Engaging people in the workplace

Competition for good people is on! Anyone with basic skills can get an offer of good money as a result of the current resources and energy boom. The challenge of recruiting and retaining high performing people is again at the top of the agenda for managers and HR directors.

Engaging people in their work is one of major solutions companies are trying out to retain good people. What engagement actually is can be unclear and some managers question whether it really provides benefits to the company.

Employee engagement has been defined as; “an individual’s involvement with, satisfaction and enthusiasm for the work he or she does.” Hewitt and Associates define engagement as “the state of emotional and intellectual involvement in a group or organisation, that is, the extent to which an organisation has captured the ‘hearts and minds’ of its people”. In short, an engaged employee is one with a positive attitude towards the organisation and its values and a desire to improve performance for the benefit of the organisation.

Does getting employee ‘engaged’ benefit the company? A study of 8000 business units in 36 companies found that employees with above average engagement had higher levels of customer satisfaction, were more productive, had higher profits and had lower levels of turnover and accidents than other companies. A global brewing company found engaged employees were five times less likely to have safety incidents and when incidents did occur it was much less serious and costly for an engaged employee than a disengaged employee. Another study showed that employee engagement results in greater ‘Total Shareholder Return’. The link between engagement and business results provides a good business case for increasing employee engagement

But the bad news is that engagement is a real concern for most organisations since surveys indicate that only around 15 to 30% employees are engaged in their work.

Engagement is generally agreed to consist of the following factors:
1. Dedication; commitment to the work and organisation
2. Absorption/attachment: identifying with and feeling of belonging to the company
3. Involvement: knowing what’s expected and able to have some say or control in your job
4. Vigour: putting energy and extra effort into the job

Most of these factors relate to the employees contribution to the organisation but more recent research has shown that full commitment is only obtained if the employee also; a) experiences positive feelings about themselves and their work and b) feel that the purpose of their work is worthwhile and satisfying.

So how can organisations engage their employees? The following is a brief list of ways to build employee engagement:
 Good leadership; engagement starts with leaders who are supportive, who value individuals, and help them to develop a sense of place in the organisation

 Communicate the purpose, direction and goals to each person and the role and contribution employee makes toward these.

 Look after the well being of staff by ensuring that they are satisfied with their job and they feel they are providing a worthwhile contribution to the purpose of the organisation..

 Ensure team processes, structures and rewards work for rather than against individual and team efforts

 Regularly meet with each person to discuss their work and ask their opinion

 Conduct sessions such as yoga, good diet and meditation to help staff maintain positive health and well-being

 Recognise their efforts and team contribution

Recently we met one leader who, despite a highly compliance-driven culture, was keen to fully engage his employees in becoming a high performing team. He committed to doing these things with his team and was pleased to see the positive results in morale and productivity.

Doing these things is the beginning of what excellent leaders do to engage staff. Overall, engagement is about building an authentic workplace that has a passion to provide your customers with outstanding service and value.


Article Published in WA Business News 30 September 2010, p. 20

Dr Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development, one of Perth’s most unique and experienced leadership and management consultancies. Ron is also Adjunct Professor at Curtin’s Australian Sustainable Development Institute.

Sarah Newton-Palmer is a senior consultant with Integral Development and an experienced leadership facilitator. She has held senior positions in Learning and Development for BHP Billiton, WorleyParsons and National Australia Bank. She holds a Masters in Business Leadership degree from Curtin University Graduate Business School, is a published author and has drawn on her extensive experience in a large range of Australia’s corporations to produce a new Integral development program called The Art of Real Work.

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