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What Is Employee Engagement? Why Is It Important?
Employee engagement, simply put, is the extent to which an employee’s personal goals and interests align with the vision and goals of the company at which they are employed.
If that definition seems broad and far-reaching, it is. It’s meant to be. Employee engagement encompasses the entire employee experience.
From interactions with colleagues, communication with (and from) leadership, and managing deadlines to benefits packages, office layout, and working hours, there are innumerable factors that can have an impact on how engaged an employee is.
It’s surprising how many elements of the employee experience can be actively influenced by a company. If you have the power to make changes for a better employee experience, it is your responsibility to take action.
Your company may be doing well in some areas, but could use improvement in others. There’s an easy way to find out where you’re lacking and where you need work, simply survey your employees. Figure out what they want more of and do your own research to find the best methods to implement positive changes.
There are plenty of proven ways to improve the employee experience and increase engagement. A recent Gallup study surveyed US workers and found that what they want most are projects that align well with their skills, more work-life balance and a higher focus on personal well-being, job security, increases in pay, and to work for a company with a great external and internal brand.
At this point, it’s important to draw a clear distinction between employee experience and employee engagement. The two share a cause and effect relationship.
Employee experience is the input and employee engagement is the output. That is to say, engagement is the hypothesis for which the variables of experience are tested.
Thinking about employee engagement scientifically can be beneficial for producing engaged employees. This scenario comes with the realization that there are variables that you and your company can control.
- Case – I run a small paper company with three employees. Myself, Jim, and Dwight. While Jim was a great candidate upon hiring, the quality of his work has waned. Jim seems to be disengaged.
Dwight on the other hand is dedicated to his work and produces at a hight level consistently.
So, I end up asking myself, what can I do to re-engage Jim without affecting Dwight’s performance?
- Hypothesis – If I offer Jim more money as an incentive, he will become more invested in his work and thusly be actively engaged while not affecting Dwight’s output.
- Null Hypothesis – If I offer Jim more money as an incentive, he will not become more invested in his work and thusly remain disengaged while affecting Dwight’s output.
- Outcome – Jim is informed of the incentive and his work and work ethic begin to show improvement, however Dwight finds out about Jim’s incentive and isn’t pleased with not being offered more for his consistency so the quality of his work begins to decrease and resentment for management starts to build.
The way you proceed from this point is the most important aspect of this approach. At this point it’s clear that the experiment failed, but failure is good to some extent. You can still learn from the outcomes.
You need to compile what the takeaways were and retest a new hypothesis. You’re never going to be objectively perfect, but the scientific method is all about finding the best solution that works in the real world. Finding the right formula for employee engagement should be no different.
Only through a continuous process of testing and retesting will you be able to calibrate your environment to the right specifications for your team to excel, flourish, and engage. You should focus on getting it right over time while not getting discouraged, getting it right the first time isn’t the goal.
Employee engagement is a complex tapestry whose threads of experience, if pulled, will unravel in ways that are difficult to predict. The final product could be beautiful or it could be a disaster.
The important part is configuring those experiences in a way that works for you and your team. All of this with the understanding that what works now may not in the future, so tugging on those threads is less of a choice and more of a duty to best serve your needs and the needs of your team.