Understanding employee engagement

Most businesses are happy to say that their people are their biggest asset, but are you really getting the best from this ‘asset’? Having all bums on seats between 9 and 5 (or whatever the flexi-hours are) and all tasks completed is the contractual stuff. In return, the employer abides by the stated rules (legislative and internal policies & procedures) and compensates the employee as agreed. But you can get more – including better performance, greater efficiency, improved teamwork, lower staff turnover, and increased customer satisfaction – if you’re willing to give more.

What is employee engagement?

When a workforce is ‘engaged’, it is willing to do that little bit more, go that little bit further, take that extra little bit of trouble. Why would employees do such a thing? Because they think that on some level, what they do matters. They think it (whatever ‘it’ may be) is worth doing. Put simply, they care. but why should they? How do you get them to genuinely engage with the work?

Diving deeper into engagement

According to Professor Katie Truss at Kent Business School, University of Kent, there are six key employee engagement factors:

  1. Keep it authentic – In other words, pay more than lip service to engagement activities such as,
  • Transparent and two-way communications focused on both what people ‘need to know’ and also what they ‘need to understand’.
  • Flexibility – where possible, people have freedom built in to how they do their jobs and achieve objectives.
  • Tech support, providing the up to date tools to get the job done (and more).
  • Reward and recognition options for excellent performance which give employees something they actually value.
  1. Engagement is distributed – i.e. not just ‘top-down’ activity; engagement is more than a leadership activity, it’s a phenomenon that ideally exists throughout the business, with proponents at all levels… more of a distributed network of engagement rather than a single or limited source.
  2. Think about ‘engagement architecture’ – What shape is your engagement strategy? If it’s the same for everybody then it will only have limited success; one size rarely fits all and they’re not sheep, so don’t dip them. When deciding on how you will inform and engage the workforce, bear in mind that different employees care about different things and widen your appeal.
  3. Engaging jobs – Think about job design. If a role is boring to the person doing it, they’re not going to engage. Balance duties and responsibilities with what interests the employee. And yes, this might mean redesigning roles (where you can) to suit the individual. But what better way to say, you’re not just a cog in the machine than to give someone their own bespoke job, tailored to them?
  4. Engagement and involvement – Truss encourages wider thinking by distinguishing between ‘engagement’ (the employee’s attitude to their own job) and ‘involvement’ (their wider attitude to the business as a whole). Bigger picture thinking helps put each job or duty in context, provide the ‘why’, putting the individual employee’s role in perspective.
  5. Encourage innovation – Don’t be risk-averse, be open to new ideas from whatever quarter they come. A workforce that sees no point in suggesting better ways of working because such ideas are traditionally ignored is not an engaged workforce. You’re looking to encourage the opposite.

From a leadership perspective, engagement is a strategy to achieve through others. The difficulty is that many organisations are still in a staff survey – analyse results – agree action plan – survey again – repeat ad nauseam cycle. Whereas in fact this is usually exactly the kind of lip service and rigidity of strategy that Truss points out does not work. What’s needed is a broader idea of what engagement is, from the beginning.


If this topic feels particularly applicable to your business but you’re wondering where to start give us a call on 01582 463462 – we’re here to help.

Categories: HR

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