Thought Leadership: The Keys to Enhancing Employee Engagement
There is growing consensus that employee engagement is a critical element of an organisation’s success, with employee engagement found to be associated with a range of performance and business outcomes. For instance, Gallup (2020) found that employee engagement was associated with higher levels of productivity, quality, customer loyalty, and profitability and lower levels of absenteeism, turnover, and safety incidents. However, interventions designed to increase employee engagement have been found to have mixed results and according to research from various engagement survey providers such as AON, Glint and Mercer/ SIROTA, 30-35% of employees are disengaged.
Employee engagement requires deliberate strategic actions and there are a range of actions that organisations can take in an effort to build employee engagement. Engagement strategies are most likely to be effective when they are targeted with a useful starting point involving gathering engagement data to identify the issues that are currently impacting staff engagement. Strategies to improve engagement are also most likely to be effective when they are driven by strong leadership and accountability to ensure they are being implemented effectively. If management is out of touch with how staff are motivated and the issues that are currently impacting engagement levels, then the effectiveness of engagement strategies is likely to be significantly reduced.
Leadership and Engagement
Leadership plays a key role in employee engagement, with Gallup stating that 70% of the variance in employee engagement can be contributed to a team’s manager. They found that leadership behaviours centred around positive workplace relationships, recognition, ongoing performance conversations and opportunities for development were closely linked to high engagement levels. The research also indicated that engagement is highest amongst employees who meet with their manager at least once a week.
Transformational leadership has been found to have a high impact on employee engagement and performance. Transformational leaders help connect staff to the organisation, act as a positive role model that inspires them, encourage staff to take greater ownership for their work, and understand the strengths and development opportunities of staff so they can assign tasks that optimise their performance. Transformational leaders listen and attend to staff needs, provide support, engage in open communication, stimulate and encourage learning and thinking independently, and articulate an inspiring vision and promote a sense of purpose.
PBC also conducted research into the most effective leaders and found four meta-competencies that differentiate higher-performing leaders. These are being achievement-focused, inspiring, strategic, and emotionally intelligent. They include setting clear goals and high-performance expectations, working hard to improve morale and create a positive working environment, being visionary and strategic and communicating a long-term vision, and managing one’s emotions appropriately and exhibiting excellent people skills.
As leaders play a significant role in driving employee engagement, it is beneficial to regularly focus on their performance and development. This may include using 360 and personality assessments to identify their motivators, strengths and potential derailers as well as how their leadership style and behaviours are currently being perceived by their direct reports and peers to identify opportunities for improvement. The development of leaders should be focused on increasing the demonstration of effective leadership qualities and behaviours including those that are likely to help enhance employee engagement levels.
Fostering Positive Workplace Cultures
Having a positive workplace culture is important in effectively engaging staff. Positive workplace cultures support employees in feeling that they belong and are valued and focus on the growth, development, and promotion of staff within the organisation. Positive workplace cultures tend to exist in organisations that are purpose- or values-driven with leaders playing an important role in communicating and promoting the purpose, vision and values of an organisation and helping staff understand how their day-to-day work links to the organisation’s broader vision and strategy. They help staff clearly understand what is expected of them and set challenging yet attainable goals.
In positive workplace cultures, leaders also stay in touch with their staff to listen and engage with them and provide regular feedback. Feedback is two-way with employees having the opportunity to communicate issues that they may experience and provide input about operations within the workplace. Engagement is likely to be enhanced in organisations that ensure their employees are provided with an opportunity to voice their views in relation to current issues and practices in the organisation as well as what they find motivating and rewarding.
Rewards and recognition can act as a powerful form of feedback for employees and help employees feel appreciated and valued when performing daily tasks, with employees who don’t feel appreciated more likely to leave their jobs. It is useful to obtain staff input when identifying potential methods to use for rewarding and recognising staff as this can vary amongst employees. It is important to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and to regularly evaluate rewards and recognition programs to ensure that it suits the organisation’s employees.
Final Thoughts: Avoiding A Common Pitfall
A common pitfall that organisations face when seeking to enhance employee engagement is not linking employee engagement to organisational performance. Many organisations make higher engagement results the goal rather than focusing on the improved performance outcomes that high engagement should be helping them achieve. The action plans that emerge from engagement survey findings shouldn’t focus solely on making employees happier, they should be part of clear strategic objectives that articulate how high engagement levels will lead to improved business outcomes.
This article is written by Lynne Cruikshank from Peter Berry Consultancy, SIOPA’s 2021 Silver Sponsor.