A happy employee is a productive employee. There is a firm correlation between employee engagement and high organizational productivity and performance, across all sectors of the economy.

A recent report on the benefits of employee engagement commissioned by the UK government, Engage for Success, found companies with the highest engagement scores are twice as profitable as those in the bottom quartile.

Engaged employees work harder, are often willing to take on extra responsibilities and are a positive influence on their peers. There’s a raft of less-well-known benefits, too, from increased innovation to a reduction in accidents at work. One study even found engaged employees live healthier lifestyles.

Yet despite these well-established benefits, engagement levels remain low in many organizations. In a meta-analysis of their well-known Q12 index on employee engagement, Gallup found just 11 percent of employees are engaged, leaving 69 percent not engaged, with 27 percent actively disengaged -- costing businesses billions in lost productivity every year.

In these financially turbulent times, employee engagement, and the role it can play in increasing productivity and profitability, is more important than it’s ever been. And while there are no "quick fix" solutions, the evolution of social intranets has given executives some powerful tools with which to boost engagement. A social intranet is no magic bullet, but it can have positive and measurable impacts.

The Engage for Success report found there are four enablers of engagement, which together make for successful employee engagement programs. Social intranets provide a means by which each of these enablers can be embedded within an organization, making them essential tools with which to boost engagement and reap the rewards in increased productivity.

Leadership

The Engage for Success research found the highest-performing organizations have visible, empowering leadership providing a strong strategic narrative about the organization -- where it’s come from and where it’s going.

Whether employees understand and are committed to their organization’s mission or purpose has a huge bearing on whether they say, stay and strive.

Using a good social intranet, organizations can give their employees a strong sense of their mission. That means moving beyond a one-line mission statement toward regular communications on what that means in practice. Successful organizations use their intranets to communicate both their objectives and their performance against them, and provide further context and narrative to deepen understanding.

Features such as CEO blogs and activity streams provide a both means by which senior leaders can increase their visibility, and channels on which they can contextualize and humanize the company’s mission.

Engaging Managers

Line managers play a vital role in engaging their teams. Managers who focus their people and give them scope, treat people as individuals, and coach and stretch their people are rewarded with higher engagement and performance.

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Employees who recently received praise at work are more likely to be engaged; social intranets are a great mechanism for managers and colleagues to recognize achievement by individuals or teams. As this is broadcast rather than delivered privately, not only is it seen more widely, but others can add their own praise, amplifying its effect overall.

Social intranets enable peer-to-peer as well as top-down recognition, often making this as simple as clicking a "like" button or tagging a colleague in a status update -- helping to reinforce positive behaviors within the organization and recognizing work well done.

Bringing recognition online is just one of the ways social intranets can support good line management. By giving each employee a voice and a face, they also allow individuals to increase their own visibility through their social profiles.

Thanks to Facebook, employees have become comfortable with managing their own online presence -- and feel powerless when unable to do so, as is the case on more traditional intranets. Social intranets invite users to post information about themselves, their interests and their expertise, allowing others to find and connect with them as individuals with specific skills, rather than simply as part of a functional unit.

Profiles -- and the bridging social capital they create -- help to establish trust in the digital workplace.

Giving Employees a Voice

In highly engaged organizations there is an employee voice throughout the organization, which reinforces and challenges views, between functions and externally. In these organizations, employees are seen as central to the solution.

Successful organizations provide a variety of means by which the employee voice can be heard. Face-to-face remains the best means of communication there is, but Town Hall-style meetings are necessarily infrequent and -- because they’re expensive -- they don’t scale. A social intranet gives people a voice and lets them know they’re being listened to -- not just once a quarter, but all year round.

Because it by definition empowers all employees to contribute, a social intranet sends a powerful message that employees’ opinions do matter and are welcome.

Enterprise social platforms give employers a variety of tools with which to foster discussions and solicit meaningful contributions to organizational conversation, such blogs, wikis, polls, forums and article commenting.

While the toolbox should be designed for the organization’s own culture and work, the common success factors are that employees are invited to share and contribute in a way that is both meaningful and accessible –- so for instance, if the workforce is partly mobile, the social platform should be accessible from mobile devices if it is to be widely adopted.

By fostering the employee voice within the organization, successful organizations create and sustain engagement, building a culture which tells employees that they all have valuable knowledge to contribute and a role to play in helping the company be more productive.

No Say-Do Gap

In the best-performing organizations, the values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviours. There is no "say–do" gap. There is organizational integrity.

The Gallup Q12 survey asks whether employees have the materials and equipment they need to do their work. Too many organizations fall down in this regard because of the growing expectation gap between the technology staff use within the enterprise -- often older, clunky, badly designed platforms -- and the consumer technology they use in their personal lives.

As more employees are using social, mobile consumer technology, they increasingly find their employee experience is left wanting. Companies have long since recognized the engagement benefits of a good physical working environment. Yet many have been slow to recognize the equal or greater power frustrating experiences with digital workplace tools can have in making people disengaged. An attractive, well-functioning digital workplace -- like a good physical workplace -- sends a strong message that the employer cares.

Most employees want to do a good job but can become disengaged if they can’t easily access the resources they need to do it. A great intranet is both a means by which employees experience your brand, and a vital tool people use to do their jobs -- the gateway to essential business applications and information.

If your organization wants to present itself as collaborative, modern, efficient and innovative on the outside, it should function that way on the inside too. Giving people the tools they increasingly expect, you become an employer of choice -- one that employees want to stick with, and go the extra mile for.

Conclusions

A growing body of evidence suggests employee engagement plays a critical role in company performance. Companies with high levels of employee engagement experience greater productivity and higher profits than those with low engagement scores. With budgets tight, it can be tempting to make cuts in areas considered non-essential -- but engagement isn't a nice-to-have, it’s an established means of delivering strong financial performance.

Well-implemented social intranets establish strategic narrative, build leadership visibility, facilitate recognition, give employees a voice, reflect the employer brand and have a positive impact on employee effectiveness and happiness, making them a vital means of building employee engagement.

Social intranets are not a panacea; they cannot, alone, solve the problem of low employee morale. But for the large enterprise, particularly those which are geographically dispersed, a social intranet can become a significant strategic advantage.

Image courtesy of Pressmaster (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Sharon's insights into the digital workplace, check out Developing Trust in the Digital Workplace