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Happy employees = happy customers. Yet we've all seen the numbers from Gallup: 63 percent of workers worldwide are not engaged at work, and a further 24 percent are actively disengaged. Businesses recognize the benefits of engaged employees -- for retention, for productivity, for increased customer satisfaction -- but struggle with how to create work environments that support this goal and in many cases feel unprepared to meet the demand.

This comes at a time when businesses are under pressure to differentiate themselves through customer service and at a time of increased connectivity, increased information availability, increased challenges in finding organizational information -- all of this resulting in "overwhelmed employees."

Something needs to give, but where should companies start? 

The Question 

What do we mean when we talk about employee engagement? What is the most important step a business can take to achieve it?

David Zinger, Founder and Host, Employee Engagement Network

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert. He founded and host the 6400 member global Employee Engagement Network. His work on engagement has taken him to such places as Singapore, India, South Africa, Dubai and Europe. Visit his site at: www.davidzinger.com. Tweet to David Zinger.

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The Engage for Success movement out of the UK identified over 50 different definitions of engagement with one person stating that you can smell engagement when you enter an organization.

I have spent seven years and 10,000 hours on the topic and I have tried to make it as simple and as short as possible. I define employee engagement as good work done well with others every day.

In the above eight words I have embraced the quality of good, a focus on work, performed well, contributing to our wellbeing, our connection to others as we work with them, not for them. And this definition is lived and worked every day -- not something measured once every two years. I am focused on the actions and behaviors of engagement as opposed to the by-products of emotions and attitudes.

The most important step for a business to influence employee engagement is to begin with the end. By this I mean both the results that you are trying to achieve through engagement, not just an increase in an engagement score. I also think most businesses fail to determine what must end before you begin. These endings range from assumptions and cynicism to a lack of training or time wasting processes. Too often we think of engagement as something we add rather than something we end or integrate into the way we work.

I believe engagement itself will end either as a fad that failed to deliver on its promises or end by being subsumed into the nature of how we work, manage and lead so that we no longer need to use the term. I am doing all I can to ensure it is the latter not the former so engage along with me, the best is yet to be.

Deb Lavoy, Vice President of Marketing, Jostle.me

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Deb Lavoy has been studying the dynamics, culture and technology of organizations and collaborative teams for nearly 20 years, while working in product marketing and strategy for companies as diverse as AOL, Adobe and OpenText. She is Vice President of Marketing at Jostle.me. Tweet to Deb Lavoy.

Employee engagement -- the real, meaningful kind -- is about getting employees to lean in to their jobs, to care enough to put in some effort. To strive. How does that happen?

First -- you need to pick the right people. I have been impressed by what I’ve read about Chipotle’s hiring process.

Next you need to give them something to care about -- and it should be tightly aligned with customer success and happiness.

Third, you must ensure that they can do work that has an impact -- meaning that they have the tools and the remit -- that they aren’t blocked by ill-considered processes or policies. That they can have an impact.

Dan Pink talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose, and his writing and talks on that are not to be missed. But to my mind the real key to employee engagement is to make it clear that their efforts make a difference. You need proof their work matters.

You need leadership that is authentic and focused. Leadership that entreats people into the quest, rather than berates, manipulates or dehumanizes them.

As for practical steps to achieve this? Communication, leadership, warmth. Intranets make a very big difference. A great intranet can help to scale great communication and leadership. It will accelerate and sustain the culture that emerges.

Oscar Berg, Digital Strategist, Enterprise Collaboration Expert

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Oscar Berg is an experienced management consultant located in Sweden who is passionate about helping customers to become more successful by improving communication, sharing and collaboration. Oscar shares his ideas and observations on The Content Economy. Tweet to Oscar Berg.

We say that we are ”engaged” at work when we feel completely involved and enthusiastic about our work and the organization we work for. When we do, we also tend to be more motivated and feel committed to contribute to the success of the organization.

Research points to a strong correlation between employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and investor returns. Companies with the most engaged employees show higher productivity as well as quality than companies with the least engaged employees. Engaged employees are more focused, motivated and less likely to be absent from work.

Gallup’s 2013 worldwide study of employee engagement found that only 13 percent of employees are engaged at work. The majority of the employees (63 percent) are not engaged. This definitely calls for action.

Disengaged employees feel disconnected, feel that they lack the right conditions for doing their jobs well and often feel isolated at work. Employees are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Workload and complexity at work is increasing, while they're expected to produce more, faster. Work is becoming more interdependent, requiring more collaboration to get the work done. On top of this, employees are also expected to be creative, innovative and quickly adapt to new conditions.

The problem is that businesses have been designed for efficiency and economies of scale, not for enabling collaboration, creativity and personal responsibility. Too often, employees feel as cogs in a big machinery. Businesses are often designed on the wrong assumptions, such as what motivates employees to contribute and be productive. As a result management tends to overestimate the importance of monetary rewards. They underestimate the employees’ need to pursue a purpose, to have the freedom to control their own work situations, and to get the right conditions to get their work done and improve at what they do. I have illustrated the gap between what motivates most knowledge workers and what management believes motivates knowledge workers in the Venn diagram below:

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Businesses that succeed with employee engagement will win in the long term. Yet there is no magic pill, silver bullet or secret sauce to fix employee engagement. To find out what needs to be fixed, a business needs to understand the needs and challenges from the employee’s perspective and focus on creating the necessary conditions that will make the employee feel empowered and engaged at work.