See the whole employment engagement picture

Only measuring employee engagement? You’re missing a trick.

High performance is, of course, something all organisations are striving for. And, while there’s no universal one-size-fits-all strategy to achieve it, there’s overwhelming evidence from renowned and pioneering sources such as Engage For Success that employee engagement is fundamentally important. Engagement surveys – whether done annually or as more regular ‘pulse checks’ – have long been relied upon to provide the kind of employee insights needed to drive business improvement. Done well, surveys help to identify employees’ frustrations and barriers to their engagement. When acted upon and through the removal of any obstacles, you can lay the foundations for higher engagement and improved performance. But none of this is possible if your survey isn’t measuring all of the right things. You see, focusing too narrowly on engagement could only be giving you part of the picture …

So, is employee engagement still the ultimate goal?

Well, the short answer is yes … and no.

Yes, because we know that having more highly engaged employees positively impacts upon a number of crucial business metrics. Indeed our research with organisations including Marks and Spencer shows that high engagement levels correlate positively with improvements in customer experience, staff absence, staff tenure and company revenue.

And no, because there’s now an argument that measuring (and focusing on) employee engagement alone isn’t enough to drive sustainable high performance.

Beyond engagement: Two other equally important Es

A deeper understanding of employees and the modern workplace suggests that, to really unlock business improvement, a broader focus is needed; one that better reflects the employee experience as a whole.

Through our work with clients, and through academic research into factors critical to workplace performance, it’s now clear that there are two other areas we should be focusing on.

Employee enablement

This is defined as:

“The extent to which employees feel that they are provided with what they need to do their jobs well, while working in an environment that allows them to perform to their greatest ability.” If you are highly engaged but poorly enabled, the likely outcome is that you’ll feel frustrated at work. The problem is, in a typical engagement survey questionnaire, this lack of enablement could be easily missed.

Employee empowerment

This is defined as:

“The extent to which employees feel they are provided with problem-solving and decisionmaking authority to do their job, while working in an environment that allows them to speak-up and suggest better ways of doing things.” To put this in even simpler terms, being ‘empowered’ is about people experiencing workplace trust, perhaps through having an autonomous working environment and feeling they have a strong employee voice. If you don’t have this but are highly engaged, you may well feel distrusted.

Putting it all together

As you might expect, employees are most likely to become frustrated or feel distrusted because they care – they are, on some level, engaged. They want to ‘go the extra mile’, but can’t due either to organisational barriers or an inability to fully utilise and channel their talent. It’s pretty likely that these employees are among your strongest performers so, naturally, they must be listened to and nurtured.

If you analyse employee survey scores for your top performances, you’ll probably find that all three elements (engagement, enablement and empowerment) will be high. The result of this is employees that are prepared to go the extra mile and who’ll deliver sustainable high performance. However, where even just one of the three Es is significantly lower, performance is usually negatively affected.

Measuring enablement and empowerment

In order to analyse organisational enablement and empowerment, you’ll need to properly measure it. This shouldn’t mean wholesale changes to your survey, but you’ll need to make sure you have enablement and empowerment indices along with the more standard engagement index. Here are a couple of ‘typical’ survey statements you should consider for each:

Enablement index

• ‘I have everything I need to do my job well’; and
• ‘I feel fully supported to do my job well’.

Empowerment index

• ‘I have the appropriate level of freedom within my role to do my job well’; and
• ‘I feel like a trusted member of the company’.

Ben Egan is an experienced communications professional working for leading consultancy ETS plc in the UK. As leading employee engagement survey specialists, they work with UK and global businesses such as PepsiCo, Tata, Marks & Spencer, Royal Bank of Scotland and McDonald’s.

This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of HR Future magazine.

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