Understanding
employee engagement

What We Do

Understanding employee engagement

Employee engagement is a leadership issue, a concept with serious business consequences. It is a hot topic in boardrooms, academic circles, business management, HR practice and occupational health psychology. The challenge to foster employee engagement and manage it in a constructive and relevant way is a generic challenge that spans across industries, across nations and across the globe. Though being an increasingly present subject, employee engagement is still the most misused term in human capital consideration and practice.

Reconsidering what you think you know

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So what exactly
is employee engagement?

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So, how do we measure
employee engagement?

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Reconsidering what you think you know

Did you know, happiness is not what it used to be?

Although there is strong evidence to support the fact that customer loyalty currently still is a prerequisite for business success, recent findings in the employee space show that employee loyalty as it has been traditionally understood (attitudinal commitment coupled with behavioural intention) is no longer a precursor to business success. Thus a redefinition and new understanding of employee “happiness” is required to successfully manage the equation of happy customer + happy employee = business success.

Did you know, employees have evolved?

A historical perspective of employee happiness illustrates the evolution and change in complexity employee happiness has undergone over the last two decades:

The 1990s

Employee happiness was characterised by emotional sentiment towards the job and employer. It was mostly a unidimensional construct defined by a commitment to the cause.

The 2000s

Employee happiness evolved in a bidimensional space where attitudinal sentiment was coupled with a behavioural intention: I feel this way and as a result I act accordingly. Behavioural intention however was still somewhat of an emotional concept, as people do not always do what they say they intend to do.

The contemporary scenario

Today’s workforce shows a far more rationalised approach to employee happiness. An individual’s motivation, as well as decision to stay or leave a company, is based more on rational thought and a rational equation that they compose about their job, their circumstances and their employer. What I get vs. What I give tends to balance more than ever before. The presence of professional maturity in the contemporary workforce sees individuals leaving once they have exhausted their potential at their current organisation or when their personal, rational equation no longer adds up in a way that they are prepared to accept, and moving on to an alternative opportunity that better fits their circumstances and personal goals, with little guilt attached. Young generations in the workforce today will even change their professions and careers, not just organisations, in an effort to meet this balance.

Did you know, one size no longer fits all?

Loyalty within the workforce is no longer a relevant predictor of behavioural outcome. Today’s workforce is educated, trained and empowered. People exhibit new behaviours and are unfaithful without guilt. The influx of new generations into the workforce has introduced this new dynamic that needs to be understood and managed. Different generations have different criteria and motivation and for the first time we have three, sometimes even four different generations operational within the same workforce. A one-size-fits-all approach to management no longer applies. It is about understanding who you manage and then aligning your management way and style.

Did you know, you have to manage the flow?

As a result, human capital now needs to be considered as a flow of skill, rather than a stock. You no longer “own“ the people that work for you. Gone are the days of long tenure and commitment. People (your main competitive advantage) move in and out of your organisation taking along their skill, institutional knowledge and sometimes even clients and revenue too. So managers (and human resources to a point) are now responsible for effectively managing this flow of skill both in and out of the organisation, rather than simply administrating human stock.

Did you know, you need to offer more than just a pay cheque?

Employees (especially the “good ones”) can earn a similar or better salary at any of your competitors, so today money is only one of the factors behind the rationale of why they choose to stay with you. Leveraging people engagement requires an in depth understanding of them as individuals and their experience at work in order to build a mutually beneficial relationship. The employee-employer relationship is a partnership whereby both parties need to reap benefit in a way that is meaningful to them.

Did you know, customers and employees should have equal weighting in the service profit chain?

Although we do not debate the importance of the relationship between customer and employee, today it has to be seen in a different light. It requires a shift in mindset and a renewed valuing of employees’ role and importance in the quest for growth, profit and bottom line returns.

Therefore, when looking to measure and manage employee engagement, be suitably terrified of the facts, be inspired by the possibilities and then be brave enough to embark on a journey with your staff and company that will empower you to make meaningful changes that matter. Leading companies have one thing in common: focused strategies that center on employees and value their contribution to business success.

So what exactly is employee engagement?

Employee engagement by definition is the psychological state of employees which leads towards the most desired employee behaviour and better business results. In short, it is employees’ psychic state of mind.

To understand an employee’s state of mind, two aspects of engagement should be considered:

  1. Activation (how much of myself I bring to work)
  2. Attraction (how much this job is still for me)

These aspects of engagement are compatible with contemporary approach in affective science and mimic the mechanics behind human emotions. Therefore, employee engagement is the resultant of these two underlying components.

The constellation of Activation and Attraction also caters for sustainability, an important prerequisite for truly engaged employees.

So, how do we measure employee engagement?

Because engagement is the psychic state of mind of employees, it should be measured accordingly. A credible engagement measure must reflect engagement holistically and include the following building blocks:

  • Be aligned with contemporary employee engagement theory.
  • Algorithmically mimic the general definition of employee engagement (“a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his/her organisation, which influences him/her to exert greater discretionary effort to his/her work” – Conference Board, 2006).
  • Be aligned with theory and measurement practices in Occupational Health Psychology and Affective Science (How I feel about my work and my employer, affects what I do there).
  • Be aligned with stakeholder relationship measurement practices, but reflect contemporary workplace reality and its manifestations.
  • Be “generations blind” to successfully bridge generational gaps in the workforce (must be applicable and relevant to the different criteria and motivation exhibited by the variety of generations in the workforce).
  • Remain dynamic, be self-adjustable and permanently accurate.
  • Be as unbiased as a “psychometric” measure can be.
  • Provide for suitable, appropriate and actionable employee segmentation.

By incorporating all these building blocks, we have made sure that our employee engagement measure is truly measuring engagement and not simply assessing its various manifestations. From this point, various diagnostics can be plugged into the measuring instrument to ascertain which elements of work experience have the most affect on employee engagement and where organisations should focus their effort to make meaningful changes that matter.