Critical to a productive and happy staff is that crucial element of feeling engaged with their work


Having spent 10 good years working at Marks & Spencer at the height of its power, in retrospect, I knew very little about the importance of Employee Engagement. Back then, most of us came to work and were self-energising enough, and gave our level best. This sustained effort working alongside the magical and ubiquitous brand of St Michael appeared to have no flaws—what was this ‘engagement’ thing?

It wasn’t until I moved to Pepsi that I began to realise the vast difference engaged employees could actually make. The leadership of Pepsi was switched on to this and, vitally, they knew its role was to create the excitement that enabled an extra 15% discretionary effort from all its employees.

This was, of course, in much better times and, as Gallup’s recent research on Employee Engagement demonstrates, it is much harder to deliver in a downturn.

Engagement is a deeply personal and emotional affair and cannot be mandated—and it has no universal solution.

One size fits no one. The solution is always unique to the specific working environment, as it’s all about you wanting to bring ‘all of you to work’—it requires different approaches at different organisations.

The trick is to find out what engages your employees, not someone else’s. Broad-brush research and the latest theories and concepts can be useful but they rarely provide the specific solution for your place of work.

Most organisations, unfortunately, use engagement results negatively—they tend to focus on what’s going wrong and on why people aren’t as engaged as they could be. Managers are trained to look for what’s going wrong, whereas leaders tend to focus on the positive. Find out which business units are really engaged in your organisation and try to copycat it across the firm. Use the most engaged individuals and teams as active role models for the rest of the organisation.

Gallup’s research included 1.4-million employees and there are some distinct patterns from top-quartile to bottom-quartile companies; progressive firms tend to have lower absenteeism, staff turnover and fewer safety accidents.

Some of the stars of world-class employee centricity have had an air of invincibility, with their incredibly modern working conditions, jaw-dropping benefits and a sensational brand but that was in the good times.

A recent survey of companies with the highest amount of employee turnover strikingly had Google at number two and Amazon at number four.

As businesses grow, the leadership can become dangerously distant from the grass roots operators.

There are some key attributes of strong employee engagement but by far, the most important is a good and decent manager. Most HR departments need to step up and confront poor managers who are either incompetent or can end up bullying their people.

Everybody deserves consistency. Employees do not tend to leave because of one single incident. Most colleagues just want their manager to be consistent with their dealings with people. Feeling that others are favoured can be debilitating.

By empowering your people, they will become more engaged and, consequently, more motivated, attentive and vigilant. They will personally ‘own’ the results of their work and that of the organisation. They will care about the needs of their colleagues and want the organisation to succeed.

Finally, provide your people with the opportunity to do great work. If you monopolise all the exciting and important things yourself and feed your people the heavy lifting and drudge, do not be surprised when they feel disengaged and disenchanted.

When employees clearly understand what their role is and are given the tools and the environment to succeed, this will drive the crucial connection between their role and the purpose of the organisation.

This is Employee Engagement in action—and it is fundamental in these trying times.

“When we are happy, we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy.” Oscar Wilde.

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