Employee Engagement: FAIL. What next?
Globally renowned brand strategist and Customer Experience (CX)/NetPromoter Score (NPS) expert, Christopher (Chris) Roberts is also the creator of the Total Engagement Model, a scientifically designed brand strategy model which is taught at universities in the APAC region, and thus, the best to weigh in on the increasingly important issue of employee engagement.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Roberts dwells upon the key drivers of this aspect, the impact of poor employee engagement on businesses, the reasons why organisations are failing this endeavour, and most importantly, what they can do about it.
What are the key drivers of employee engagement?
Universally, employee engagement is primarily driven by staff’s need for meaningful contribution towards the business, recognition, empowerment, career growth, and the need to feel a sense of belonging with the workplace. There are more drivers, but these are common across all levels of the corporate hierarchy.
At a high level, there are three major drivers of employee engagement:
Cultural Fit : At Engaged Strategy, our new hires are assessed not just on their skillset, but also based on their personality fit into our organisation’s culture. This is critical because if an employee does not relate to your organisation’s culture or finds it difficult to adapt to your brand’s DNA, he or she will feel disengaged. For instance, an organisation that heavily focuses on innovation and research will prefer a workforce that is not only good at R&D, but can also speak up and share their ideas effectively.
Meaningful work: At a time when everyone’s talking about the problem of 'quiet quitting', it is important to understand that the workforce today, especially the millennials and Gen Z, values spending their time doing meaningful work that gives them a sense of personal satisfaction.
Hence, it is extremely critical that the leadership not only provides a clear strategic vision regarding the brand’s journey, but also clear direction on the roles of responsibilities of every staff member or team towards steering the brand towards this vision. More importantly, the leadership must involve the staff in ideation and engage with them in the execution of new strategies to give them a keen sense of belonging and engage with them powerfully.
Meeting Core Human Needs: According to world renowned psychologist Chloe Madanes, every human is driven by six essential needs which is based on Maslow’s theory. All humans have all the six needs, but two or three percolate to the surface as the most important. Let me elaborate on this by explaining how strategically meeting these six needs can build an amazing culture:
- Certainty – A need for job security and the organisation’s success. Such people also look to the leadership for inspiration and guidance.
- Variety – People with a strong desire for variety crave for exciting work, change, and a desire for something new and different.
- Significance – They are employees who are desirous of appreciation and recognition. They want to go up the corporate ladder and a career path is important to them. They usually prefer working for a well-known and admired brand.
- Connection – They are people who want to be part of a tribe that is caring and nurturing. They want to feel cared for, valued and supported.
- Growth – These are people who are desirous of achieving personal growth. This can come in the form of training, learning new skills, having additional responsibility, etc. Engaging this cohort strategically is extremely important.
- Contribution – These are people who desire to make a difference and contribute towards the greater good.
For our clients, we measure all of the above core needs as part of their employee engagement programmes.
Here is a trick. As an organisation if you can cater to at least three of the above needs of every cohort of your staff, you create a positive addiction for them to come to work and go above and beyond in their work output.
Employee engagement and its relation to leadership
Whenever we conduct an employee engagement survey and staff engagement is low, guess what, leadership ratings are low as well!
Culture is best defined by the statement - “the way we do things around here”. If culture is what defines a person and a family, it is exactly what defines an organisation too. And just like how the heads of a household are expected to uphold and transfer cultural values, the same is expected of the leadership of an organisation.
Staff always look to leaders for clues and focus points on how to behave, how to work, focus on the corporate strategy, etc. Hence, it can be comfortably said that culture is the foundation of an organisation that must be upheld by the leadership.
One of the critical elements of culture is the practice of leadership selling, not telling staff about the vision, mission and strategic direction. This means that when the leadership successfully presents an exciting idea or strategy and sells it to the staff by not just helping them understand the benefits of this strategy, but also by empowering them to help the organisation achieve it, they create an engaged force that goes above and beyond.
What is the impact of poor employee engagement on businesses?
According to our studies, we’ve found that disengaged staff demonstrate two times lesser discretionary effort than an engaged employee. The direct impact of a staff member feeling disengaged with the business is their poor performance at work and lower productivity. Their lack of understanding of the business strategy and what is expected of them acts as the strongest demotivator as they are unable to feel a sense of contribution. Apathy from the organisation and sub-standard work cultures also add to a feeling of disengagement among staff.
