According to Cook (2008) employee engagement is personified by an employee’s passion and energy towards customer service, which arises from their willingness and ability to give sustained discretionary effort to help their organization succeed. It is characterized by employees’ commitment towards an organization, their conviction in what it stands for and their preparedness to go an extra mile to deliver outstanding services to customers. As such, it is more of a psychological contract than a physical one. Engaged employees derive inspiration from their work. Moreover, they are customer oriented and care about the future of the company and are prepared to work tirelessly towards the achievement of its overall goals and objectives. On the bottom line, employee engagement is determined by how positively an employee thinks and feels about the organization, and how proactive they are in relation to achieving organizational goals for colleagues, customers and other stakeholders. In essence, it entails the degree to which employees perform their roles in a positive and proactive manner.
Employee engagement plays a critical role within an organization due to the increasing power of both customers and employees across the globe. As a result of the increasingly high competition and technological advancement in the global business environment, customers now have a much greater choice of where to do business. While customers have more discretionary power than ever before, the modern society lays more emphasis on the value of time as opposed to the value of money. In light of this, high levels of engagement within an organization not only promote retention of talent, but also foster customer loyalty and enhance organizational performance, which in turn promotes shareholder value (Lockwood, 2007). Employee engagement is therefore critical for business success
In their efforts to establish work practices and meaningful programs to attract and retain talent, human resource managers should also consider the levers of employee engagement. The key levers to employee engagement include emotional commitment and work life balance. The level of emotional commitment to an employee’s job and company is a critical variable in engagement. In fact, studies have shown that emotional commitment to an organization, team or manager has a greater bearing on organizational performance than rational commitment. Work life balance has over the years become an important determinant of employee engagement and hence employee retention. A study carried out by the Families and Work Institute revealed that Generations X and Y have different work place expectations than mature workers and baby boomers. Human resource managers should therefore be cognizant of the unique needs of these groups and their individual differences in order to understand the increased diversity in an organization’s workforce. This knowledge can also prove to be invaluable in designing and implementing policies and practices that will facilitate the engagement of diverse employee groups at the workplace.
In order to determine the effectiveness of the strategies adopted to promote employee engagement, managers should be in a position to identify predictors or “hot buttons” that can be used as proxies for the effectiveness of the various policies and practices that have been implemented to promote employee attendance, retention, motivation and productivity. This can be achieved using a matrix of employee engagement predictors. This matrix evaluates organizational processes, information systems, management practices, values, role challenges, work life balance, reward and recognition systems, the workplace environment and the various products and services offered by the organization.
Workplace culture also plays a significant role in fostering employee engagement. Studies have shown that organizations that provide a workplace culture that fosters psychological conditions such as meaningfulness, safety and availability are in a better position to cultivate employee engagement. Consequently, those organizations with a reputation for being an “employer of choice” stand a better chance to attract and retain key employees and are characterized by higher levels of engagement. Apart from compensation and other monetary benefits, the main factors that contribute to retention include the mission and core values of the company, training and development opportunities, treatment of employees, work life balance policies and practices, and rewards. Strong organizational culture, particularly one that fosters respect and training and development also has a profound impact on employee loyalty, which translates to employee engagement.
There are three levels of employee engagement; engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged.
Engaged employees are passionate about their work and feel a profound connection to their company. Consequently, they drive innovation and strive to move the organization forward (Lockwood, 2007). This group of employees works harder towards achieving the organization’s goals and objectives and are more likely to go out of their way to ensure that these goals and objectives are met.
Employees who are not engaged will more often than not sleepwalk through their work day and only put time as opposed to energy or passion into their work.
Actively disengaged employees are not only unhappy at work, but also exhibit signs of their unhappiness at the workplace. This group of employees can be very detrimental to the overall performance of the organization because they undermine what other engaged employees accomplish.
Apart from the above classification, employee engagement can also be perceived as cognitive, emotional or behavioral. Cognitive engagement entails employees’ beliefs about an organization’s leadership and workplace culture. The emotional aspect entails, how employees feel about the company, its leaders and other members of the workforce. Finally, the behavioral aspect entails the value based component exhibited by the amount of effort employees put towards achieving organizational goals. Lockwood (2007) argues that employees who are highly involved in their work processes are more engaged compared to those who do not play an active role in their work processes. As such, the link between work practices that require high involvement and positive beliefs and attitudes is a key driver for organizational success.
