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What drives employee engagement?

Three less obvious elements that help create effective employee engagement

Reading Time: 4 minutes

For our recent ‘HRD Guide to Employee Engagement in a Digital-First World’ our in-house People Science team joined forces with a number of our customers and some leading HR experts to dive into the nuts and bolts of employee engagement.

One hot topic we wanted to put to bed using the latest HR thinking and behavioiural science: what exactly determines engagement?

As part of the guide (remember to download your free copy ) we discuss ten elements that makeup engagement and even built a useful model to help with implementation. Today we’re going to shine a light on three of the less obvious of those elements.

The importance of employee engagement

Firstly, for the uninitiated or still sleepy; employee engagement is the level of attachment and commitment someone feels towards their job and their colleagues, as well as the company and its goals as a whole. Engaged staff are more productive, earning more than twice as much revenue as those who are actively disengaged.

They’re also more attentive and observant, meaning they’re more likely to spot mistakes before they pass the point of no return. Highly engaged employees are also more likely to buy into new policies and tools, as well as advocate for your business and its goals. And they’re even more innovative!

Now for those three elements that impact employee engagement…

Socialisation strengthens roots

Being engaged is about more than putting your nose to the grindstone. Our colleagues provide us with a vital support network, one that we see more than any other in our lives in fact. In or out of work, humans are social by nature, and research shows that having a variety of social relationships reduces stress and related health issues, like heart problems.

A good co-worker is someone you can turn to, whether it’s for a second opinion on your project, or just a good chat over lunch.

From an engagement point of view, importantly research has shown that having even a single ‘work friend’ makes it much more likely that not only will an employee stay in role longer, they will be more motivated to work at a higher level of quality and productivity – or in other words, they will be engaged more.

Communication is key to success

This is obviously common sense but, the success of your business and the quality of your workplace culture are influenced in countless ways by how well people communicate with each other.

Without effective communication, employees can really struggle to understand their responsibilities. If you want so much as a hope of keeping everyone on the same page, a consistent and frequent approach to communication is essential.

Good communication is also about feedback. Feedback helps us learn, grow and better understand the places in which we work and the work that we do. Feedback is essential for helping all employees, from the new intern to the CEO superstar, churn out their best work, consistently. Frequent feedback fixes many of the ills with processes such as performance reviews and 1:1 meetings.  

And, in terms of employee sentiment, a snapshot of one point in the year is only so useful. If you want to guide employee development while turning their sentiments into actionable insight, the best way forward is to check in with staff on a regular basis, as it allows you to keep track of things in real-time.

Autonomy and purpose are key to motivation

While the two aren’t synonymous, job satisfaction is still a huge part of long-term engagement. That means it’s arguably a big part of what drives employee engagement. Generally, what we need to be satisfied by our jobs is having a degree of control over how we work, as well as pride in the contributions we’ve made. Research on the topic of self-determination theory has shown that autonomy is a key factor in employee engagement, despite how definitions of engagement can vary.

Autonomy lets employees flex their creative muscles, meaning that allowing for it is one of the best ways to encourage discretionary effort in your workplace. Without autonomy, employees lose valuable time waiting for you to give them the go-ahead. That sort of micromanagement is often a sign of an inept or unconfident boss.

Purpose can be a little harder to nail down. It’s a matter of impact, as well as the value that others ascribe to your work. So, for example, a janitor might feel they lack purpose. The work of cleaning things only for them to get dirty again is pretty Sisyphean, and it’s easy for other people to overlook. But you’d be hard-pressed to claim that regular cleaning isn’t an essential role in places like hospitals, restaurants, etc.

The best way for managers to imbue their staff with a sense of purpose is to help them connect their work to the goals of the business. Using a formal goal tracking system, like Objectives and Key Results, can make this so much easier. This gives employees a more personal stake in the success of the business.

For example, you could highlight how improving customer experience in your restaurant has pushed you higher up the list of local eateries. Or you could show how a recent marketing campaign has bolstered your virtual reach, through clicks, likes and other digital impressions.

But there’s so much more to employee engagement…

Socialisation. Communication. Autonomy and Purpose: Those factors of employee engagement can make all the difference in the world. But, if you think those are all you’ve got to worry about, think again…

…If we have stoked your curiosity and you’d like to see the other 7 elements, plus get access to our engagement model, tips for how to rollout HR tech successfully or get expert insight from global HR leaders, download your free 30-page guide today:

Head of People Science