The world of management is still obsessed with the mechanistic view of employees as resources, something that can be acquired and exploited in the quests for profit. This has been covered up by improvement in working conditions, benefits and skill training programs and it has even made the executive wall: People are our greatest strength. Despite this apparent progress most corporations still treats people as a commodity. HR departments are tasked with getting the best resource, shaping the resource with skills training, keeping the resource with competitive compensation packages and finally getting rid of the resource if it does not live up to expectations.
The employee is seen as something that has certain characteristics that can be changed (skills) and something that cannot (personality and motivation). When something goes wrong the problem is assigned to the employee rather than the corporation and the personal improvement process starts often resulting in a termination and a search for more appropriate resource.
Assuming that employees are “good” or “bad” and corporations are always “right” makes the life of management a lot easier but not necessarily the company more effective and profitable. It is not going to be possible to find Engaged employees and hire them. Employee Engagement is a strategic process that creates an emotional relationship between the company and the employee. The best of companies understand this an know that Engagement is the responsibility of the company - not the employee. When successful Employee Engagement creates significant intrinsic motivation in the employee and a feeling of being part of something important and worthwhile.
Employee Engagement is impacted by 6 main drivers:
The concept of fairness being important for employee engagement is not new. What is often forgotten is that fairness is completely subjective and changes over time. People don’t see their parents work contract as fair. For younger generations, the concept of fairness goes well beyond the psychological contract between the corporation and the employee – it involves the fairness towards all stakeholder groups. An important part of fairness that is often forgotten is the relative fairness - people can be happy with what they got until they find out somebody gets more.
Through the development of social psychology it has become apparent that people’s decisions are heavily influenced by social settings and what group people belong to. As work represents a significant part of most people’s lives they derive a lot of their identity from work. Great corporations understand this and create jobs and an organisation that individual are proud of being associated with.
Identity is significantly influenced by what other people think of you, what you do and your role. This is not people inside the organisation, the view of your friends and family matters.
Being appropriately challenged and given the opportunity to learn and grow is a key element in employee engagement. Is the corporation a place where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities or where they are punished? Is HR and their policies and procedures seen as enabling people or limiting them? Do employees have the opportunity to be promoted at appropriate points in their career or are they locked in their current position.
Getting people on a path to mastery is a powerful motivator and a key driver of Employee Engagement. Great corporations know that growing people is the responsibility of the corporation.
The days of pure focus on shareholders are over. Money, profits and growth is not a purpose – it is an outcome of successfully pursuing a purpose. Being the very best “x” in the “x” industry is a very common vision, but not a powerful purpose. A powerful purpose is in its essence something that benefits many if not all stakeholders of the corporation – a purpose that benefits society and humanity. This might sound soft to hardnosed finance people but customers and employees do not get engaged by cost cutting and headcount reductions in a race to zero margin as most mature companies are engaged in.
Companies that believe in people and in their ability to create value for customers and society have the potential to rally all stakeholder groups around a strong purpose and will prosper as they will create engagement in all groups.
"Think of your work as a calling with a mission that matters." Lazlo Bock, Head of People Ops, Google
The company culture has a significant impact on Employee Engagement. It is not just the stated culture hanging on the boardroom wall but also the lived culture. What Enron said and did were two completely different things. It is also important to understand how measurements and rewards interacts with culture: Individual bonuses and a culture of teamwork are working against each other. Culture is not something that has been written on stone tablet and remain fixed in time. Culture needs to change as the strategy changes.
"You’ll see culture mostly talked about as stories or anecdotes. It’s a vague concept that people sort of know is important, but they don’t quite know how to apply."
"You need to get the people, structure, metrics, and culture aligned with the strategy." Charles A. O’Reilly, Stanford
The most important source of Employee Engagement is the direct manager. Even though the creation of Employee Engagement is a strategic process, it is vital to make sure the middle managers are trained and supported to create highly Engaged Employees. Direct managers are responsible for defining a reality and a purpose for the employee that creates motivation. Then create opportunities for participation, growth and involvement in decision processes.
51% of managers are not engaged; 14% are actively disengaged
Managers who work for Engaged Leaders are 39% more likely to be Engaged
Employees working for Engaged Managers are 59% more likely to be Engaged Gallup