A Bray Leino Learning Whitepaper
WRITTEN BY NIGEL WALPOLE PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2015
Inside many organisations, Employee
Engagement is a real focus for HR professionals
and, increasingly, for managers.
Employee Engagement is a concept that has been around for many years,
but it is still a hot topic in today’s modern workplace. Organisations
want their staff to be motivated, ‘happy’ in their work, and getting a high
level of ‘job satisfaction’.
However, the focus in the modern workplace is also about business results.
In this whitepaper we are going to discuss what Employee Engagement is,
why you should worry about it, and some practical steps and strategies to
encourage engagement in your organisation.
• The mystery that is Employee Engagement
• So it’s just another initiative?
• What is Employee Engagement?
• Engagement in the workplace
• Practical steps to encourage engagement:
• Before you even meet
• The first meeting
• More engagement right at the start
• Engagement throughout the rest of their career
• The drivers and enablers of ‘engagement’
• Engagement by managing performance
• Ongoing engagement strategies
So why should you worry about Employee Engagement in your organisation?
There are a number of potential paybacks for organisations, including:
• An increase in discretionary effort
• Improved talent retention
• Higher levels of service
• Improved quality
• Increased productivity
• Wider profit margins
• Improved customer satisfaction
• Better shareholder returns
If you offer any executive leadership team an initiative that could deliver these returns, there is bound to be interest and commitment.
The mystery that is Employee Engagement
Inside many organisations, Employee Engagement is a real focus for HR
professionals and, increasingly, for managers.
Employee Engagement is a concept that has been debated for many years – the very earliest theorists around motivation, personality and developmental psychology identified how being ‘happy’ in work and high levels of ‘job satisfaction’ boosted motivation. However, the reason for the recent focus in the modern workplace is about business results as well.
What is Employee Engagement?
Even when it comes to defining Employee Engagement, there is very
little consensus. It is generally held that there are upwards of 50 different
If you ask senior managers, you’ll receive responses such as ‘Empowerment’,
‘Development Opportunities’ or ‘Commitment’ – all a bit one-way and ‘old wine in new bottles’.
Of course, like any engagement, it is two-way and is about more than just what happens, but feelings as well. So the definition we’re working with is simply:
employee has to the
Take a look at ‘What exactly is Employee Engagement’ for more opinions and ideas surrounding the topics.
So it’s just another initiative?
Employee Engagement is so much more than ‘an initiative’. It is
policy, culture, management style, leadership commitment, learning
& development, talent management, living values, working style,
performance management, participation & communication, and flexibility.Of course, anything that can deliver huge benefits is going to demand wide-reaching activities and responsibilities.
The key question on many HR managers’ and leaders’ lips is,
“does an improvement in Employee Engagement deliver the
We undertook some research among client organisations, which revealed that many businesses are focussing on engagement initiatives but are only just beginning to measure the results. Of those already measuring results, the most common metrics are ‘levels of employee engagement/satisfaction’ and ‘customer satisfaction’.
In addition, some are indicating improvements in recruitment and retention (with a statistical ‘nod’ to the impact of the recession on these aspects). Metrics relating to the potential paybacks are conspicuous by their absence.
One HR client described it to us as:
“It’s almost a question of faith… of course I can’t prove it,
I just know we are making a difference.”
Engagement in the workplace
Is engagement some nebulous thing? It is fair to say that it is imprecise
but it is also very noticeable and perceptible. You may not be able to
touch it but you can see it, hear it and feel it.
It doesn’t really matter how you define engagement, because you’ll know it when you see it and, even more strikingly, you’ll certainly notice when it is missing.
So, how do you spot it?
Some of the behaviours you will see from an engaged workforce could be:
The emphasis on feelings is apparent here: positive mood, willingness, keenness, a sense of belonging or ownership.
Other evidence of Employee Engagement
Perhaps this is how our client ‘just knew’ that she was making a difference.
