02/09/2015

By Eloise Allen, Thales Learning & Development employee forum specialist & Key Account Manager

The phrase ‘employee engagement’ has become something of a buzzword in recent years thanks to people placing an increasing amount of importance on it. But it is much more than just a buzzword. A highly engaged workforce is worth its weight in gold to any business persistent enough to achieve it, and research confirms this: 94 percent of the world’s most admired companies believe their efforts to engage their employees have helped to create a competitive advantage.

However, before we start to look at how to create high levels of engagement in your staff, or even why businesses need to, it’s important to understand what employee engagement really means for both employees and the organisation they work for.

There are three industry recognised forms of engagement:

1. Intellectual engagement – being willing to work hard, and putting in the effort to ensure the job is done well and a desire to continue improving
2. Affective engagement – being positively committed and feeling good about doing a really good job
3. Social engagement – experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections in the workplace which usually leads to shared ideas and further improvements

Let’s take a look at each of those three in greater detail:

Intellectual engagement

If people are intellectually engaged with the job they are doing, it means they are stimulated by their work and therefore much more likely to care about whether they are doing it to the best of their ability or not. They will also be more inclined to pro-actively better themselves in order to continue contributing in the best way they can because they actually enjoy being good at their job. For example, Gallup found that 59 percent of the more highly engaged employees say that work brings out their most creative ideas, against 3 percent of the less engaged.

The benefits of high intellectual engagement for a company are huge. Employees will go ‘above and beyond’ rather than simply meeting minimum requirements. They are also more likely to put in the extra time and effort when needed rather than spending the day watching the clock.

Affective engagement

This type of engagement essentially refers to whether people ‘love’ their job or not. But that is simplifying it. In less colloquial terms, affectively engaged employees are happy to be at work. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of employee engagement. It is the difference between somebody sitting at their desk daydreaming about their next holiday, or being fully and happily focussed on the task in front of them. In fact, SHRM reports that employees who are satisfied at work perform an average of 20 percent better than their dissatisfied counterparts.

Social engagement

Having high levels of social engagement means your employees will feel a strong and positive connection with the company and their co-workers. This is often driven by a belief in the company’s vision or pride in the company’s products or services. But is also positively affected by a culture where people are encouraged to collaborate. In a study from Jobsite UK, 70 percent of employees said that cultivating friendships at work generates a positive influence on their productivity and happiness.

There are two powerful benefits of social engagement: firstly, people are more likely to work together well, will be willing to share knowledge and ideas, and will ultimately learn from one another and help each other to improve. Secondly, if people are socially engaged with their employer, they are likely to speak very positively about that employer to both their co-workers and anyone external they speak to, and this helps to promote a positive image of the company.

Not rocket science

Creating and retaining an engaged workforce is not rocket science. Essentially you need everyone in the business to understand the company’s vision, believe in it, and be willing to push to make it happen. Achieving that requires the following three elements:

1. Open and honest leadership from strong role models, who are visible and approachable
2. Managers who have been trained to be confident in coaching, mentoring, supporting, and understanding how to develop the potential of their team members
3. Individuals who have been given the skills, knowledge and clarity they need in order to autonomously do their job

The overall result

When you add all of this together, you end up with employees who are stimulated by their role and always looking to better themselves, happy to be at work and eager to do a good job, and emotionally connected to the organisation and their colleagues in a positive way. The resulting output – in terms of productivity, ideas and innovation – is going to have a massive impact on any bottom line. Not only that, but those highly engaged employees are much more likely to stay with the company, helping to cultivate a stable and experience workforce.

That, ultimately, is what employee engagement is all about: having people who are enthusiastic about coming into work and do a great job because they genuinely want to.

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