Employee Engagement – Needless or Necessary?

In an ever growing technological world, organisations are often the victim of the constantly changing environment. Since the early 1990’s we have seen the internet and the ability to communicate instantaneously grow at an exponential rate. Coexisting alongside this change has been the ever-growing ‘need’ for organizations to adopt this ‘relational’ flatter structure. Nowadays, If I were to suggest that an organisation in the 21st Century should be striving for a relational approach toward employees that seems like a reasonable statement, right? Well yes, that is correct, it is completely fair for me to say that this indeed would be beneficial to organisations. However, is it actually necessary? Well, there is no written rule that this has to actually occur… so sadly in short, no it’s not.

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For the record employee engagement can be outlined to be;

“A positive attitude held by the employee towards the organisation and its values. An engaged employee is aware of the business context and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of the organisation. The organisation must work to develop and nurture engagement, which requires a two-way relationship between employee and employer.” (Institute of Employment Studies, 2004)

The reality is that employee engagement is far from compulsory, if anything from my personal experience it comes down to employer choice and whether or not they can even be bothered and unfortunately, in my case (they cannot). I have no doubt in my mind that for whatever reason a vast number of organizations choose not to bother and that’s fabulous… if they feel it works. It is important for us to point out however that the main purpose of employee engagement is to induce a sense of value and worth within your employees, make them feel involved rather than left like a cog in a spinning wheel, quickly disposed of and quickly replaced. This, in my opinion, should not be in the minds of any employers.

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Strictly avoiding this occurrence should be of utmost importance as disengaged employees can often prove to be a nuisance. Research indicates that one of the main causes of employee disengagement is the fact that they feel they are not listened to and would not possibly be allowed to contribute to their job in any other way than carrying out the predetermined tasks stated for their job role, to me that sounds a little all too bureaucratic.

M6If we take this above pie chart, it shows an example of 10% of employees that are actively disengaged, not just disengaged. They are ACTIVELY not taking part in aspects of your organisation that would prove them to be a better employee, I cannot fathom the logic an employer may find behind letting this occur. The idea of the engaged employee is fiercely the opposite of this. For the purpose of this text, we’ll call it an ‘investment’ in the employee so that in time you receive an outcome which can lead to greater productivity, greater individual performance and greater willingness to work, to name a few. (Mishra, K, Boynton, L, Mishra, A, 2014) support this as they talk about employee engagement and point out that ‘employees are more likely to talk positively about the organisation, remain with the organisation and help their organisation perform more effectively every day” (p. 187-188).

Below I have highlighted some key statistics surrounding employee engagement. (Kumar & Pansari, 2016)

1. 84% of highly engaged employees believe they can positively affect the quality of their organization’s products, compared with only 31% of the disengaged who believe this.
2. 72% of highly engaged employees believe they can positively affect customer service, versus 27% of the disengaged.
3. 68% of highly engaged employees believe they can positively influence costs in their job or unit, versus just 19% of the disengaged

This graph below highlights key aspects of what an employee needs to have within an organisation to reach full engagement;

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To me, the graph and the three statistics highlight that honestly, it’s a no-brainer. All of these points stated in the graph sound like elements of an organisation that an employee should have and be entitled to regardless. In my head it makes absolutely no sense as to why employers would not even at least try and implement activities or work programmes to make the people that they have chosen to not only carry out a job for them but also represent the organisation that they own feel their worth within the workplace, it seems like a fairly simple equation, no?

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In fairness, this highly depends on the organisation in question and indeed in some cases employee engagement may not be in the best interests of the employer because they either do not have the funds, time or manpower to implement such a scheme and this may be why we are left with organisations still adopting the old methods of hierarchical decision rights, structure and leadership progression. In other instances, organisations competing in a particular market may not feel it necessary to engage employees as all they wish is for the procedures they have put in place to be completed with no questions and if targets aren’t met they deploy disciplinary actions.

M4On a more positive note, one organisation for me that stands out in the eye of employee engagement is Richard Branson and Virgin Media. The strong appeal that Richard Branson has established with Virgin is that his leadership style recognises that happy employees equal happy customers. He believes that employees and their experience within their own workplace really contribute to how they will treat a customer in the future. In an interview with Inc. Magazine, Mr Branson said

“The people out on the frontlines know when things are not going right. If you listen to them, you can soon improve all those negative things.”

In addition to this, if you talk to employees about what attracted to them to Virgin Media, ‘Culture’ will often be their answer. Within an article on the Virgin Media website, Richard Branson talks about how their culture saying it

“shies away from the predictable– thinking differently can open up great opportunities and possibilities. Virgin has never done business as usual, because we believe that the tried and tested route is not always the best path to success.”

They strive to achieve an organisation where employee attitudes are extremely positive at all times. In my opinion, this is what organizations need to aim for, this level of respect for employees creates a competitive advantage that is genuinely priceless. I believe that we will see even more and more relational strategies being introduced within the next five years. We need to realize that whilst employees don’t make the rules, they are in fact the core ingredient to success.

 

Reference List

Ruck, M. Welch / Public Relations Review 38 (2012) 294– 302; ; Holland, P., Cooper, B. and Sheehan, C. (2016), Employee Voice, Supervisor Support, and Engagement: The Mediating Role of Trust. Hum Resour Manage. doi:10.1002/hrm.21809

Mishra, K., Boynton, L., & Mishra, A. (2014). Driving employee engagement: The expanded role of internal communications. Journal of Business Communication, 51(2), 183-202.

Kumar, V. and Pansari, A., 2016. Competitive advantage through engagement. Journal of Marketing Research53(4), pp.497-514.

 

Matthew Johnston is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on Facebook: Matthew Johnston and on Linkedin at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-johnston-172055153/