• A positive and enthusiastic mood
• Putting in more effort than is
• Colleagues welcoming each
• A readiness to understand the
• People keen to learn new things
• People focussed on what to do
• A ‘problem solving’ attitude
• A sense of belonging
• Socialising initiatives
• A sense of ‘ownership of the
• A keenness to stay updated
• A willingness to initiate or
• Joining in corporate social
• No clock watching
• No commentary about ‘us’
[the workers] and ‘them’ [the
• Documented long
• Engagement surveys
• Positive measurement
• Social media
• Higher quality/fewer
• No ‘taking advantage’
of flexible working
• Place of work recommendations
– friends and acquaintances put
forward as potential employees
• Great attendance records – even
starting early and finishing late
• Great safety records
• Positive take-up of learning &
development opportunities and
positive attendance statistics
Earlier on, we defined engagement as ‘the emotional and intellectual commitment an employee has to the organisation and its goals’.
It is very important to recognise that the seeds of that commitment can be planted long before the employee even joins the organisation.
In fact, before you have even met a future employee they will have studied your website, followed your PR and social media, perhaps even seen you at recruitment fairs and looked at specific job adverts.
Already they are deciding whether this is an organisation they could really engage with. Does the organisation give a
consistent message? Are its values clear, and what does it say about what it is like to work there?
Practical steps to encourage engagement
You may know that you need to improve the engagement of your
workforce, but how do you make that difference? Our four key phases of
engagement are a great place to start.
• Before you even meet
• The first meeting
• More engagement right at the start
• Engagement throughout the rest of their career
If an organisation gets this right, the prospective employee can move forward to making a formal application.
At this stage more questions surface...
•Does the application process encourage engagement?
•Do the job descriptions and person specifications describe an engaging role and an engaging workplace?
•Do invitations truly reflect the culture and working environment?
Use this as your initial consideration for employee engagement. Can all of your managers get this right or is there a learning and development need?
Before you even meet
Make sure job descriptions
and person specifications
Of course, the story continues into the first meeting.
Every organisation recognises that this is about engaging the right employee, but are you paying similar attention to the fact that the best ‘millennial’ talent is now judging whether they could give ‘emotional commitment’ to your organisation?
In preparation, judge everything from how people are greeted, whether the skills of the interviewer are good enough, and how you ‘sell’ the organisation and role to the candidate. This is an opportunity to provide an open and clear insight into the organisation and the job, nurturing the green shoots of engagement. It isn’t just people of course.
The first meeting
Make sure that
your message and
values run through
to the heart of your
organisation, not just
on the face of it
A senior manager within a corporate IT environment recently said, “We knew we had found the perfect team member, after months of trying and spending hours and £1000s in the process. They accepted in principle but then changed their mind when confronted by the stacks of contractual paperwork I was obliged to send them.
They said it was such a stark contrast to the vision they had developed of the organisation.”
Check out our
download for things
to consider when
More engagement right
at the start
It is vital that a well-thought-out
induction plan is prepared and shared. It must encourage the new employee to ask questions and help them do any research they might want to undertake. Our experience shows that a truly
blended learning solution can be the most effective way to achieve this, encouraging engagement from the new starter right from the start.
You will be well on your way to a solid induction process if HR provides good practical guidance on how to create an employee-centric induction, if line managers learn how to make sure their new team member knows the priorities and ‘what success looks like’, and
colleagues live the organisational values.
Induction is definitely a special
opportunity for the organisation to live its values.
To achieve this, many organisations have introduced a buddy system and some even encourage the buddy to get in touch beforehand, often meeting the new arrival off site first.
But beware; I once overheard a buddy say “other than showing you where the fire exit is, I haven’t been told what to say…”.
To avoid this, make sure everyone
completely understands their role in the induction process and the importance of it.
It goes without saying that new starters are likely to be highly motivated and keen to engage positively with the role, wanting to become a ‘star employee’. But there are many influences at play that determine whether engagement flourishes or wilts. Every one of these has a role in nurturing engagement.
