Staff engagement is a hot topic with business schools and HR specialists. What is it? Are your staff engaged? Is there a bottom line benefit?
The idea of being ‘engaged’ in something easily comes to life when we think about our personal involvement in activities which inspire, motivate or excite us. It might be the exhilaration of active participation in a sport, emotional involvement in a gripping movie, fighting for a cause or any other activity which consumes us emotionally and intellectually. On a personal level most people understand what engages them and what it feels like to be engaged.It’s often easy too to identify with others who share our passion – from team sports to politics, from patchwork quilting to bush walking, people find common ground and experience their own and others’ engagement. For a time at least the shared interest can be all consuming. But what about ‘engagement’ in the workplace? Staff engagement is a hot topic in business schools, with HR specialists and around the senior management tables in the corporate, public and not-for-profit sectors alike. What exactly is it? Are your staff fully engaged with what they are employed to do? Do YOU feel engaged in your workplace? What can managers do if staff engagement falls short of expectations? And in the end, is there a bottom line benefit?
A concept for the 21st century
Check the index of a management or HR text more than a few years old and you are unlikely to find the term ‘staff engagement’. It is a relatively recent arrival into the managerial lexicon reflecting the changing face of employee relations in contemporary workplaces.Leadership and management in organisations today is far more about creating the conditions in which people can perform at their best and supporting them to do so than it is about telling them what to do and how to do it. In an increasing proportion of organisations the ‘us and them’ divide between management and workers has been displaced by the idea of working together to meet business and service delivery challenges. Twenty first century organisations encourage innovation, enterprise and working together to achieve shared objectives. Often the ‘working together’ involves partnerships and alliances which extend beyond traditional organisational boundaries.It is said that under these conditions staff engagement with the organisation’s purpose and an in-depth understanding of, and commitment to, their contribution is essential at all levels. But what exactly does ‘staff engagement’ mean?
‘Staff engagement’ defined
There are two related aspects of engagement. First, it involves a psychological state in which a person experiences positive feelings such as satisfaction, involvement, commitment and empowerment. An engaged staff member feels a positive emotional attachment to their work, to colleagues and to the organisation and this influences their willingness to learn and perform at work. The second aspect of engagement is about the behaviours which result from psychological engagement – behaviours such as being proactive, showing initiative and going beyond what is routinely expected. An engaged employee is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, their work and acts in ways which further the organisation’s interests.Engagement therefore includes ‘job satisfaction’ but is also far more – an engaged employee is satisfied with their work and sees its contribution to the whole. An engaged worker expends discretionary effort which goes beyond what is normally expected because they are committed to shared goals.It is often said that engagement is about both emotional and intellectual commitment to the organisation. Engaged staff care about the organisation and are committed to investing themselves in its future for as long as they are part of it.
Engagement and the customer
Away from work we can all afford the luxury of ‘single minded’ engagement with whatever excites us – we can concentrate on the footy game or the complex knitting pattern to the exclusion of all else. At work, the context for staff engagement is all important.Staff engagement can only be effective when it includes the customer or service recipient. A team might be highly engaged with its work but if it is not also focused on the beneficiaries of is outputs – whether they are external customers or another department, performance will not be optimal.By way of example, by all internal measures a help desk was exceeding its goals. Turnaround times on problem resolution had reduced dramatically and the number of problems solved in every category had increased steadily over the past year. Morale was high and a recent staff survey reflected high levels of satisfaction. A customer satisfaction survey however revealed a far less rosy picture in that customers were considerably less satisfied than a year ago with the quality of their interactions with help desk staff. It became clear that staff engagement with technical challenges and an increase in the number of calls processed had been achieved at some cost to relationships with customers.
To help assess the current level of staff engagement in your area of responsibility try asking yourself what you believe your team members’ responses would be to the questions below. And before you proceed to taking any action, ask yourself the same questions!
- Are you clear what is expected of you at work? (Think about client expectations as well as your manager’s).
- Do you have the resources you need to do the best possible job?
- How do you know if you are doing a good job?
- And where you need to improve?
- Are you willing to put in whatever it takes to get the job done?
- Are you clear how your work contributes to the bigger picture of what our organisation does?
- Are you satisfied with the rewards you receive for doing your work?
- Is your manager interested in you as a person?
- Do you have good relations with colleagues?
- How well supported do you feel at work?
- Are you confident that your career aspirations are understood?
- Do you have enough opportunities and challenges at work to learn and grow?
The manager’s role
The evidence indicatrs that staff engagement contributes to the bottom line via enhanced productivity, far less waste and increased customer/client satisfaction. There is a great deal managers can do to create a high energy work environment where people want to come to work and want to be and do their best. Without losing sight of their own accountability, managers foster and sustain staff engagement by attending to the following:
- Ensuring that the work people are asked to do is challenging and interesting.
- Developing a deep understanding of how human motivation works and shifting focus from what people do to why they do it.
- Resourcing the work – making sure that staff members have adequate resources to do what is expected of them.
- Supporting staff with formal and informal performance feedback, professional development opportunities and coaching when needed.
- Understanding and respecting staff as unique individuals with differing personalities, temperaments and working styles.
- Keeping staff informed about progress across the organisation in ways which help staff see their contribution.
- Providing visibility of future plans and the potential for staff to contribute to their realisation.
Looking for more ideas?
For readers with an interest in some of the topics covered in this article, the following articles are also available on the website:
About the Author
Janet Fitzell is an independent organisational consultant and facilitator specialising in organisational development and group dynamics through FourLeaf Consulting (www.fourleaf.com.au). She facilitates team planning and development undertakes organisational reviews using a collaborative action learning approach coaches individuals and teams and generally helps organisations to build sustainable futures.
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