Behind employee engagement
It’s the fuel that drives a company’s success
Companies thrive when they have highly engaged employees who are committed to the mission and purpose of the organization. Extensive research has shown that organizations composed of highly engaged individuals are more productive, more profitable and have more sustainable growth.
Employees themselves also benefit when they are engaged. They are happier and more satisfied with their work. They are valued and respected by their leaders and their peers. Engaged employees are substantially more successful in their work and their careers.
The importance of engagement transcends geography, culture, and company focus. Engaged organizations have positive working environments built on a foundation of psychological safety and mutual respect. Employees are members of a common team; they work collaboratively to advance company goals. Employees take ownership of their work and strive to exceed expectations. The net effect is a motivated and productive workforce.
Employee engagement is frequently framed as either being engaged or not. The reality is more complex. There is a range of employee engagement, with some having very low levels and others being highly engaged.
To recognize inherent differences in employee attitudes and behaviors, we classify engagement into four levels:
1. Disengaged employees sabotage team and company efforts and underperform in their work.
2. Non-engaged employees are apathetic about the mission and values, lack commitment to leaders and merely tolerate team members. Most employees are non-engaged.
3. Engaged employees contribute to overall success, but without extraordinary effort.
4. Highly engaged employees are the innovators, champions and change agents who work to enact leaders’ strategies. They consistently exceed expectations.
Research shows that approximately two-thirds of employees are either non-engaged or actively disengaged. Experience shows that the two groups with the most impact are the highly engaged and the actively disengaged.
Different elements engage people in their work. We identified five elements in which people function at different levels of engagement:
1. The company itself, with its brand, vision and values engages people. A strong brand, a meaningful mission, an inspiring vision, as well as strong values encourage employee engagement. When individuals feel that they are part of something bigger, they are more engaged to support the company.
2. The leadership can inspire engagement in subordinates. Leaders who demonstrate fairness, good communication skills, mutual respect and are positive personal examples engage their employees.
3. The teams people belong to often engage people because of the teammates with whom they work. Strong team affinity, positive collaboration, and personal connections can increase employee engagement. Relationships have a significant impact on engagement and work.
4. Individual work assignments can inspire workers. As is noted in Self Determination Theory , when employees feel they are competent to fulfill their duties and have a sense of autonomy in their work, they tend to be more engaged and better meet the customer’s needs.
5. The customers being served can be sources of engagement. Once individuals ask why they are performing their work, and not only what they need to do, it can change their attitude toward work. Customers ultimately benefit from the work performed and services provided.
Understanding the multidimensionality of engagement helps us to determine what can be done to empower both individuals and organizations to achieve extraordinary engagement if we recognize how the elements above impact engagement.
The different levels of engagement, and the elements impacting total employee engagement are important. Together, they can be used to create an employee engagement profile. These profiles help us better understand the level of organizational, and individual engagement.
Our understanding of the total engagement is enhanced when we combine the four levels of engagement and the five elements of engagement to establish the organizational and individual engagement profiles. With an enhanced understanding we can dramatically improve the workforce engagement and performance of the organization — something we all desire to happen.
Dr. Heikki Rinne is a former CEO of Halton Group Ltd. and co-founder of Sitoumus LLC. Dr. Seppo Rinne, co-founder of Sitoumus, is an assistant professor at Boston University and an organizational researcher. Richard N. Swett — an architect, former member of Congress and ambassador — is a member of the Sitoumus team, CEO of Climate Prosperity Enterprise Solutions LLC, and author of “Leadership by Design: Creating an Architecture of Trust.”