Increase employee engagement by 20%.

Do you have an organizational goal similar to the one above? It’s a potent path to be on, if you do. Employee engagement as a concept has been trending steadily for the past few years. However, inspite of being coined more than two decades back, there is no formal understanding of it even today. So how do we define it?

According to IBM, employee engagement is the extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to organizational success. Their employee engagement index assesses pride, satisfaction, commitment and advocacy. It’s a subjective understanding of individual experiences, and probably hard to peg into a single framework. Thus, to get a better grasp of employee engagement, we bring to you an exploration of what it isn’t.

It is not a binary: A 2013 Gallup survey showed that only 30% of the American workforce felt engaged at work. Does that really mean the rest of the workforce was disengaged? Actually not. Decision Wise, a performance management company, shares that employee engagement in reality is a spectrum of experiences that can be examined across four categories:

  • Fully engaged employees who are enthusiastic, take risks and are constantly learning.
  • Key contributors who meet expectations, work well with others and may not feel challenged.
  • Opportunity group who are underutilized, hard to notice and do just enough work to get by.
  • Fully disengaged ones who aren’t productive, look out for new jobs, and feel frustrated.

The good news is that only 4% of the workforce falls in the last category. Majority employees (49%) are key contributors.

It is not a result of policies: Considering the spectrum, and aspects of happiness, pride, purpose and initiative, employee engagement can look different for each individual. Ofcourse, perks like flexi-timing and remote work offer more autonomy to employees. But, research shows that remote employees receive less mentoring. They also miss out on the knowledge-sharing and socialization of a shared workspace, thus reducing engagement. The same lens can be adopted for rewards/ motivators like big salaries, learning experiences or appreciation. One person’s meal is another person’s poison. The solution: a second layer of personalized attention from managers.

It is not about manager effectiveness: We’ve heard the adage, “People leave managers, not companies”. That’s not entirely true. Though immediate managers do influence an employee’s outlook, IBM’s big data analysis shows that organizational aspects like diversity & inclusion, ethics, corporate governance, and leadership living values, impact how connected an employee feels. The data suggests a shift in focus—away from direct managers being the primary implementers of engagement plans to senior executives leading by example, creating a vision of an outstanding future for both the company and the employee.

In a nutshell, employee engagement operates at both micro and macro levels of the individual and the larger organization. It’s a practice of acute personalization and constant innovation. Are you ready for it?

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