Why the time is right to embrace the science of engagement

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Ceri, have you ever heard the criticism aimed at company's IT departments. Too expensive, takes too long, delivers less than promised, and many other negative comments? I doubt this is a surprise, ...


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Some in HR have been quick to dismiss employee engagement as a fad; the latest ‘flavour of the month’. But there’s far more to it than that and now is the time to think again

There are, you might think, too many ways to assess just how engaged your employees are. From commitment to motivation, from job satisfaction to wellbeing. You might measure them all, or you might choose just a few. No wonder some HR practitioners feel that it’s all a little too much, and that many are inclined to view employee engagement as just another practitioner led fad, this month’s executive flavour which is bound to taste stale eventually.

So as this article is most certainly an argument for you to engage with employee engagement, I recognise that I might already have lost a few of you before I even get to the end of this sentence. But stick with me please, because while I recognise that you may be cynical, I hope that by the end I might have won a few of you around to thinking again – and most importantly – thinking differently about employee engagement.

The forces that have seen engagement become such an important concept are not going away – and are likely to become more, not less, significant. The end of the nine to five and the now almost mythical idea of a ‘job for life’ have changed forever the relationship between the employer and the employed. New generations are definitely more demanding than ever before, expect more and are willing to move somewhere else if they don’t get it. Not only do you have to motivate them, but with flexible working patterns and the 24-7 demands of the modern workplace, there is a new challenge to engage people beyond the once traditional patterns of work. Technology will continue to raise the bar when it comes to the workplace of the future.

So how do you go about ensuring the very best outcome in all of this for both employer and employee?

The answer, I believe, is employee engagement. But this employee engagement is not a fad, not the latest HR flavour, but a hard and very real science, forged by the application of robust academic discipline. Not only that, because it’s based on true scientific principles, it also comes with some very real and tangible benefits: not pie in the sky predictions but proven relationships showing its impact on sustained profitability and business growth.

Since the early 2000s we’ve been working with academics to build a very effective and robust model to allow us to understand and analyse what’s going on inside organisations and what are the key factors that reveal the levels of employee engagement within any organisation. Good for you, you might say, and I’d fully understand that reaction. But we also recognised a long time ago that engagement would only really yield success if we were able to study it, measure it and fully understand its impacts – and furthermore, that we could provide HR practitioners with the metrics which would allow them to argue the case for engagement from a strong and proven position, not a merely speculative one.

So if you’ve been inclined to see engagement as a fad, all I ask is that you think again. Yes, without a firm and proven methodology it could very well be seen as just another practitioner led ‘solution’ among many. Yes, evaluating and understanding what employees think today isn’t easy – let alone trying to second guess where they might be tomorrow; but applied in the right way, with the right tools, and employee engagement really does give you a rigorous and proven set of methods to achieve real and lasting change in the workplace. There has never been a better time to give it serious consideration.

Ceri Ellis is a researcher at Best Companies. For a copy of Best Companies’ white paper – Employee Engagement: It’s Kind of a Big Deal click here


Comments

Ceri, have you ever heard the criticism aimed at company's IT departments. Too expensive, takes too long, delivers less than promised, and many other negative comments? I doubt this is a surprise, but HR frequently falls into that same category. I disagree with your assertion that EE benefits from " the application of robust academic discipline. Not only that, because it’s based on true scientific principles, it also comes with some very real and tangible benefits:" HR is rarely positioned in a company to affect much in the way of change, often delivering great recommendations, but not necessarily winning the games of politics, culture and certainly not breaking down silo walls. Academics and human behaviorists have been studying EE for decades, yet not much has changed. The problem isn't rocket science. When the CEO decides to sponsor EE and HR is a participant, nothing more, and there is a third party capable of suspending the culture, politics and silo resistance to change the results are shocking. Employees in general are pretty smart, but they know the rules, the unwritten ones. Take away the blockers and all you need to do is ask one open-ended question and keep the employees informed as you execute changes, daily in some cases. When they see the results during the initiative rather than months later, they engage even more. When they see things like a corporate bully sent home, a few sacred cows killed and few silly politics canceled they realize something different is happening, That difference is the fact that the CEO is involved, a third party with access to the CEO is involved and results appearing nearly every day, not months later or not at all. We've achieved hundreds of millions of dollars savings and huge swings in morale in just ten weeks. Seems pretty simple to me and for the life of me I can't figure out why the academic folks haven't announced truly impressive changes affecting the bottom line. Why else would you care about EE.


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