Following on from the CIPD Festival of Work earlier this month, we wanted to reflect on one of the main themes to emerge from the event: employee engagement.
The edays team exhibited at the Festival of Work, and we’ve had a busy few weeks since following up with all of the great connections we made (you can read a full round-up of the event here). We also attended plenty of talks and we’ve already discussed the one of the other main focuses, workplace flexibility, which you can check out here!
The topic of employee engagement underlined many of the talks this year – it remains a key issue for HR and business leaders to address and more importantly, get right.
The Global State of the Workplace: 2023 Report by Gallup revealed that nearly 1 in 5 employees (18%) are actively disengaged with their workplace, with workers in European countries amongst the least engaged from those surveyed.
So, what can employers do to improve employee engagement? In this article, we look at what employee engagement means, and the metrics you should be paying attention to get a real, clear picture of what your employees think and feel about their roles and their organisation.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is a broad term and definitions of it vary. The UK’s Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) recommends a definition provided by occupational psychologists at Utrecht University which states that, rather than employees feeling burnt out, they show:
- vigour (energy, resilience and effort)
- dedication (enthusiasm, inspiration and pride)
- absorption (concentration and being engrossed in one’s work)
Other definitions for employee engagement suggest it is the positive mental and emotional connection that employees feel towards their work, their team, their organisation and its values, and how well-equipped and supported they feel to carry out their job. And importantly, engaged employees also know why their work matters and how it aligns to the company’s goals.
It’s important to stress that employee engagement isn’t a synonym for employee wellbeing, though it is a key part of it. Work-life balance, encouragement around taking time off from work when needed, supportive line management and career progression are all ingredients that if lacking or absent, could lead to disengagement.
How to measure employee engagement
Measuring employee engagement is a challenge for many organisations. With such a broadly defined term it can be difficult to know what should be measured, and if you’re getting an accurate picture of how your employees really feel about their job.
Employee engagement surveys are a crucial starting point, and an opportunity for employers to ask for real, anonymised answers to questions such as:
- how employees feel about their line manager and the senior leadership team
- how well employees feel business operations, goals, future plans and activities are communicated between departments
- how employees feel about the company’s values, and if they feel those values are actively practiced in the workplace
- what additional support, training or resources an employees feels they need in their role
- whether employees feel they are paid fairly, and/or receive reasonable benefits
- how well they feel teams and departments collaborate with one another
- how employees feel about the recognition they receive
- how well employees understand how their work contributes to the organisation’s success and targets
This a snapshot of the types of questions to ask in an employee engagement survey – there are many more, which may vary depending on the industry an organisation operates in, the nature of its work and its different working patterns.
Typically, an engagement survey might be performed by an organisation once a year, and this arguably isn’t enough. Consider running a survey like this once a quarter or once every six months to provide you with more data that can be compared and analysed frequently.
It’s also vital to communicate with employees exactly how the results from these surveys will be addressed. Asking employees to complete a survey and then never mentioning it again is not going to make individuals feel confident that anything is going to change – and instead fuel disengagement.
How to improve employee engagement
Ongoing check-ins between employees and line managers
Rather than relying on yearly performance reviews, check-ins between employees and line managers should be frequent and ongoing. You may want to encourage line management to have weekly one-to-ones with their teams if they aren’t already. It will provide an opportunity to discuss workload, progress and weekly schedules, and the chance to pick up on any issues relating to the employee’s wellbeing.
Feedback and recognition
Honest, two-way communication should be present between all members of your organisation, from senior management to entry-level workers. Consider implementing mechanisms whereby employees can provide frequent feedback on how things are going for them, and any issues they’re having in their role. This activity could feed into your engagement strategy alongside the larger, more in-depth engagement surveys, to provide quick snapshots of how employees are feeling.
Sharing of knowledge, skills and ideas should be encouraged between teams within any organisation. For example, customer service teams may find themselves isolated from the marketing department, research and development, sales, or a combination of all of them. When in fact, they may have vital insight into how your product or processes can be improved, and how your customers are feeling.
Team collaboration on large projects not only unburdens the lead project team from heavy workloads and having to take ownership in isolation, but it can also produce much higher quality of work through the inclusion of different employees with different skills, insight and fresh ideas.
How well your people managers communicate with the rest of the organisation about things such as employee benefits, employees assistance programmes (EAP), social and team events, engagement surveys, performance reviews and newly updated policies can make a vast difference in how employees feel about their organisation. A lack of communication on these issues only harbours feelings of being unsupported, confusion and even resentment.
Ensuring that these things are communicated clearly, and often, helps to nurture a positive workplace culture. One where people feel able to have honest conversations about how they’re feeling, feel that they can take annual leave or sick leave when they need to, and feel their organisation is working hard to provide them with a positive working environment where they can do their best work.
A clear company mission
Employees work better when they understand the organisation’s mission and goals. Many of us enjoy having a sense of purpose to our work, and knowing how your work contributes to the overall growth and success of a company helps to feel aligned and engaged towards a mutual goal.
Consider how open senior management is with its employees – how well do they communicate long and short-term goals, company growth, and celebrate the success of individuals? It’s not all about positivity either – if the company is facing challenges, or recognises areas of its operations that need improvement, communicate that too and encourage collaboration between teams to work to find innovative solutions.
What are the hidden signs of employee disengagement?
There are many signs of employee disengagement – the most obvious being turnover. But by the time an employee has handed in their resignation, it’s often the first time an employer realises that that individual is disengaged, and it’s already too late.
So what are the hidden signs of disengagement?
Absenteeism is a vital metric here. How many unplanned absences an employee has taken during a set period of time will provide you with valuable insight into how that employee may or may not be coping with their job.
Tracking absences, and checking in with an individual once they have reached a certain number of absences, allows for HR and line managers to have those open and honest conversations that are so important. By taking this proactive step, organisations may be able to save talented employees from leaving, and help them to get back on track in their role.
Ensuring you record all instances of absence from work, and monitor how much annual leave employees are using, will also provide insight into the risk of burnout. If an employee hasn’t used any annual leave for a few weeks or even months for example, it may be time for their line manager to encourage them to take a break.
Employees inevitably need to take sickness absences from time to time, and they also need to take well-earned breaks from work, so ensuring your organisation has a positive culture surrounding absence and leave is crucial. If employees feel too stressed to take leave, or they worry about the negative repercussions if they do, it is only fueling a culture of burnout, absence anxiety and disengagement.
Want to understand how absence and leave are impacting your organisation?