Employee engagement is one of the most talked about subjects among the HR fraternity at this time of unprecedented pandemic. One reason could be, employee engagement is used as a common parlance for any event that brings employees together. Though that is what it looks like at the surface level, employee engagement is much more serious subject.
Employee engagement can be best defined as the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward the job. Even though, the feeling of engagement is intrinsic, it gets manifested in the form of positive behaviour towards the job, organization and customers. Engaged employees care more about their work and also the performance of the company and gets motivated when their efforts make a difference in the business outcome, customer satisfaction etc.,
In the engagement landscape, there are many determinants and each of them play a key role in engaging employees on the job. For example vision and mission, employer branding, goals and roles, wellbeing, performance support and feedback, the team, total reward, organisational relationship, beyond employee and community outreach all these can influence the way in which employees get engaged on the job.
Degree of Influence of each of these determinants may differ from organisation to organisation, culture to culture, generation to generation and they are to be studied contextually to evolve customized interventions. However, we mistake the enablers of engagement as factors of engagement and follow general and mundane approaches like revamping reward schemes, rebooting some of the policies, conducting events like picnics, outings, tours, dinners, ethnic day, birthday celebrations etc., and get a feel that we have done a lot on employee engagement.
Issues and challenges:
The right approach is to scientifically and systematically study engagement of the employees, which has got two major dimensions:
a) Sociological factors such as domicile, financial status, background of the family, parent’s occupation/education etc.,
b) Psychological factors such as the organisation, job role and responsibilities, Boss, colleagues etc.
It is important to devise tools to determine the engagement level, for which, we need to understand the context of the Business and kind of employees in the organisation. One of the major outcome of the engagement study is there is “no challenge and variety in the job”. We should understand that all the jobs need not be exciting like the President at the helm of affairs of a country or a Scientist working on a rocket launch or a Director of a film shooting a movie or a Negotiator of an international deal to achieve peace among Nations. In the organisations most jobs are routine, like a Customer Service Executive or a Data Entry Operator or a Quality Assurance Manager or a maintenance engineer who does the same jobs repeatedly. But there are exciting moments in those jobs too and it is the responsibility of the leader is to identify and celebrate such moments.
In any organisation we have variety of jobs and tasks based on the context which does not change frequently, however by rotating people to gain different experience may address this issue to an extent. Any approach in a heterogeneous context like an industrial organization, may create some initial impact and happiness among employees. However, in the long run, it may not yield results, unless there is a mechanism to constantly address the larger psychological issues, renew the initiatives and institutionalise.
Today’s crisis environment is a dare need and an opportunity to engage employees and make them feel belonged to the organization, than ever before. The following methodologies will help engaging employees in a manner they are motivated intrinsically:
a. A supportive manager: In an organisation people see their Boss as an ultimate source of power as the saying goes “employee joins the organisation but leaves the Manager” the support of the Boss in providing moral and psychological support is very important at the time of crisis. The Boss should avoid micro management and delegate to the extent of making decisions which simply means empowering the team. “Going beyond employee’’ is crucial at the time of uncertainty. A Boss who pushes the people to take decision and encourages to take risk will develop a lot of leaders.
b. Community Mind Set: We all endorse that “Man is a social animal ” and in his/her world sharing and caring is a significant aspect therefore forming a project based or Cross functional or self-directed work groups will develop a milieu of community empowering them to make decisions on the job which will generate a solidarity. The team can have hybrid working and redistribute the responsibilities and take accountability for the completion of assignments. This provides for the team to learn new skills, capabilities, develop leadership qualities, handling variety of responsibilities and follow through the projects to completion.
c. Going beyond Organisation: If you are from an Industrial consumable or an anti-virus software product development company, the application engineer or the expert might be more effective knowing the needs of the user at the customer’s workplace. Japanese call it as Gemba,they strongly belief that the problems can be solved only with greater understanding of the place of origin, responding to problems as they occur will increase the credibility and reliability of the vendors. Assigning an expert to the customer (s) and make him/her responsible for customer’s success will be highly motivating to the employee.
d. Spiral movement: Important steps in leadership development is career lattice where in changes in roles and responsibilities can give wide exposure, challenge and the employee feel valued. The depth and breadth of organisational capabilities will improve and provide platforms and forums to the employees to decide and make the choice of the role, location and function. Once the process is institutionalised it will be a cake walk and a great value proposition for the employees and eventually the organisation can attract best in class talents.
e. Timely Feedback: At a time of uncertainty like at present, everyone in the organisation wants to know that How he/she is doing? Whether the contribution is meeting the requirement? Whom should he/she go for the help?. It is important to do a focused review and feedback to address the above questions. Instituting a process of peer review, customer review are non-threatening and more insightful to the employee.
f. Re look at decision making process: No one in the information age and millennial especially not inclined to simply “follow the instruction”. Instead they want to be part of the decision which leads spontaneity of the ownership and empowerment. It is natural that when someone is part of the decisions and its impact on their contribution is clearly visible, involvement of the teams in decisions such as nature of the projects, resource, budget, targets, responsibilities, work schedules, financial gains etc., will lead to better involvement and ownership. Such steps allow employees to see the big picture and enables them to make a meaningful contribution.
g. Ideas and views: Companies follow different mechanisms to ignite creative side of the mind, practices such as providing time off to come out with project ideas, incentivising the implementable ideas, naming the new product or process after the team. When the new ideas or the thought process are untapped, freshness in the organisation drops. Organic development or learning is possible only when the organisation provides time, resources and environment to nurture creativity in the organisation. Employees will be renewed and updated rationally and psychologically by providing such environment.
h. Giving back: My daughter who works for a Pharma Major in the US got the choice of working from home during this pandemic, and found an opportunity to teach English to a under privileged child from a rural area at the end of the period both established wonderful rapport and friendship now the girl started taking guidance on life skills. Amazing benefit and sense of satisfaction for both of them. If an employee has a unique skill or expertise it is worth spreading the same and multiplying it and it is the best example of giving back to the society.
i. Upgrade yourself: I’ve enrolled for a few courses in top class universities and gained best in class insights on certain areas of interest. One of my friend’s son who is studying an undergraduate course in agriculture used his time to research on making dry land into cultivable land which really made him an expert in the area and he is personally motivated do a tangible contribution in this area and he could see the big picture of acres of green lands.Any organisation can encourage such initiative to enlarge the perspective of the employees.
Employee Engagement is often mistaken as a fun at work initiative which usually involves week end getaways, team building activities, birthday celebrations, R&R functions, long service award etc. No doubt, all these activities provide outwardly togetherness and superficial happiness; but these are only tentative behavioural reactions and initial euphoria. Employee engagement is more profound than these initial happiness and surface level satisfaction. It is intrinsic and based on the belief system, attitude and values of the individual. The Covid pandemic has made it imperative for the managers to work towards enhancing employee’s connection with the organisation consistently and especially when the team members are physically separated. That should ensure personalised approaches during official interactions like intertwining the conversation with enquiries about their wellbeing, safety of
family members, assuring support from the company at this time of crisis. These will help achieving stronger bonding and committed engagement towards business success more than ever before.
Dr.M.Muthiah is a Human Resources and Organisational Development Consultant. Email: email@example.com