In the same way that it is easier to sell to an existing customer than a new one, it is easier to keep people engaged than it is to change them from disengaged to engaged.
But no organisation, HR department or line manager can rest on their laurels. Many HR departments have reorganised themselves more strategically,
positioning themselves as HR business partners and integrating themselves thoroughly into business processes. With such a change, there emerges a key role for Learning and Development.
Line managers are not always
equipped with the tools and training to successfully undertake traditional HR tasks such as recruitment, performance management, reward, procedures and welfare. This can have a detrimental effect on engagement.
Organisations keen to exploit the advantages of employee engagement must get HR practices and policies right. Who delivers them isn’t the important part, as long as they are correct.
Research suggests that, to achieve this, an increasing number of organisations are creating Employee Engagement steering groups and that these work best if they are:
•From all levels of seniority
•With union involvement (if represented)
•Full understanding of performance and business priorities
•Environment considered; our
processes, our resources, behaviours and completing the sentence ‘this would be a better place to work if…’
•Including possible sub-groups for local areas, particular disciplines or representing any special requirements
Engagement throughout the
rest of their career
Make sure engagement
is marbled though
every aspect of
The drivers and enablers of engagement
In the MacLeod report ‘Engaging for
Success: Enhancing performance through
employee engagement’, David MacLeod
and Nita Clarke argued that Employee
Engagement was absolutely fundamental
for organisational success.
They put forward four enablers of Employee Engagement, factors that were “commonly agreed to lie behind successful engagement approaches”. These were:
• A strategic narrative
• Engaging managers
• Employee voice
There is no doubting the validity of those groupings.
Engagement by managing performance
By now a big investment has been made in our ‘engaged’ employee,
but the work must continue. Many important strategic approaches put
forward by MacLeod & Clarke are encapsulated within the Performance
When done well, the Performance Management system is sufficiently flexible to ensure it provides individuals with tangible objectives broken down to the individual level. It should also allow managers to devote sufficient time to the process and have the requisite skills in place.
With these fundamentals in place, performance management cements engagement by providing:
• Clarity on common goals and the importance of teamwork
• An opportunity for employees to participate in decisions to
communicate their opinion about work-related topics
• Better communications between employees and managers
• Consistent communication across different teams
Ongoing engagement strategies
No single model of engagement can be applicable across diverse
organisations, so it is important to find a solution that best fits your
values and procedures.
We recently published two blogs, featuring suggested hands-on strategies that emerged in our discussions with organisations vigorously pursuing ‘engagement’. Hopefully you’ll find some useful suggestions to assist with the creation of your engagement model.
We have come up with the model below. It can be used as
a guide in the creation of your own model, by considering
what topics may come under each of the five areas.
Employee Engagement emerged as a term in the 1990s and, because
of the perceived benefits, interest inevitably grew rapidly. Like many
aspects of organisational development, interest and investment waned
during the painful years of economic recession but we are now entering
an exciting time for engagement application with the focus increasingly
being on practical efforts being made.
Besides those identifying improvements in the most common metrics - of employee engagement/satisfaction and customer satisfaction - there remains a deficiency of evidence, but the promise of discretionary effort, talent retention, productivity and profit keeps engagement at the top of the agenda.
Perhaps the last word should go to Alan M. Saks, Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, University of Toronto, Canada from his study paper “Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement.”
“The results of this study suggest that employee engagement
is a meaningful construct that is worthy of future research”
We also think it’s worthy of future action.
If you’d like to find out more about introducing Employee Engagement
schemes into your organisation, watch our free webinar
Mystery of Employee Engagement’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nigel Walpole is the Managing Director of Bray Leino Learning.
Nigel has over 20 years’ experience of design and delivery of learning solutions with a wide knowledge of managing contracted outsourced solutions.
This experience enables him to ensure the business provides customer-focused services and quality controlled delivery of training services to a range of large clients.
ABOUT BRAY LEINO LEARNING
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