The rules of engagement - employee 'buy in' in action

Employee engagement. This is a term that has been banded around a great deal in HR in recent years. Companies are often encouraged to have an ‘employee engagement programme’; aimed at getting the workforce ‘on board’ with the business’ vision and goals, encouraging a positive attitude to work and resulting in a motivated and hard-working workforce.

By Karen Credie, KMCHR.

This all sounds well and good, however, one has to ask how well this is really being put into practice in businesses? Is having an employee engagement programme or policy actually feeding down and having an impact on the workforce, or is the point sometimes being missed?

I would argue that it is. There is little point having such a policy or programme in place if it is not actually being implemented by managers and being fed through to the employees. Ultimately, having a motivated and engaged workforce is often the result of the fairly simple concept of recognition and reward; something that can easily get lost in amongst the jargon of a somewhat artificially constructed policy.

So as real employers and businesses, what can we do on the ground that will actually have a positive impact on our employees’ feelings and attitudes towards work?

When faced with a dissatisfied employee, or perhaps one that threatens to leave the business, often the first place employers look is at their pay. Whilst increasing an employee’s salary or hourly rate can do the trick in some cases, and give the employee some sense that they are being fairly recompensed for their work, it may be that there is a deeper rooted problem that this action may simply cover up for a period.

In fact, whilst it is often the case that monetary rewards are relied upon, psychologically, it has been proven that emotional rewards can have the biggest impact in terms of employee motivation.

Talking to staff, both informally and in regular appraisals is the first place to start. If we do not talk to our staff, how can we expect to unearth any potential issues before they really become a problem in our business? Appraisals also allow us to undertake formal goal setting and goal reviews – allowing us to stretch and challenge employees and reward them appropriately for any positive outcomes from previous goals that have been agreed upon.

Something that employers can often overlook is that employees have their own goals and aspirations in life that need to be allowed to come to fruition for that individual to feel completely satisfied.

Indeed, it may be that allowing something relatively simple into that person’s working day can provide a real boost to an employee without having an adverse effect of the business. For example, I was working with a catering business recently and upon talking to an unhappy employee, one of the things they complained about was that they had little opportunity to be creative and felt that they were always making the same dishes. Allowing this individual a couple of hours a week to work on ‘specials’ – dishes that were outside the normal menu and allowed some creative flair in the kitchen – was enough to make him feel much happier in his work without any adverse effect on the business.

Flexible working is something that employers may also be able to implement that will allow employees to be happier in their role. With the change in the law on 30 June 2014 meaning any employee can now make a request for flexible working, rather than just those with dependants, this is something that employers may have to consider more frequently.

Involving employees in business plans, informing them of the business direction and how they can be a part of it and asking for employee input into improving the way things are done can also go a long way to making employees feel valued.

So the lesson to be learned for implementing employee engagement is that an active approach needs to be taken in order for any of the desired effects to come to fruition. Having a policy is meaningless without an active process to back it up.

It is also important to think creatively about rewarding employees – talk to them regularly to find out what makes them tick. What may be meaningless to one employee may make the world of difference to another, so always treat staff as the individuals they are. For further help or advice on employee engagement and making it really work in your business, please get in touch. We offer a free initial one hour consultation to any business that is new to our HR services.