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Employee Engagement Tops the European HR Agenda

It makes good sense that an engaged employee is more valuable to an organisation than a disengaged one. A recent Gallup study on the state of the global workplace revealed that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. In contrast, 63% – the majority of employees globally – are not engaged. This could be viewed as a problem or as an opportunity for employers, but regardless, what does it look like in practice?

An engaged employee is committed to the success of the business and is willing to use their ‘discretionary efforts’ to make a difference in the organisation’s success. There is less turnover among this group, these people find great satisfaction in their work and the feeling is infectious — they influence their peers in a positive way. A disengaged employee, on the other hand, is disillusioned, unwilling to put in the effort and may very well exercise contagious negativity, bringing down those around them. The end result from a business perspective is decreased customer satisfaction and a negative impact on the bottom line.

Why Now?

The importance of Employee Engagement cropped up consistently throughout The Chapman Consulting Group’s recent European HR series, and a similar sentiment emerged in our Asia HR leaders’ sessions, indicating its global importance. This was irrespective of market size and development — it seems no organisation wants an unproductive employee who can drag down the business. It was generally agreed that companies today need to do more with less, as economic uncertainty means that the ability to attract and hold onto the right people has moved up the agenda.

According to Alison Hayward, Regional HR Director, UK, “The benefits of having an engaged workforce are powerful at both the organisation and individual levels. At the organisational level, the company generally becomes a more agile, innovative, respectful workplace with a higher orientation to business delivery. From an individual perspective, there is generally a stronger sense of self and the role that one can play in the organisation. There is a sense of ‘leaning-in’ rather than spectating, which leads to more openness and belief in your current and future capabilities.”

Potential Barriers

There are many potential barriers to Employee Engagement, but two key factors that all highly engaged workplaces do have in common is that they understand what employees are thinking, and they are committed to open and honest communication. Both of these may sound easy, but can be difficult to achieve. One HR Leader from an FMCG company based in India shared, “Employee Engagement initiatives and ideas are often not leveraged fully because the communication is not consistent at all levels, let alone amongst the key leaders, therefore it does not support a collaborative alignment of common thinking.”

Creative Engagement

While the effects of an engaged workforce all sound very positive, it doesn’t seem that easy to achieve — because it isn’t. Companies today are being forced to get creative about how they attempt to engage their workforce. Simon Woolf, Senior Vice President at Sony Music recently told us about a global initiative the company is currently rolling out: “2014 sees us launching our global emerging leaders programme which will take 75 of our high potential mid level managers and put them on an eight month development course. This is our single biggest piece of Employee Engagement activity.” This programme sees delegates from around the world engaging in virtual and regional training throughout the eight month syllabus. In the middle, there is a week’s residential course, known as Boot Camp, focussing on business innovation and personal leadership development.

Talent development is undoubtedly an effective way to engage employees, but so are perks. At Google, HR have recognised this and the offices include things like table tennis rooms, subsidised gourmet cafes, massage rooms, funky meeting rooms and even sleep areas. These are all aimed at making Google a better place to work so that people won’t want to leave and will want to do their best for the company. It can also create a buzz externally for the company, ensuring that they attract the right sort people into the business in future.

Fringe benefits and investing in employees are certainly important, but it’s not only about specific deliverables like these. Prithvi Shergill, CHRO from HCL Technologies, stated, “Providing stretch, ensuring key values & behaviours, as well as effective and fair rewards, along with enabling people to do more than just their job can be one of the most powerful ways of ensuring our workforce are engaged.” In addition to investing in key talent and providing enjoyable perks, HR needs to ensure that employees feel that they are being challenged and are able to contribute beyond their job description.

Conclusion

Employee Engagement is clearly at the top of the HR priority list for businesses today. Gallup’s 2013 research also shows that companies with engaged workforces have higher earnings per share, and they seem to have recovered from the recession at a faster rate. Businesses need to recognise that a two-pronged approach must be taken. For the 13% of your workforce who are already engaged, how are you going to keep it that way and retain that top talent? For the larger 63% who are not, how can you make changes that draw them closer to the engaged end of the spectrum, so that you get more out of them and they feel more fulfilled? The answers to these questions are complex and organisation-specific, making Employee Engagement a dynamic and on-going challenge.

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