In the past thirty years, plenty of research was conducted around the factors impacting employee engagement and organizational change. According to the recent research by Gallup, almost 85% of employees worldwide are still not engaged at work. We believe it’s always the right time to reflect on the findings again and explore the power of engaging your talents.

With this article, we tend to cover some of the easy to do steps you can take in order for your employees to feel empowered, motivated, and valued at work. As always, we’ll drive a line between employee engagement, business performance, and CX results you can achieve if you put your talents first.

A short history behind employee engagement

an image showing a team running employee engagement and organizational change session.

The concept of employee engagement was first academically elaborated and published by the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) in 1990 under the title ‘From People to Profits, the HR link to the service-profit chain’.

This paper unveiled positive correlations between engaged employees and satisfied customers. The research further confirmed that engaged employees stay longer with the company, increase sales, and improve internal processes. As you can imagine, these findings turned the HR field upside down. By getting ‘engagement budgets’ approved by decision-makers, HR experts could start investing in their talents meaningfully.

We could explain employee engagement as the connection between a person’s day to day job, and the feeling of curiosity, ownership, belonging, and diversity of tasks available. In other words, employee engagement is a talent’s perspective on overall workplace culture, care, and growth he or she might experience within the organization.

Trying to make employees engaged with the ‘hygiene factors’ such as basic compensations and benefits, or the annual team building usually won’t bring you long term results. We’ll present the strategies that actually work in the following sections.

The role of the manager in employee engagement

According to last year’s research by Gallup, ‘70% of the variance in team engagement is determined by the manager’. This fascinating data speaks about the importance of investing in your managers’ soft skills. 

As we all know, managers are often too busy to have one-to-one conversations with their team members. However, dedicating time to talents can be crucial in empowering employees to perform with more motivation and energy. To lead meaningful conversations with employees, the manager has to be confident and open to receive and give honest feedback. 

Nowadays, employees want to know the path of their career development and whether that plan meets their needs and work-life balance. Leaders who want to stay in the game should adjust their attitudes and their people strategies towards this emerging employee need for flexibility.

We asked Aleksandar Ilic, the Head of CXM, and regional manager at Awards International to share his perspective on talents’ engagement. This is what he told us:

In my opinion, it all comes down to empowerment. Let your team bring ideas to the table and implement them. Offer your support no matter if it turns out to be a huge success or just a learning experience (it’s never a failure). If you have a team of people who feel empowered, supported, and believe in the vision, engagement should rarely be an issue.

The liaison between employee engagement and organizational change

What do people need to be engaged at work? According to dozens of research projects, to perform well and stay in the company long, employees have to see the meaning and purpose in the work they are delivering daily.

Another important factor for people to feel engaged is psychological safety. This is the concept popularized after the research Amy C. Edmondson conducted among Google’s high performing teams. Only those who felt safe to express how they feel were also capable of solving organizational problems.

If we reflect on the past year’s events, it is clear the pandemic caused almost irreversible business changes. The whole world is buzzing about hybrid work models, employee burnout and anxiety, or more and more people getting layoffs. Bringing employee engagement and organizational change together in such circumstances sounds almost impossible.

However, we are witnessing the shift in purpose-driven leadership. HR teams are starting to design the employee lifecycle with people’s mental health in the mind. Observant and intuitive leaders are able to see the positive sides of the crisis and drive innovative organizational changes.

What are the best ways to engage employees?

There are plenty of creative ways to engage your talents. However, you’ll need to run some discovery sessions to uncover employees’ preferences. Whatever activities you decide to implement, make sure they are designed to demonstrate appreciation, autonomy, and belonging.

We asked Lisa Fradin, Chief People Officer at IPI to share some of their top tips for employee engagement and performance boost.

While we don’t ‘manage performance’ at IPI – ‘managing’ fully capable and responsible adults is a somewhat outdated notion and isn’t effective in helping people reach their potential or goals – we enable performance through frequent open dialogue between managers and individuals, supporting them to achieve their goals and challenging them to take their career to the next level. By concentrating on building trust and offering genuine support through regular 1-2-1 meetings, our people leaders are truly enabling performance.

To help you out on this journey, we selected the four most impactful ways of boosting employee engagement.

  • Employee recognition

Make sure your employees are frequently recognized and rewarded for their success. This doesn’t have to be glamorous recognition but a small act of seeing someone for the hard work he or she does.

  • Personalized conversations

As a manager or a leader, you have to power to see talents beyond their exceptional skills at work. Show curiosity for their personalities, hobbies, and talents that might have nothing to do with the daily tasks.

  • Ownership and authonomy

The best way to engage your talents is to give them control over their work. If they own the tasks, they will do their best to deliver exceptional results. Ask them what they need to feel the full ownership and do the tasks how suits them the best. Along with the ownership, there is the flexibility you can introduce as your team’s work style.

  • Empathy and wellbeing

According to Catalyst recent findings, 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders, reported being engaged as well. In one of our previous interviews, we talked about leading with empathy. You can explore how the CEO of Alida managed to build a true people-centred workplace culture.

How to effectively measure employee engagement?

an image showing a team measuring results from the employee engagement survey.

To drive employee engagement and organizational change, people operation teams have to know what metrics to track over time.

However, it is not rare for employees to be just tired of taking engagement surveys every three to six months.

There are a few questions that can help your HR team design a better measurement system:

  1. What does employee engagement mean for this company? 
  2. How will we know our talents are engaged at work? 
  3. What measurement tools can be effective and bring us relevant data?
  4. How do we plan to react to the employee engagement insights we gather? 
  5. How will we communicate the results with our talents?

Even though employee engagement surveys are a proven method of gathering data and understanding where a general problem might occur, they will not provide you with a holistic overview of what makes people appreciated, valued, and happy.

Therefore, taking into consideration in-depth interviews and observational research might be the best option for you. An additional data gathering method is the employee diary. Giving your talents a task to write down their feelings over few weeks might provide you with exceptional insights on what activities boost their energy.

The benefits of keeping your employees engaged

These days, we often hear employee engagement and organizational change are the driving forces behind a brand’s success. However, many companies still tend to overlook all the benefits that come with a highly engaged team. To help you gain a better perspective on the topic, we cast a light on the biggest advantages of employee engagement.

1. Improved productivity

Keeping your employees engaged is all about supporting their creativity and increasing their work motivation. Highly engaged team members stay focused on the tasks at all times and tend to deliver better results in the long run.

2. Lower turnover

Satisfied and engaged employees tend to stay loyal to the company and are more likely to seek other job opportunities. When provided with the right motivation, opportunities for growth, and recognition, people feel more committed to the company.

3. Increased customer satisfaction

Considering all of the above, it’s not hard to conclude why engaged employees contribute to the overall customer experience. When people care deeply about their jobs, they also tend to be committed to the customers and want to provide the best possible experience to them.

4. Lower absenteeism and employee burnout

Increasing employee engagement also means investing in the health and safety of your team members. Engaged workplaces tend to respect employees’ needs to a higher degree, providing them with the right solutions whenever necessary (e.g. flexible schedule for a better life-work balance). This further lowers the chances for stress, burnout, and absenteeism at work, keeping employees happy and healthy.

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