Beware of the Employee Engagement Survey

Company Culture and Employee Engagement are based on an evolving outcome related to attitudes, behaviour and emotion which has been cultivated and encouraged (or the opposite!) by a staff member’s experience in the workplace.

A research paper recently published by CIPD (May 2012) regarding the effectiveness of Employee Engagement surveys, states that although there may be a high score associated with an organisation’s survey, these findings are related to ‘transactional’ engagement rather than the true ‘emotional’ engagement with the former not bringing long-term, sustainable company success.

So why is this?  Well employees who have transactional engagement are motivated by the project/task and this type of engagement is shaped by the employees concern to earn a living and get the job done.  There is no true desire to go that extra mile for the company itself and there is a tendency that these individuals burnout and their lack of loyalty towards the organisation leads to greater attrition rates.

Emotionally engaged people want to go above and beyond what is normally expected from them for the good of the organisation. There is a greater psychological contract in place between this company and these individuals and it is shown that they tend to have higher levels of well-being and a better work/life balance.

It is therefore important that the content of the surveys and how they are being analysed takes into account the above, as this will have a knock-on effect on the bottom-line in the long run.

And how does a company nurture the Emotionally Engaged employee?

Companies should be strategically focusing on encouraging a workplace that fundamentally promotes the right attitudes, is supportive by nature, empowers its staff, has clear communication and vision and listens to and acts on its employees’ critical feedback.

David Rock’s SCARF model (2008) outlines the five domains which can trigger ‘threat’ or ‘reward’.   Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.  Deep engagement occurs when people experience rewards from all five domains of SCARF.  HR could start to structure their surveys and the way their Managers are developed around these five components?

I also believe that once a year surveys should not be the only engagement indicator.  I agree with Dr Zara Whysall’s white paper (The E-Word) reference that constantly listening to staff the whole year round and gaining insights into employees’ levels of engagement through their continuous conversations with their Line Managers is a basic way to assess what is going on in the organisation.   This also allows company action to ‘tweak’ areas that are fundamentally falling down.

Who should own employee brand?

Marketing and the power of great brands are proven.  When companies don’t take notice and keep up with the ever-changing world and customer needs, they can disappear into the big black hole of brand-cestry – think Woolworths, Kodak & Jessops to name a few.

Marketing in its simplest form listens to the customer, keeps up with new sector trends, ideas and needs and then creates new products to plug the holes, giving the all important customer what they want.  The customer is king for our Marketeers.

However, in a highly competitive market place, some forward-thinking MD’s are looking INWARDS at their employees and realizing that they can be the differentiating factor that beats off competition.

Slowly but surely, a new era is dawning where the competitive edge comes from WITHIN an organisation and doesn’t just look externally at the customer.  It comes not from how many ads companies can put out or how many Facebook “likes” they achieve, but from how the company can use its existing assets to maximum effect.

We are a living in a Social Media whirl.  Everyone can communicate their thoughts, feelings and opinions  to the mass market within seconds.  Lots of people are listening and feel they have the power to change things positively by their input.  This translates to the power of people and how this power makes them ie. valued and important.

So what if organisations listened and communicated to their employees more and made them feel that they were valued and they could make a difference?   Companies would not only unearth new insights and ideas to create a more effective workplace, but the employees would also feel that their voices are listened to and do count.   Happy + engaged + motivated employees = a more successful organisation”

A company that truly engages its employees does make a difference to the bottom line and that’s why Employee Engagement is such a hot topic at the moment.

There’s plenty of research to back up the importance of Employee Engagement and I particularly liked the findings of Standard Chartered Bank’s 2007 report which found that branches with a statistically significant increase in levels of employee engagement (0.2 or more on a scale of five) had a 16 per cent higher profit margin growth than branches with decreased levels of employee engagement.

I recently conceptualized and delivered a very successful Employee Engagement Ambassadors initiative for a global brand in the Middle East in direct answer to their Employee Survey Mercer results and subsequent focus groups to qualify and get to the crux of the key issues. 

Employees felt their top management had clear vision and communicated this well at the start of the year, however, their immediate bosses were failing them in communicating ongoing news and business objectives and listening to and considering their viewpoints.

As I’m sure we have all experienced at some point in our corporate lives, a common problem in the business world is that communication often gets blocked somewhere down the chain and this tends to lead to wrong perceptions and assumptions about the company and those in charge.

However, as with trying to bring about a culture change you cannot snap your fingers and instigate a new employee engagement scheme by way of a mechanistic, directive approach which tries to extract discretionary effort by manipulating employees’ commitment and emotions. Employees see through such attempts very quickly and this can lead to cynicism and disillusionment.

What you must try and do is engage employees freely and willingly to give discretionary effort, not just as an ‘add on’, but as an integral part of their daily activity at work. 

Communication is key.  By enforcing regular communication between team leaders and members – you’re identifying needs and recognizing wins, challenges and ultimately spotting problems before they arise or escalate. By doing all of this, you’re going to see happier, far more productive employees. Regular communication and feedback is also a great way to remind your team of the purpose of the organisation and how you’re all working together towards a common goal.

Another critical area of getting engagement right is by starting to ‘Include’ and ‘Involve’ your people.    You must know the beating heart of your company, its pulse and in order to gain this kind of insight, employee feedback is crucial.

Employee Engagement or ‘Employee Brand’ Ambassadors can help organisations do this.  They are able to break down barriers; be the motivators for change and the communication lynchpin at a micro level.  They can also be the ones to feedback the top insights from the ‘shop floor’ that may never have been unearthed due to hierarchy and red tape.

But getting an Ambassador programme right can be challenging as there are many different aspects to take into account before introducing this concept into a company.  

Before signing off though, do remember that Ambassadors are just one element of the overall Employee Engagement piece if an organisation is really going to get it right.  The workplace must also be designed to support employees to be the best they can and achieve the clear business goals that have been set.   Congruence among structure, process, strategy, people and culture must be solid, a fully integrated approach will allow for maximum impact.

In my next article I’ll look into the components that should be considered when looking into creating an Ambassador programme.