Getting Engaged: How to Help Workers Commit to the Company

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By Laime Vaitkus

Employee engagement efforts are most effective when workers get involved in the process, according to several consultants.

Not involving employees in the planning leads to less buy-in on their part and they might stay disconnected from the organization, according to Rebecca Ray, executive vice president at the Conference Board. Ray is also the executive director of the Engagement Institute, a joint venture of the Conference Board, Deloitte Consulting, Mercer Sirota, the ROI Institute and the Culture Works.

Employee engagement is the level of commitment workers have to their organizations. Employers with higher levels of worker engagement tend to experience higher productivity, lower turnover, better customer service, and fewer mistakes and accidents, Ray told Bloomberg BNA March 3. The financial benefits of engagement make it well worth the time and investment, because “it is tremendously expensive to replace experienced talent,” she said.

More organizations are viewing engagement as a partnership that involves both management and employees, according to Mark Royal, senior director at Korn Ferry Hay Group. “Companies are increasingly aware that creating an engaging environment is necessary to attract and retain and secure the talent they need,” he told Bloomberg BNA March 6.

Engagement strategies shouldn’t be regarded solely as top-down, Ray said. “Engagement is not something done to you; we don’t want folks to say, ‘go ahead and engage me if you can,’” she said.

Disengaged Workers Expensive

Only a third of employees are truly engaged at work, and disengaged employees cost U.S. employers an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion a year, Ray said.

She cited a report, “The DNA of Engagement,” from the Engagement Institute.

“How much money is poured into engagement programs and only one-third of employees are actually engaged? There has to be a different way,” said Ray, who co-wrote the report.

It Takes a Village

Organizations need all stakeholders—executive leaders, HR, management and employees—on board to create a genuinely engaging environment, according to Patrick Hyland, director of research and development at Mercer Sirota. Hyland is also a co-author of the Engagement Institute report.

“Everyone has a role to play in the process, and employees need to understand that they also have an impact on their experience at work,” Hyland told Bloomberg BNA March 6.

A company should encourage employees to say what would help to engage them, according to Royal.

“We have an increasingly diverse workforce—not just demographically, but in needs and interest. It can be hard to connect with the needs and interests of every employee when it varies across the organization,” he said.

Companies can’t customize an engagement program for every employee, but they can pique employee engagement, Royal said.

Create Framework for Engagement

Organizations also should enable employees to become more involved in maintaining engagement, according to Ray.

“People are engaged when the mission and purpose are aligned with who they are, when they have the opportunity to bring their best self to work, and they have the opportunity to continue to grow,” she said.

Companies still need to recognize the fundamentals that go into a highly engaged workforce, such as employees having an overall positive outlook of their career and the company, Royal said.

“It’s not just the here and now, but the function of the view of their future. If you want employees to be engaged over the long term, they need the sense that they are playing for a winner, with a reasonable plan for success,” he said.

Ask Employees

The first step is to survey employees to discover what would make them feel more engaged, Hyland said. Employees are more likely to feel involved when they have more input and control of their experiences both inside and outside of work, he said.

“The very concept of asking is engaging to employees,” said Jim Link, chief human resources officer at Randstad North America.

Companies can make an impact just by implying that they’re concerned about their employees, Link told Bloomberg BNA March 6.

Inevitable Highs and Lows

Employees need to know that work has its ebbs and flows, and that some projects will be less exciting than others, Hyland said. Downtime is normal. Employees need to realize that but also to know what to do if they’re truly losing interest in their jobs, he said.

“Our suggestion is to ask employees to monitor when they start to feel disengaged and what they should do if they start to feel disinterested,” Ray said. They could be encouraged to take a break and listen to music or go to the gym, she said. If the job itself is disengaging the employee, the organization might provide the opportunity to take on a new project, “shadow” someone in another department or attend a workshop, she said.

“It has to do with flexibility, how and where you work—but that requires assistance from the organization,” Ray said. A manager can’t tell an employee to take a few hours off and log into work later if the company doesn’t allow telework or flextime, she said.

Managers may also need training to encourage employees to actually use the programs offered, Ray added.

“It is important to empower employees to do something about engagement. It’s not that they don’t want to be engaged, but they are not empowered to take the next step,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laime Vaitkus in Wilton, CT at LVaitkus@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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