Opinion

Keeping employees engaged, involved

Updated on: Aug 11, 2011
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Mr N. R. Narayana Murthy, Founder of Infosys, once quipped that one of his worst fears was that the young employee who ‘walked out of his campus at 5 p.m. one day would not turn up the next day.'

CEOs and HR managers agree that keeping employees engaged is the only way to keep them away from the company's exit doors.

In their book Employee Engagement , academician Debashish Sengupta and HR practitioner S. Ramadoss have demystified, defined, illustratedand strengthened the case for Employee Engagement (EE). Although the introduction to the topic runs into almost three chapters, with exhaustive notes on the definition of EE, the reader gets the benefit from the fifth chapter onwards. The book turns interesting and quite insightful as it gives instances of employee engagement practices at both Indian and foreign companies.

Interesting analogy

Stressing the importance of the employer-employee relationship, the authors make an interesting analogy between a married couple and employee-employer partnership. They write, “Somewhere drawing the line, an employer-employee coming together is also like a marriage with the employer being the husband, because of the traditional perception of being the provider. Much like a marriage is solemnised, when both the parties feel a commonality they can share, an employer and the employee also choose each other based on the possibility of sharing such a stake.”

Very aptly, instances of companies calling their employees by different terms have been mentioned, indicating that the ‘relationship' is not just of the provider and the provided: Walmart calls its employees ‘associates', Starbucks Coffee as ‘partners' and the co-founder of MindTree Consulting is the ‘gardener'. “This automatically necessitated greater involvement and participation of employees, not only in work, but in policy formulation, decision-making and strategy design,” say the authors, pointing out various ways of keeping the employee engaged, in the work environment.

The later chapters draw out some of the best practices in employee engagement from the corporate realm, something that's useful for the budding HR practitioner. An in-depth case study of Taj Group's engagement initiatives helps the reader understand how the hospitality group recovered after the dastardly attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai in 2008. Similarly, watch and jewellery giant, Titan, has used employee engagement as the cornerstone to manage challenges, say the authors. Titan had to manage aspirations of two sets of completely different kinds of employees: one from the manufacturing pool and the other from its retail pool. Employees at the plant were encouraged to form a forum to represent the various needs and aspirations, which led to the formation of an internal union. For customer-facing employees, training and development are the supportive and engaging programmes. Other examples in the book give a peek into how companies are keeping their employees engaged: Underlying Google's free and casual culture is a serious purpose to ideate and create, say the authors. An interesting CSR programme at Bharti Airtel has become one of the most effective tools of employee engagement. “The company started a programme in which an employee could bid for the senior management's time via an online auction, the proceeds of which would be used for CSR initiatives.”

Challenges

However, according to the Towers Perrin Global Workforce Survey of 2006, that indicates the level of employee engagement in India, compared to other countries, the statistics aren't favourable.

In India, only seven per cent were highly engaged, 37 per cent moderately engaged and more than half the employees surveyed (56 per cent) were disengaged.

However, by 2008, as another survey indicated, nearly 34 per cent were ‘fully engaged' and 13 per cent were disengaged. Around 29 per cent of the workers were ‘almost engaged'. The challenges, clearly, are for companies to have their task cut out for themselves: not only to ensure higher levels of engagement, but to also ensure that there is a consistent level of engagement across all levels of the organisation.

Fourth chapter onwards, the authors have brought out an informative edition that is sufficiently illustrated with live examples on employee engagement. However, one feels that the first fifty pages could have been less scholastic and academic.

Published on August 21, 2011

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