HR Matters - Engagement: the secret ingredient for success...

Published: 25/05/2016

This is a true story. Well, two true stories actually. The names have been changed but you might recognise the characters; in this tale they are Bert and Ernie.

Bert and Ernie’s tale
Bert worked for a larger business that had a few hundred employees. The business involved the manufacture of large bits of kit used in civil engineering projects. The company had various divisions related to the design, manufacturing, delivery, instalment and service of their products. The company structure was not unusual with a CEO, senior directors forming the board, divisional directors, line managers, various support functions etc.

Ernie worked for a (much) smaller family business that supplied services to athletes. It had an informal set up. There were just ten people employed in the business. The husband and wife shareholders were in charge; the others all knew their roles. They had also all been to each other’s weddings the christenings of their various children and all knew pretty much everything about each other.

Bert and Ernie were similar. Both had been in their roles for about 12 years, earned a senior employee’s salary and their employers faced similar challenges: increased competition, longer procurement processes and recruitment problems.

Bert and Ernie each got a call informing them that the project they had been working on for the last few months was being scrapped and an idea recently discussed (and with which each had strongly disagreed) was being promoted, with Bert and Ernie respectively being in charge of its delivery. Neither were happy.

Actually, both had been unhappy for some time but the difference was that Bert felt properly engaged with his employer. Despite him not knowing all his colleagues or the CEO terribly well, he had been able to speak to his immediate boss about his frustrations which were part to do with his work/life balance and part to do with the project that had just been binned.

Ernie, despite his jolly exterior at work was actually seething inside. He was frustrated by a sense of inequity, could see no prospects for personal improvement at work but had no options as a fall back.

So, when the call came in to drop everything and to start again neither were delighted. Bert got on with it but Ernie wouldn’t (or couldn’t!). He called in sick (with stress) and then lodged a rambling grievance after his boss (one of his oldest friends) had attempted to get him to return to work, while making subtle threats to do with alternative options if he could not return soon.

What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is when both parties recognise the gains they get from the employment relationship. Employees who are engaged ‘go the extra mile’ but they also report that they feel valued by their employer and so their sense of well-being is enhanced.

There are literally hundreds of ways that an employer can encourage and improve employee engagement. Ernie’s employer might argue that it is easier for a company with larger resources to provide attractive employee benefits and demonstrate a career path for progression, but Bert’s could counter-argue pointing out the ease with which a small, intimate group of co-workers can be made to feel valued. The truth is that the challenge is equal, regardless of an employer’s size or its sector. Throwing money at staff in the form of cash or benefits does not guarantee a return on investment.

The ‘secret ingredient’ that delivers employee engagement will be different from business to business. However, looking at some of the startling productivity statistics that an engaged workforce is supposed to have over its disengaged comparator, it would seem that it is something worth seeking out.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding engagement, please contact Jolyon Berry. Law covered as at May 2016.

This article is taken from our HR Matters Summer 2016 publication. Similar articles can be found in the latest edition.

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