Lack of benefits such as adequate training, coaching or feedback can result in employee disengagement. This is because there is neither validation of performance nor the opportunity to build new skills within the organization. This makes employees feel like there is no obvious route forward for them if they continue to stay in the same organization. Moreover, because they do not have a clear idea of their performance, most employees feel undervalued. This not only results in a decline in their enthusiasm, but also breeds mistrust for the management.
Poor communication is a barrier to employee engagement. Communication should be a two way process that entails listening, questioning, understanding and responding. Employees who are not well informed about the processes taking place in an organization are more likely to be disengaged.
Organizations that offer poor remuneration packages will in most cases have disengaged employees because they feel undervalued. When employees perceive that there are inequalities in pay grades and poor acknowledgement of their individual efforts, they eventually lack the incentive to go out of their way to pursue organizational goals. This ultimately results in low self-esteem and the loss of identity and control.
As aforementioned, the presence of disengaged employees within an organization can contribute significantly to the disengagement of other employees. Moreover, the absence of good and rewarding relationships in the workplace, creates a disrespectful and uncomfortable environment, which impacts negatively on the level of employee engagement. Additionally, poor interpersonal relationships deprive employees of psychological safety because they limit trust, openness and honesty. Instead of working together as a team, employees will always be suspicious of each other’s intentions. The end result is an unfavorable workplace atmosphere, which can prove to be a huge stumbling block for the achievement of organizational goals because employees will be more inclined towards competing with each other as opposed to working together as a team.
Poor leadership is characterized by poor line management and poor communication skills, which result in a frustrated and dispirited atmosphere at the workplace while at the same time cultivating a poor sense of community. Even though organizational leaders might be nice to their subordinates, they should also be in a position to get people to work together. Poor leadership might stall career progression and contribute to a general lack of apathy and focus among individual employees. Apart from getting bored and underperforming, these employees might also develop a lower sense of self-worth and contribution.
Poor treatment could take the form of either underutilization or overutilization of talent by managers at the work place. Individuals might be assigned tasks that are either too simplistic or monotonous. Such tasks make them feel disempowered and undervalued. They also become bored, demotivated and lower their expectations. On the other end of the spectrum, when employees are assigned tasks that are too onerous, they become anxious and overburdened. They also risk making mistakes and poor decisions due to huge workloads, which end up eroding their confidence and judgment. Over-delegation might also result in high stress levels, poor physical health and disruption of leisure time.
Hostile working conditions make it very difficult for employees to execute their tasks effectively. Such conditions are occasioned by misbehavior or bullying by overbearing staff, which causes friction and fosters a rigid environment that curtails working relationships. Poor working conditions not only inhibit the individual development of employees, but also jeopardizes the reputation of the organization. This undermines the credibility of the employees, which lowers their confidence and self-esteem. They also feel overwhelmed, anxious, undervalued and overburdened resulting in high stress levels that impact negatively on their health. The former could also result in depression and poor work-life balance.
Poor working conditions might also be occasioned by the lack of adequate resources. In this case employees are not provided with adequate equipment, systems or information to fulfil their tasks. Consequently, they end up underperforming because they are prevented from exploiting their potential. This translates to poor organizational performance, which is accompanied by a poor corporate image and lack of fringe benefits. When stress and burnout eventually start to set in at the workplace, employees become frustrated and demotivated to pursue organizational goals.
As pointed out earlier, employee engagement is a psychological contract rather than a physical one and as such, it is very complex and is influenced by several issues. Consequently, while there are a myriad of strategies that can be adopted to improve employee engagement within an organization, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint a universal means of fostering the latter. Because each organization has its unique definition of employee engagement, the key to effective engagement will ultimately be rooted in the flexibility of the approach chosen by each individual organization. For instance, a company may adopt an ‘industry best practice and determine how it is likely to influence employees in the workplace. As a work related state of mind, employee engagement is characterized by dedication, vigor and absorption. Moreover, it is strongly influenced by organizational characteristics such as effective communication, reputation for integrity and innovation. Below are some of the strategies that can be adopted to promote employee engagement.
