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Employee Engagement: What is it and why does it matter?

Ratna Wright Ratna Wright

Employee engagement is often confused with employee satisfaction, but there is a fundamental difference between the two ideas. A team member may be content with the easy rhythm of the status quo, but only an engaged employee will take the initiative to improve efficiency and performance wherever possible.

As a measure of the emotional attachment an employee has to their job, engagement depends on a variety of factors. These include the perceived importance of their own role, as well as the societal impact of the organisation as a whole. Trust and support from those in leadership roles represent another major factor in how people relate to their work environment. Moreover, engagement increases as initiative is rewarded within the context of a positive office culture.

Aligning these variables for improved employee engagement should be a top priority for everyone in a senior role. Because employee engagement and company culture are essentially abstract by their very nature, and therefore difficult to measure, managers may be tempted to regard them as less important than more easily quantified statistics such as production levels and sales numbers.

But employee engagement is a key component in building a long-lasting organisational culture that can weather the storms of a changing economy. Only by harnessing the full talents and skillsets of a team can a business stay ahead of the challenges it will face.


From passive workers to proactive leaders

Each employee should be made to understand the value of the work that their organisation is doing, while also believing that their own work is essential to the success of the project as a whole. This sense of purpose can have a great effect in improving the level of commitment and even enjoyment among an organisation’s personnel.

The rewards of such efforts are considerable. Employee engagement directly correlates with higher performance and retention rates, and also translates to greater customer satisfaction. Greater productivity, profitability, creativity, and innovation are among the other reliable consequences of a workforce that feels engaged with their responsibilities.

If an employee can see the positive impact of their hard work, they will understand and believe in what they do, leading to a greater emotional investment in their performance. In turn, their influence will contribute to a more positive work culture, making everyone around them better as well.

Achieving these ends requires initiative on the part of the organisation’s leaders. Checking in regularly with team members is a simple but often powerful way to stay in touch with the mood of the workplace, while also offering a golden opportunity to give constructive feedback and encouragement. When employees feel that their contributions and opinions are valued, they will have a greater sense of purpose at work.

Although culture may seem to be as difficult to measure as it is to influence, formal tools can help to solve both of these challenges. Most companies administer annual employee surveys, but better and more rigorous options remain available. A monthly (or even weekly) pulse survey can check employees’ well-being on a regular basis. Such a tool allows management to get to know its people better, while also offering baseline statistics about happiness and well-being within the organisation, which can be monitored and tracked over time.

Pulse surveys are designed to be done quickly and easily online, and have higher response rates than annual surveys because they offer a timely opportunity for employees to give feedback. Pulse surveys allow employees to regularly and openly express their feelings, and clearly identify issues that leadership needs to address. These surveys also represent tangible evidence that the organisation values their opinions.

When people in leadership positions can put a finger on the pulse of their team, they can work to tackle any potential issues head-on. As soon as the next pulse survey is completed, the same leadership group can measure the results of their efforts – and make any necessary refinements to their approach.

By ensuring that they remain in touch with attitudes inside the organisation, management can get a real sense of the current mindset of their employees. This insight allows for specific adjustments to improve the employee experience, leading to a more engaged and effective work culture. In some organisations, tangible improvements will be necessary, such as a brighter workspace with a more efficient layout. Elsewhere, cultural improvements may be needed, if employees are unaware of what they are really working for, or why certain procedures are done in a particular way.

In all cases, however, employee engagement can be developed and sustained only through effective engagement on the part of the organisation’s senior leaders. It is ultimately their responsibility to understand the general working environment within the business, get to know employees and the concerns they have, and bring everybody onto the same page for a genuine team effort. Only by believing in what they do will your workforce take the initiative and challenge themselves to do better, even when the boss isn’t looking.