The topography of employee engagement

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One may argue that a happy employee is an engaged employee, however, these are two entirely different facets and the former may or may not lead to the latter

“An engaged employee is more productive.” You heard it here first.

‘Employee engagement’ has been a hot topic and one often hears about it in almost every HR meet, conference and forum. The importance of employee engagement has been widely accepted and employers, increasingly, are looking to foster an atmosphere that enables improved employee engagement.

However, what does employee engagement mean? What can be done to boost engagement? What are the parameters of measurement? Various practitioners apply wide-ranging approaches to arrive at this much-desired objective. However, as someone who has had the opportunity to interact with a rather good number of human-resource professionals working at various levels with medium to large companies—the number of employees ranging from 200 to more than a lakh—I can confirm that there is no single accepted answer to the above questions. But there are some common threads which I am penning down here:

Employee engagement deals with how employees feel about their work and their organisation. One may argue that a happy employee is an engaged employee. However, these are two entirely different facets and the former may or may not lead to the latter. From our experiences, we can easily deduce that an unhappy employee will most likely not be engaged. On the contrary, however, one cannot guarantee that a happy employee will be an engaged employee. Engaged employees constantly endeavour to improve—be it in their immediate work or in terms of their contribution to the company.

Good work, good boss and good pay are considered to be the foundations of employee engagement. But can these be complemented with other things which help maintain a balance in an employee’s life? Can the engagement be enhanced by better communication, policies, practices and tools? I strongly believe so. In my opinion, besides a strong performance-management core, these are the areas which add to employee engagement:

  • Employee physical and mental well-being, so that they are in the best frame of mind and are contented, in general. This can be guaranteed by putting in place better crafted well-being policies, facilities, education and any other tool that can be provided by the company. For example, reducing employee health insurance costs should not be the main focus of wellness programmes. Instead, the management should focus on employee well-being, thereby ensuring better and improved engagement. Not everything needs to be provided free of cost. However, some things could be facilitated by the company. For instance, a company of decent size can arrange for crèche facilities paid by the employees themselves. This could be an extremely cost-effective initiative to augment the peace of mind of the employees who may also be parents, while reducing the stress related to the well-being of their children.
  • Financial well-being, so that the employees have a better chance at arriving at their financial goals without difficulty. While a company has its own framework for compensation, the other benefits for the employees can be improved at no cost or hardly any cost to the company. This helps increase the purchasing power of an employee’s salary. Companies, such as Vantage Circle, work along with the industry to provide special pricing on various products and services for employees to add to the same. For example, in a span of a year, all employees buy some insurance at their end (maybe just motor insurance), purchase couple of electronics/white goods, shop for apparels, spend on at least one holiday, and so on. Offering these at special prices can help the employees save money—by nearly 10 per cent of the market rate.

Another factor of financial well-being is the education—on how to manage finances and how to prepare for unforeseen circumstances. In a country, such as India, it is even more important and can act as a highly beneficial instrument for employee satisfaction and engagement.

  • Goal communication to ensure a meaningful goal alignment of the employee and company. The employees should know their own and the company’s short- term, medium-term and long-term goals. These should be communicated regularly, and preferably by the senior management.
  • Rewards and recognitions to encourage and ensure employee performance satisfaction. It is a no brainer that employee recognition promotes positive engagement from employees. A culture of recognition, therefore, has to be ingrained in every company. Having said that, the companies need to make sure that proper channels and processes are established instead of leaving them to the fancies of the managers, which otherwise have the potential to injure the spirit of both the employees and the company.
  • Continuous learning to ensure upskilling and reskilling of talent. According to a recent article, a huge number of working professionals over 35 years of age are currently facing bleak job prospects due to redundancy of their job skills. This is an unattractive trend that has surfaced, which is why it is even more imperative that the importance of learning new skills be entrenched amongst the employees, even though not every skill may be vital from the company’s point of view. The management doesn’t necessarily need to pay for this; the employees could be better enabled by being offered access to platforms, which will push them to take up new courses on their own.
  • Meeting personalised needs of each employee. Not everything can be standardised. Yet, the management can and should be able to appreciate the diverse nature of needs of each employee. By trying to understand where they fall in Maslow’s hierarchy and customising all the aforementioned points against it can pave the way towards a more harmonised path of employee engagement. It doesn’t need to be personalised at the individual level from day one, but one can start off with the different grades, and continuously work to personalise them further.

But will these measures be effective? In order to confirm the validity of the above points, one may use the standardised measurement tools of employee engagement. Engagement has to be measured continuously to get the sentiment of the employees. It should be noted that the very act of appraising their sentiments increases engagement as they feel that their inputs are being taken seriously by the management. For companies it can be a benchmark against which they can improve continuously. Employee engagement is a continuous journey and no company can claim to have reached its peak and assume that nothing new needs to be added. For further information on the measurement tools, you may read this great article on Employee Net Promoter score (ENPS) here.

The first and the foremost step towards achieving fruitful employee engagement is to identify the initiatives that could be put into action, followed by a recognition of the tools that could be exercised in order to execute the plan in an uncomplicated and cost-effective manner. There are numerous tools that can help in employee engagement. We will talk about the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of these tools in another article.

While this is not an exhaustive list, the attempt here is to cover the main areas. The idea of this special section in HRKatha – ‘Employee Engagement and Benefits’ — is to gather inputs and thoughts from real practitioners, such as you and become a knowledge vault of employee engagement and benefits practices.

The author is CEO, Vantage Circle.

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