The Challenge of Employee Engagement

We can find common ground only by moving to higher ground.” —Jim Wallis

As previously mentioned, I am one of the leads for the Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN), an Employee Resource Group (ERG) at my organization. I joined this group because I genuinely believe in the power of employee engagement – what it can do for the company’s business results and what it can do for the individual and career development. Not only do I buy into all the research and statistics about employee engagement, I witness it all around me on regular basis. There is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind – engaged employees ARE more productive, more supportive, and happier overall. I guess you can say I have a passion for the concept.

I have always been eager to make an impact – a contribution to the origination that would make a meaningful difference and better the lives of others. Since the primary goal of the ERGs is to improve employee engagement, I decided that getting involved there would be a great fit and would give me an opportunity to accomplish my goal.

To my surprise, since joining the WIN Committee, I have discovered that employee engagement is a very nebulous concept and influencing it is much more of a puzzle-solving, than the usual structured approach. But hey, since dealing with complexity and solving puzzles are my other passions, I am still determined to get to the bottom of it.

Basically, it is not as simple as doing one thing and expecting employee engagement to rise through the roof. It is a combination of things that makes someone engaged. In addition, that combination is most likely different for different people.

As an example, in his article “5 Levers of Employee Engagement” Michael Cardus calls out the following:

  • Competent manager
  • Broad goals that are established within the proper context
  • Objective measures of progress and regress
  • The necessary resources to get the job done
  • Sufficient autonomy to do their best work

Although I do agree that these things are necessary in every workplace, in my opinion they are the “hygiene factors”. Basically, they have to be present to prevent an employee from becoming disengaged, to simply keep them coming back day in and day out.

On the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs they are the bottom three levels. Only after your physical, safety and belongingness needs (which is where lack of micro-management, adequate tools to do the job, SMART goals, etc. fall under) are satisfied do you start thinking about such things as how to become noticed in the organization, your status within the organization, your growth as part of the organization, and your contribution to the organizational growth. Only employees that are not unsatisfied or not unmotivated are able to cross over to “the engaged” zone. And the ERGs are there to help them do just that.

Let’s take a step back for a moment…what is the definition of an engaged employee? According to this Forbes article, employee engagement is “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” It means that the employee is willing to put in the extra effort and go the extra mile without being asked. They want to contribute to the progress of the organization, more than that – they want to inspire others to do the same.

That is what ERG committee members set out to do – inspire others to want to do more and to be more. Ultimately, I think what ERGs are trying to accomplish is a culture change. At my organization ERGs are a recent phenomenon. Only four year ago the only place you could go for help was your direct manager. Now ERGs are providing opportunities to learn, to connect with power within the organization, to obtain the necessary tools to enable and propel personal and professional growth, and to simply make our colleagues aware that there is help. Our goal is to give them a voice and try to ensure that it is heard all the way up to the C-suite.

From what I have learned during two years of my ERG involvement, the environment of support and empowerment is the key lever of employee engagement. The next step for ERGs is to figure out what actions can be taken to create the environment that inspires others to put forth the discretionary effort and what levers to utilize to drive that inspiration.

What engages YOU?

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