Organizations can gain a competitive advantage by effectively engaging their employees. That’s the key takeaway from a new report by the Aberdeen Group.

Entitled The Rules of Employee Engagement: Communicating, Collaborating and Aligning with the Business, the new study attributes the positive impact of engagement on a business to improving  the retention, performance and productivity of workers. But, it noted, while many organizations understand the virtue of engagement, the big challenge is creating a program that works.

Performance Criteria

The report, conducted in June and July, found that to be effective, employee engagement has to be part of a company’s culture.

Three performance criteria were utilized to distinguish Best-in-Class companies for employee engagement. For the Best-in-Class organizations, 71 percent of employees exceeded performance expectations, compared to 14 percent of what it described as Laggard companies.

The report also found that 85 percent of first-choice candidates accepted a Best company’s offer of employment, compared to 8 percent at the Laggards. Finally, 72 percent of employees at Bests described themselves as highly engaged, while only 9 percent of those at Laggards did.

The Bests shared several common characteristics, such as obtaining organization-wide support, including from senior executives and managers, in developing engagement programs. This group of companies also created a culture of transparency and two-way communication between managers and employees, and lined up metrics for employee engagement with company metrics for retention, performance and productivity.

Like Customer Engagement

The report recommended a variety of specific actions for organizations to reach Best-in-Class performance. These include allocating sufficient resources, designing a program that can offer development opportunities and reach a broad audience, and devoting the same attention to employee engagement as a company might give to customer engagement.

It also encouraged integrating employee engagement with a talent management strategy, strengthening rewards and recognition programs, and undertaking investment in technology that could help spur engagement, such as social media.

The Aberdeen Group study looked at 258 organizations, representing a range of industries in a variety of locations, and it supplemented the online survey with telephone interviews of selected respondents.