Managers should promote bi-directional communication with employees. As opposed to merely pouring out their ideas to employees, manager should give them the opportunity to air their views about the issues that affect their jobs and their lives (Markos & Sridevi, 2010). While there should be clear and consistent communication of what is expected of the employees, manager should involve the latter in decision making and always show respect for their input. Managers should also share power with their employees should participative decision making, which would in turn foster a sense of belonging among them, thereby enhancing their engagement in realizing organizational goals and objectives. According to Anderton & Bevan (2014) developing effective communication channels between different staff levels is very likely to increase the level of engagement within an organization.
Managers should encourage autonomy and independence among employees by allowing them to work under minimal supervision so long as the end justifies the means. They should focus on the results of the tasks assigned to employees rather than the processes used to achieve the results.
Because the level of employee engagement is hinged on their participation in organizational tasks, managers should ensure that employees are cognizant of the strategic direction of the organization so that they fully appreciate their contribution to the achievement of its goals and objectives. Moreover, organizations should broaden the scope of job tasks (job enlargement) while at the same time providing more challenging and complex tasks (job enrichment) to promote work motivation among employees, which will go a long way in promoting engagement.
The management should facilitate personal growth by offering training and development opportunities to employees. Markos & Sridevi (2010) argue that additional knowledge about their jobs, boosts the confidence of employees and enables them to work under minimal supervision, which in turn builds their commitment and self-efficacy. Anderton & Bevan, 2014) further argue that training and development provide employees with opportunities away from the workplace to benefit from personal development, which drives both ambition and employment motivation. Other than that, it provides employees with the knowledge and skills to excel in their work and take on more complex assignments.
Organizations should shift from traditional quantitative and object performance measures, towards qualitative measures. Rewarding employees on the basis of the knowledge and insights that could contribute to wider organization understanding enables them to use their insights to broaden their understanding of customer needs (Anderton & Bevan, 2014).
4.6 Team building events
Team building events create a culture of integrated involvement, which empowers all members in the organization to work towards common goals and objectives. Team work could entail elements of shared leadership, where middle level and junior managers take on more responsibility for complex problem solving and setting performance indicators, or project teams that are developed to come up with solutions for specific issues. This helps to reduce staff isolation and increase opportunities for organizational knowledge sharing and learning, which contributes to employee satisfaction at work.
A healthier organizational workforce and sustainable employment, arising from enriched job quality and employee engagement translates to greater productivity and sustainable business growth. A recent study revealed that investing as little as 10% more towards the implementation of employee engagement strategies could potentially increase the profits for businesses across the UK by at least £2,700 per employee annually, which accounts for more than 3% of the country’s GDP (Anderton & Bevan, 2014).
Engaged employees will more often than not disseminate their enthusiastic views and positive mindset of their organization to both internal and external stakeholders. This not only helps in building the company’s brand image, but also sets off a chain reaction that ultimately translates to customers having similar views about the organization. Furthermore, engaged employees take pride in their work and are more committed to providing high quality services, which promote customer satisfaction.
Replacing an employee can cost up to 150% of the incumbent’s salary. According to the Corporate Leadership Council (2008), highly engaged organizations have the capacity to reduce employee turnover by 87%. A study conducted by Gallup (2006) also revealed that the turnover rate for companies with low employee engagement is up to 30% higher than those with a relatively high level of engagement. As such, better employee retention generally improves the profitability of a business because it helps the management to reduce the cost associated with the replacement of employees.
Employee engagement has been recognized to facilitate the adherence of health and safety standards at the workplace. For instance, in 2011, the Olympic Delivery Authority had an accident rate of less than half the industry average due to the implementation of employee engagement strategies (Rayton, Dodge, & D’Analeze, 2012). An overall reduction in occupational accidents and instances of poor employee health translates to a reduction in staff turnover occasioned by ill-health and lower direct and indirect costs associated with long-term sick pay, staff replacement and temporary staff cover. According to The Confederation of British Industry (2008), the benefits of reduced absenteeism in the UK amount to an estimated £13.4 billion per year. This implies that reduced absenteeism costs and a healthier workforce, can contribute significantly to the overall profitability of a business.
The significance of employee engagement in the modern business environment cannot be overemphasized. As such, managers should make deliberate efforts to adopt effective strategies that can be used to promote employee engagement within their organizations. To achieve this, they should be well versed with the various factors that influence employee engagement. However, while managers should be cognizant of the drivers of employee engagement, they should also bear in mind that the strategies adopted to promote engagement should be tailor made for their organizations.
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