Employee engagement is good for business. Research has shown that it helps improve the productivity levels of employees, reduces absenteeism, increases profitability, and a whole host of other benefits for organizations (and employees). However, there are many misconceptions about what employee engagement is. Not understanding how employee engagement works and how to measure it could be putting a real drain on your corporate culture.
Let's start with a definition. Employee engagement is how strongly employees feel connected both mentally and emotionally to their place of employment and the work they perform. The more engaged an employee is, the more satisfied and loyal they stay. In theory, anyways. Therefore, employers spend a great deal of time trying to improve things for employees, with the end result being greater retention rates and happier employees who are eager to produce a higher level of work.
How can an organization measure employee engagement?
Most organizations approach employee engagement in one of two ways: reactionary or proactiveness. In the first case, employers know that there is a problem in a certain area of the company due to poor employee performance, low retention rates, and general unhappy employees who are just watching the clock daily. Leaders try to find out what is causing the problem and then they implement a corrective policy that is meant to improve things. They then measure engagement by seeing if there has been any improvement over time -- such as a better retention rate or less absenteeism.
In the proactive route, employers actually implement a survey system that monitors and requests engagement data from employees on a regular basis. There are real-time employee engagement products that can manage this, including systems that allow employees to voice their concerns and ideas directly to management. Employers who proactively promote better engagement, and demonstrate to employees that they care, can see the results in the form of progress reports. This gives them a better sense of what’s working and not working.
How is employee engagement connected to corporate culture?
Employee engagement is intricately connected with the culture of any business. The cultural norms can impact individual engagement both negatively and positively. According to Brent Gleeson who contributes to Forbes, “Without the majority of the workforce being aligned, engaged and executing towards the same goals, successful transformation becomes an almost insurmountable task.” It takes individuals working together and having the same set of values and mission to create a strong corporate culture.
Is a poor corporate culture a symptom of poor employee engagement or vice versa?
While corporate culture is related to employee engagement, each are different aspects of an organization that need attention. A poor corporate culture can come from many sources, but in often it originates with negative leadership. Employees who are treated badly by managers work under the guise of fear. They may seem to be engaged in their tasks, when really they just want to avoid conflict or attention from a manager. It’s easier to put on a smile and get through each day rather than disagree with a superior. This is not employee engagement although it can appear as such to the untrained manager.
Poor levels of employee engagement can come from individual workers too. Those who have grown disconnected over time from a few bad experiences can rub off on other employees. Before long, it becomes okay to complain about work a lot. This attitude then begins to pervade the corporate culture. Unless a manager addresses it, this can lead to employees who are far from being engaged. Sometimes it even normalizes the attitude of employees wanting nothing to do with a company's corporate culture at all. Once culture starts heading in the wrong direction, it becomes an increasingly harder task to get things back on track.
If employers start to see the rise of this more negative sentiment, it's a clue something's not right with their workforce. They then need to get to the root of why their employee engagement or culture is failing, and take steps to improve it. One way to accomplish this is by measuring and monitoring engagement levels.
Are there any companies who turned their corporate cultures around and saw a difference in employee engagement?
When companies make an effort to empower employees to work together to build a better corporate culture, the bonus result is often better employee engagement. A few years ago, global carrier Southwest Airlines was facing poor employee engagement while trying to modernize their brand and create a better culture. They decided to turn to internal resources (employees) to choose their new colors and design new uniforms for their workers. This effort produced great results, with happier employees who enjoy their new uniforms and contribute to the overall culture that has made the airline a success.
The global financial institution Mastercard, which employed some 6,700 people but had a high turnover rate, decided in 2011 to do something about it. They launched a new coaching program combined with a performance feedback culture to deliver better services to customers while increasing employee engagement. Employee engagement surveys were deployed, and this feedback was used to create a coaching program for managers to use with employees. Since the program begun, the company reports “we have seen significant improvements and the programme is recognized as a great success by our senior management.”
What we can learn from these case studies is that leaders can look to their employees to find out what needs improvement. Sometimes, it's a simple as a new uniform, sometimes it more complex like a management development program. But either way, gathering feedback from employees can be the best place to start searching for the answer of how to improve employee engagement and with it, corporate culture.