The direct economic impact can be experienced when the organisation is affected by a growing number of dissatisfied customers. Disengaged staff are afflicted by unhappy experiences at the workplace, and hence are unable to go above and beyond to deliver great customer experiences. Their negative emotions trickle down to the customers as well, thus resulting in massive economic losses for the brand.
Following on, how does poor employee engagement contribute to the likelihood of business failure?
Before I answer this, let me state an undisputed fact that you cannot have engaged customers without engaging your staff first. An engaged customer is one that is absolutely loyal to you, recommends you to others and leaves positive reviews. In comparison, a disengaged customer is not loyal and will damage your brand by spreading negative word of mouth.
Our studies show that word of mouth is the most powerful sales and marketing channel. It is at least four times more powerful than TV advertising in influencing purchase decisions.
So what is the link between customer engagement and employee engagement? The key factor in powering positive word of mouth is when staff from a brand go above and beyond and are proactive. In addition, when staff make customers feel valued, cared for and supported, you are guaranteed to create brand promoters.
Engaged staff are people who feel a keen sense of belonging with the company. They are staff who understand the company’s strategy and direction, believe in it, and go above and beyond to steer the organisation towards achieving its goals. They are also adept in making customers feel valued, cared for, and supported.
The trick is how do you create engaged staff? The fundamental requirement is to make sure your staff feel valued, cared for and supported FIRST. This is the only way they can transfer these emotions to customers
It is important to debunk a critical myth about employee engagement, which is that this is the duty of the HR of a company. Employee engagement is not just about paying high salaries, having fun activities regularly, or conducting regular employee satisfaction surveys. It is all this and much, much more.
Over the last 15 plus years and after helping 70 plus organisations establish strategic and strong brand practices, I have found that engaged staff demonstrate two times more discretionary effort than disengaged staff. It is important to note that typically there are more disengaged staff than engaged staff.
Organisations wax lyrical about increasing productivity and improving efficiency. Imagine the productivity and efficiency benefits if all staff in your organisation are engaged and go above and beyond to deliver on your value proposition!
Let’s not forget that when staff go above and beyond it is a key driver in creating engaged customers that recommend you to others and leave positive reviews, creating a powerful growth engine.
In a vice versa situation, if your employees are so disengaged that they either quit or engage in quiet quitting, it would signal the beginning of the end of your organisation.
Why organisations are failing at employee engagement and what they can do about it?
Over the years, I have realised that only 15% of organisations are truly committed to growing their business on the sheer power of engaged employees. Fundamentally, staff are treated like transactional bots that have no emotions, goals and needs.
I remember broaching the topic of employee engagement with a friend who is a CEO, to which his response was: “Why should I invest in employee engagement when the staff are paid to do their job?” However, his tune changed when I shared that an engaged employee is twice as loyal as a disengaged employee and the cost of hiring a new staff member and getting them up to speed is a huge cost that does not appear on the balance sheet.
In addition, I explained that engaged staff provide 2 times the discretionary effort, which has a massive impact on productivity. I also explained that typically organisations have more disengaged staff than engaged staff. I was now talking his language of business economics, and he immediately embarked on a comprehensive employee engagement programme leading it to great success.
The second reason is that organisations do not know exactly how to engage employees. Many organisations look at employee engagement from the mythical lens of paying higher salaries, organising fancy recreational activities, and focusing on employee satisfaction. What they do not realise is that ‘satisfaction’ is a hygiene factor and that as an employer they need to ensure their staff are fully engaged, and not just satisfied.
Employee engagement can be considered wholesome and strategic only when the leadership provides all its staff with a clear understanding of the business’ value proposition and strategic direction it intends to take, empowering them to make discretionary efforts. This encourages staff to steer the business on this intended growth path.
More importantly, businesses that involve their staff in developing ideas to grow and develop the products and services they offer create a strong cohort of highly engaged employees who feel a keen sense of ownership. This feeling of stakeholdership in the business also encourages staff to go above and beyond to deliver great customer experiences and encourage word of mouth. It must be noted that word of mouth is about four times more powerful than TV advertising – and it’s free!