Sep 10 / Bianca Chio

Employee Engagement

In recent months, I've had quite a few conversations with leaders from different organizations on the importance of employee engagement. Gaining a wider perspective on the subject, I've come to appreciate the vital role that employee engagement plays in any organization. Employee engagement is more than just a buzzword - it's the lifeblood of a successful, thriving company. I like to think of employee engagement as the emotional connection and commitment an employee has towards their organization and its goals. It’s not just about being happy at work, but rather, it’s about being absorbed, dedicated, and passionate about one’s work. 

Fostering Employee Engagement to Create a Successful Workplace

Research demonstrated that when employees are engaged, they tend to be more productive, innovative, and committed to their jobs. They are less likely to leave their company, which leads to lower turnover rates. Engaged employees also lead to higher customer satisfaction, increased sales, and overall business growth. 

Now, the question is, what can we do to enhance engagement? Achieving high levels of engagement isn't easy. We need to understand what leads to engagement. In a recent discussion with leaders from a mid-sized organization who were looking at improving their employees' engagement levels, we looked at how elements like job challenge, autonomy, variety, feedback, opportunities for development, and rewards and recognition can “make or break” engagement. 

Job challenge, for instance, involves providing employees with tasks that push their limits and allow them to grow. It's not just about overloading them with work but rather about giving them the chance to fully utilize their skills and abilities. For example, it could be assigning a complex project that requires problem-solving and creativity, giving them an opportunity to showcase their expertise and learn new skills along the way. We just need to remember that “too much” challenge can lead to unsustainable levels of stress (and eventually to burnout), while the right amount sustains positive momentum and encourages employees to maintain good quality work.  

Giving employees autonomy is a factor in driving their motivation. When individuals have control over their own work, they feel empowered to schedule tasks and decide how to accomplish them. This sense of ownership not only boosts engagement levels but also fosters creativity and innovation within the organization. Imagine a marketing team where each member has the autonomy to choose the marketing channels, and strategies they believe will yield the best results. Empowering the team members to make decisions based on their expertise and insights allows the team to explore diverse approaches and uncover new avenues for success. This autonomy not only increases employee satisfaction but also leads to greater efficiency and effectiveness in achieving the team's goals. 

When it comes to feedback, let's say an employee completes a project successfully and receives constructive feedback on their performance. This feedback not only acknowledges their achievements but also highlights areas where they can further improve. Guidance, suggestions, and constructive criticism can serve as a nudge in the right direction, motivating employees to perform better. Needless to say, reversed feedback (from employee to manager) is another powerful tool that a lot of leaders, unfortunately, do not appreciate. I’ve always encouraged leaders to listen to their teams, accept the feedback and use it as a tool for personal growth, a learning opportunity…, or at least an opportunity to understand others’ perspectives.  

Feedback is crucial in the learning process. In my years spent in L&D, I took every opportunity to remind managers about the importance of (1) allowing their teams to put learning into practice by giving them opportunities to do so and (2) providing feedback on their performance. After employees acquire new knowledge or skills, the leaders’ duty is to support the application of the new knowledge and provide feedback. This helps employees understand their progress, identify areas that still need development, and reinforce learning. In this way, feedback becomes an integral part of the continuous learning cycle, fostering growth and improvement within the organization. On the same note, we have the opportunities for development. Employees want to feel that they're moving forward, not just standing in place. Providing them with chances to learn new skills to upskill or take on different roles can help boost engagement levels. 

Finally, rewards and recognition are equally important in engagement. We all want to feel valued for our hard work. Recognizing people's efforts and rewarding them appropriately can significantly boost their commitment to the organization. This recognition does not necessarily have to come in the shape of financial rewards. A good word of appreciation can sometimes be more powerful than financial recognition.  

The question that I often get is, "What can I do, as a manager, to support my team's engagement?"  The easiest answer to that is to provide clear expectations, recognize good performance, involve employees in decision-making, be transparent and ensure that work is organized efficiently. I believe most of us, at some point in our professional lives, have had the misfortune of witnessing toxic work environments. And we also know that they lead to disengagement. When employees are disengaged, the effects can be devastating.

Disengagement leads to lower productivity, lack of motivation, poor customer service, and increased employee turnover. Ultimately, this means that companies suffer from decreased profits and decline in market share. Unhappy workers also create a toxic workplace atmosphere, which affects morale and further erodes engagement levels. To make matters worse, disengaged employees can spread their discontent to fellow workers, creating a domino effect of low morale and apathy. It is, therefore, essential for leaders to foster strong levels of engagement in order to ensure success and longevity.  

In conclusion, I believe that employee engagement is not a luxury but a necessity for any organization. At the same time, it would be utopic to believe that there is a perfect workplace where everyone is equally engaged, productive and happy. At the end of the day, it's about creating a work environment that promotes information sharing, provides learning opportunities, and fosters a balance in people’s lives. If we can achieve this, we can harness the full potential of our employees, leading to more successful and thriving workplaces.

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