Employee Engagement – Why bother? by Alan Firmin

Employee Engagement is one of those topics, which always sparks off a variety of views and perceptions.

On the one hand you have those who support employee engagement and see the benefits of investing time and money in improving employee engagement within their organisation and on the other hand you then have those who take an opposing view and see employee engagement as a waste of time and energy with very little business benefit.

Given the current economic environment when organisations are looking to reduced business costs and overheads, many are seeing employee engagement as a key enabler.

So what is the truth?

If you search on the Internet you will not have to look far to find details of studies carried out by consultant organisations on the benefits of employee engagement. All of them will confirm there is a link between an engaged workforce and an improvement in business bottom line profits of between 5% to 20%.

So how does employee engagement work?

The same consultant organisations will tell you there are a number of ‘drivers’, to show organisations how they can go about engaging their people and how this is measured. An example of the common key drivers includes:

  • Understanding the business strategy and objectives
  • The relationship between the employee and their line manager
  • The leadership skills of senior business managers within the organisation
  • How employees are rewarded and recognised
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities and how these fit with the business strategy
  • The employee’s pride in the organisation and how they are treated

Key drivers are normally measured via surveys carried out by independent research organisations to ensure anonymity. Statements are used to assess the extent to which employees agree or disagree. Scores are then given against the responses to provide a baseline for each driver. Future surveys use the same statements so comparison can be made to measure improvement or decline in engagement.

Who should lead employee engagement?

Whilst Human Resources (HR) are normally the enablers of this type of initiative, it is vital it is presented to employees as a business initiative and not an HR one, so to avoid line manager resistance to supporting any actions coming from the first set of survey results and future support for improvement.

So, is there a right and wrong way to do it?

There is no right or wrong answer on the approach to employee engagement, but one thing is clear, it must support the overall business and people strategies of the organisation to be truly effective and be trusted by the workforce at all levels.

So how does an organisation go about employee engagement?

Firstly, it is vital to do some benchmarking of other organisations to understand how they have approached employee engagement and the resources involved in supporting the initiative.

Secondly, the organisation must be prepared to take the results of any survey seriously, be open with the workforce on the results and involve as many people as possible in developing action and improvement plans.

Thirdly, the organisation must be prepared to change in order to meet the expectations of its people; this includes the behaviours of senior managers and business leaders, if this is one of the areas for improvement.

How are changes made as a result of any survey communicated?

The internal communications team play a vital role in ensuring any business changes implemented as a result of employee engagement are communicated. This increases the value and integrity of the survey and any subsequent focus group activities and ensures that employees understand the ‘you said and we did’.

If all this is in place, how does employee engagement improve the bottom line?

Firstly, research will show that engaged employees are less likely to leave an organisation, so recruitment and training costs are reduced.

Secondly, they are less likely to build up high absence rates, so sick pay and temporary cover is reduced.

Thirdly, they will also be more productive, thus increasing output and profits and reducing overtime costs.

Finally, they are more likely to support change and help the organisation move forward to meet the changing requirements of the markets in which they operate.

Engaged employees generally feel more in control of their work, their career and their future job prospects and have a good relationship with the organisation’s management community.

All this, quite simply, improves the bottom line profits!

How much does all this cost?

This will depend on your starting point and the time and effort needed to kick-start the process and activities. Normally there is a cost to setting up an engagement survey and for carrying out further surveys. There are also costs in employees attending workshops or focus groups as part of action planning, but these costs should be self-funding from the improvement in the bottom line.

One thing is clear, for most organisations, this is not a short-term fix  In most cases a timeline of around 2-4 years (depending on the size of the organisation) is required to embed employee engagement in to everyday life and reap the business benefits.

It does not matter what size or organisation you work in. Employee engagement can be just as effective in a small organisations as large ones if it is carried out seriously and with the full support of management at all levels of the organisation.

Most organisations in the FSTE Top 100 will have an employee engagement strategy in place, supported by funding and resources. Most will have changed many of their practices as a result of issues highlighted by their employees and corrective actions implemented to improve engagement.

Certainly they will all have looked at employee engagement as an enabler to business performance and would have tailored their approach to support their organisation’s business strategy and vision.

Alan Firmin started his career in call centre management before moving onto customer liaison and then project management. He has spent the last 9 years in a Human Resources role. Alan currently works as a Human Resources Business Manager within the Aviation industry and has over 30 years experience in the management field.


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