What’s the most important factor in ensuring employees are engaged on the job? You’d be forgiven if you immediately jumped in with wages. But, perhaps surprisingly, pay isn’t the most important aspect in maintaining an interested workforce.
According to the International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management in a paper titled ‘Determinants of employee engagement and their impact on employee performance’, the three top factors were working environment, team and co-worker relationships. So anyone thinking that an employee’s level of engagement at work is primarily determined by issues surrounding salary is wide of the mark.
But we will add one caveat. Salary does play an important role in reducing staff churn. Where employees feel the salaries do not reflect the ‘going rate’ in the wider market there is a greater likelihood they will leave their jobs. Once a certain remuneration is achieved other factors come to the fore, including being given recognition and provided engaging tasks.
So what aspects of the work environment lead to engaged organizations with motivated staff and how does this advantage the employee? Let’s take a look:
- Make sure staff are listened to – However well paid a person is, they want to feel they are being heard. This is key to ensuring that employees feel engaged. Yet, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Actively listening to staff takes effort and application on the manager’s part. Harvard Business Review, in an article ‘How to Really Listen to your Employees’, cites a case where a manager needed to remove all distractions and let his team lead meetings in order to ensure they felt they were being listened to. It worked, raising both moral and also the quality of business intelligence staff shared. This not only afforded benefits in terms of rewarding the employees with an enhanced self-image and perception of value within the organization, it also provided an advantage to management in gaining better tactical information from staff.
- Recognise Good Practice – Have you heard the phrase ‘Recognition is its own reward’? Research by Josh Bersin showed that companies spend billions on employee recognition, though almost 90% of the spend goes on rewards for staying with the company and just over 10% on a ‘recognition culture’. Yet companies which focus on recognizing employees, with something as simple as saying thank you, had a demonstrably lower turnover in staff. Thus, the benefits of communicating company recognition for the work staff do could prove to be much less expensive.
- Foster Team Cohesion – People are intrinsically social animals. The better the group cohesiveness, the happier its members are and the more invested members become in achieving group objectives. Recognition of just how important this was didn’t truly emerge until the 1960s with the seminal work of Bruce Tuckman. He developed the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model to break down the steps through which groups can be effective. In turn, an effective team brings clear benefits to the work setting, giving staff a sense of value in their team-members and appreciation of an effective team’s advantages to wider business objectives.
- Ensure staff see the link between company objectives and their work – In their book ‘Profit from the Core,’ Chris Zook and James Allen found that company growth plans often went unrealized. They argue that this ties in with staff not being aware of the organization’s wider strategic goals. Harvard Professor Robert S. Kaplan said his research found that, on average, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy. “If the employees who are closest to customers and who operate processes that create value are unaware of the strategy,” Kaplan wrote, “they surely cannot help the organization implement it effectively.” Kaplan goes on to argue that companies need to actively promote and share an understanding of wider strategic objectives at all levels of the organization. In this way employees can see how their role benefits overall company goals.
- Workplace culture – the better the culture fostered within an organization, the more likely the company is to retain staff, attract new talent, drive engagement, increase individual and team performance, and raise levels of happiness or satisfaction. Put simply, a good culture benefits business and promotes higher profitability. According to 5 Great Companies That Get Corporate Culture Right, “If you forget about your people, you can forget about your culture; perks and money have their limits in inspiring true commitment.”
- Recognize employee’s different workplace strengths — research company Gallup carried out a study, How Employees’ Strengths Make Your Company Stronger (source), in which it found that staff encouraged to play to their personal strengths were generally more loyal and engaged with the organization. Gallup discovered that building employees’ strengths are more effective than focussing on and trying to address employee weaknesses. This suggests that a business benefits from nurturing the latent abilities that staff bring to the organization rather than spending time and resource seeking to re-skill.
- Include staff in wider strategic business decisions — Management by committee is perhaps one of the last strategies any company should seek to implement. However, this does not preclude creating opportunities for staff to feel that their knowledge and on-the-job know-how has a value in helping the company achieve its wider strategic objectives. In a 2006 research paper from the Murdoch Business School in Western Australia, researchers carried out a study across three organizations which led to the conclusion that “participation in decisions appears to promote job satisfaction and commitment.”. Thus, companies that seek to encourage staff in decision-making will reap the rewards in raising levels of dedication.
Ultimately employee engagement is about ensuring that the organization maximizes the potential value of each member of staff towards a company’s wider goals. This naturally benefits both staff and the business. It also fosters a greater sense of loyalty and satisfaction in the workplace. Yet, employee engagement is not simply another phrase to add to the litany of human resources management-speak. Implicit in the term is an inescapable call to action. If a business wants the benefits of an engaged workforce which feels valued, it must lead the charge by implementing plans that put such opportunities into action.