employee engagement is $74.3bn a year, comprising $46.2bn in recognition,” $14.5bn in wellness,” $620m in measurement,” and $13bn in other human capital management 2.0 solutions.

In reality, employee engagement is a broader issue than recognition, wellness/wellbeing, and that delight of today’s accountant-dominated workplace – measurement. It’s about the entire employment experience. It’s more than having a good” boss, working for a good” company, having the right” opportunities to develop the “right” skill set, and, generally, having “fun” at work – although all of these are key components in the mix.

Some of the issues involved, such as a worker’s personal circumstances, are outside an employer’s control. Where the employer does have an element of control, it may take time to recognize relevant issues and institute remedies – such as improving counterproductive processes and removing disruptive fellow-employees. Moreover, these changes need careful managing and commitment to see them through.

According to Lance Haun, Heather Tolksdorf, and Steve Smith, the principal authors of the TSCIU Report, “Employee engagement is the destination, but there are many routes to get there — [so] expect collisions. There’s also a growing sense that no single solution is the right’ or only’ way.

“We believe the ultimate goal is creating clear communication and better relationships among employees and employers. Solutions that easily facilitate this communication will be the tools everyone wants to use — and ultimately the solutions that succeed.”

Hugo Heij, head of IMLS Coaching & Consulting, says, “My view of fostering employee engagement comes from my experience of working with port dockers. Almost all of them agreed with the view that senior leaders are responsible for sustaining engagement.

“The key thing about fostering engagement is to give people a voice – and to listen to that voice. When you’re in a relationship and you become ‘engaged,’ both parties are contributing to the relationship.

“In the port, we found that people were surprised they were allowed to speak. They were even more surprised that someone was listening to them! Indeed, we had a trade union official who said, ‘People don’t have to agree with me but it’s important that people listen.’ We listened to him so well that he became engaged – and far less militant.

Managers ‘tell’ but leaders ‘ask.’ They want to engage with their workers’ voice. Telling people things brings no engagement but asking them does. So, treat people with respect. Allow them a voice – and they’ll give you valuable feedback and ideas.

“Then, to get people engaged, you have to give them a common goal to which they can subscribe – and belong. Take football clubs as an example. People willingly pay money to see their favorite football club – even when it doesn’t win. They do that because they’re engaged with the club – because it has a clear goal to which they subscribe.

“Yet they can only shout from the side lines whereas, in a company, they can do things to bring that goal about. Of course, when theres success, it’s important that everybody celebratesboth the leaders and the led.”

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4 comments on “Engagement: Giving Employees a Voice”:

  1. okoro wrote:

    This is inspirational I need more of such articles.

  2. Mark Fuller wrote:

    Great discussion Bob – good info and some insightful comment

  3. Nancy wrote:

    Great article, very informative, thanks.

  4. Hugo wrote:

    Thanks Bob. I’m always amazed how well you are able to capture our conversations. Thank you.