Is employee engagement currently in a broken form?

The story titled 'Is employee engagement currently in a broken form?' by ETHRWorld highlights a key challenge in promoting employee engagement - obtaining the necessary funds from businesses for engagement activities.

Despite the proven benefits of having engaged employees, financial constraints, and the difficulty of coordinating engagement activities across diverse locations can hinder this objective. AI-enabled tools can help HR teams customize engagement activities to match the unique needs of each location.

Rajiv Naithani, CPO - Infogain, shares his insights on this matter, envisioning a world where traditional yearly surveys and authoritative directives are insufficient. In this new era, the diverse and dynamic workforce seeks more than just monetary compensation. They desire opportunities that align with their aspirations: a mix of flexibility, freedom, and personal development.

Read the original article here.

Ever since William Khan introduced the concept of Employee Engagement, it has been widely accepted as an indicator of better performance at the workplace. “Engagement is a state of mind unique to each employee, but it doesn’t happen on its own. People in leadership positions who want the proven benefits of engagement should ask themselves, ‘What am I doing today to build, enable, energize, empower and encourage everyone in this organization?’”

The above lines are adapted from the book ‘Making Work Human,’ by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine. What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe that companies these days are following these 4 Es in their employee engagement strategy?

To understand whether this is a common sentiment reflected across industries, we talked to HR leaders from different sectors this time.

The current state of employee engagement appears to be in a flux

Maria Rajesh, CHRO, Embassy Group, says it is essential to recognize the pressing need to reevaluate the current state of employee engagement, which appears to be in a flux. “The conventional approaches seem inadequate, and a paradigm shift is imperative. Traditional models struggle to meet the evolving needs of today's workforce, where factors such as purpose, recognition and a positive work culture weigh heavily on the employee experience,” she points out.

In her point of view, one primary hurdle is gaining the buy-in from the business for engagement budgets. Despite the proven benefits of engaged employees, securing financial support can be a persuasive task, requiring HR to present compelling data on the positive impact of engagement on productivity.

Additionally, geographical dispersion poses a considerable challenge when an organization has a presence in multiple locations, either within a country or globally. Coordinating engagement activities across diverse settings demands meticulous planning and execution without bias.

“Customizing events across different locations presents another obstacle. HR teams must navigate the complexities of diverse preferences and cultural nuances, tailoring engagement activities to resonate with the unique characteristics of each location. This customization is essential to creating an inclusive environment and fostering a sense of belonging among employees,” Rajesh says.

“Moreover, achieving 100 per cent participation in engagement initiatives is a perpetual challenge. Not every employee can participate simultaneously due to varying schedules and commitments. This highlights the need for HR to adopt creative communication strategies to garner enthusiasm and involvement, ensuring that a diverse range of employees can actively contribute,” she adds.

AI-enabled tools can help facilitate engagement

Bensely Zachariah, Global Head - Human Resources, Fulcrum Digital, says, “Ever since William Khan introduced the concept of Employee Engagement, it has been widely accepted as an indicator of better performance at the workplace. However, in the past many years, the annual Gallup reports on engagement point out that the disengagement figures have remained stagnant. This also means that most of the solutions that have been proposed through the years have not been very effective. Hence, it is evident that employee engagement in its current state is in a broken form.”

According to Bensely, the pandemic made things even worse as the definition of the workplace itself changed. While working from home, it became even more complex for the employees to understand the dynamic nature of their business and collaborate to improve their performance or work on their potential, and for the employers to facilitate a conducive environment to engage them.

“Engagement requires a two-way relationship between the employer and the employee, where the employee is aware of the business context and works with their colleagues to improve performance, and the organization works towards creating an environment which nurtures and develops engagement. Each employee needs to own his engagement and the organization must facilitate the same. Engaged employees view their organizations at a holistic level, to understand its purpose and how they fit into it,” he says.

“AI-enabled tools can help facilitate engagement even in a hybrid model across the entire spectrum of the employee life cycle. This can help in multiple ways like analyzing behavioral patterns to understand issues and predict trends which help in remedial measures to prevent disengagement, enhance productivity, eliminate biases and boost performance. These tools can also customize/hyper-personalize learning across platforms based on the professional and personal development needs of the employees and align them with the organizational objectives to achieve business results,” Bensely adds.

Employee engagement is not a point-in-time exercise

Vivek Subramanian, Head - Associate Experience, Fidelity Investments India, views employee engagement as an emotional commitment employees have towards their work and the organization. “Employee engagement is not broken, but in a state of transition, owing to the recent pandemic, which contributed significantly to employees’ reexamining various priorities in life, including work. While organizations formally measure their employees’ engagement at points in time, employee engagement itself is to be viewed as the consequence of the continuous efforts of the organization. It is not a point-in-time exercise. Various internal and external factors impact employee engagement,” he says.

Talking about the HR challenges faced in planning and implementing employee engagement initiatives, Subramanian shares, “In today’s post-pandemic world, where employees at several firms are working in a hybrid mode, what employees value in their lives has changed perceptibly during and post the pandemic. Wellbeing, for instance, is a much higher priority for many than before the pandemic. The prolonged period of working from home led to a tighter integration of work and life, leading to flexible working becoming critical to employees. While not being challenges, these and other changes have led to organizations having to recalibrate their levers of engagement.”

“While there are common threads, what engages employees is specific and personal to each of them. So, one-size-fits-all models are getting replaced by more human-centric and design-thinking-based approaches to employee experience and engagement. More than ever, organizations must constantly listen to and learn from employees to be able to craft relevant and meaningful experiences,” Subramanian says.

How can we chart a course to fix it?

Rajesh of Embassy Group opines that reinventing employee engagement demands a departure from traditional methods and the adoption of dynamic, personalized and innovative strategies. She emphasizes that by recognizing challenges and implementing tailored approaches, we can foster a more engaged, motivated and resilient workforce.

“Acknowledging the individuality of employees is paramount. Tailoring engagement strategies to unique preferences and career aspirations demonstrates a commitment to understanding and meeting their needs. Implementing regular feedback mechanisms, conducting surveys and actively listening to employees can provide valuable insights,” she says.

To overcome these challenges, Rajesh further puts forward the following antidotes:

  • HR professionals can employ strategic principles in streamlining employee engagement programs.
  • Budgeting at the beginning of the financial year serves as a foundation, allowing for efficient resource allocation and planning.
  • Monthly and quarterly calendarization ensures a systematic and structured approach, maintaining a continuous connection among employees throughout the year.
  • HR can also adopt a proactive approach by proposing data that showcases the correlation between engagement and increased productivity, aiming to secure necessary budgets.
  • Creative communication plays a pivotal role in attracting the workforce to engagement events. HR teams can employ innovative communication strategies to convey the value and excitement of planned activities, encouraging widespread participation.

“It is imperative that there is a drive from within the workforce. At Embassy, we have a remarkable participation of 400 employees who contributed 700 hours towards community outreach engagement initiatives. Their impactful efforts focused on uplifting underprivileged children, leaving a lasting positive impression on the community,” Rajesh says.

The old, uniform strategies are fading

As a people leader, Rajiv Naithani, Chief People Officer, Infogain, has personally observed the ever-evolving landscape of employee engagement. “Imagine a world where traditional yearly surveys and authoritative directives are no longer adequate. In this new world, our workforce, which is more diverse and vibrant than ever before, desires more than just monetary compensation. They long for a sense of involvement that deeply resonates with their individual aspirations – a harmonious combination of freedom, flexibility and personal development,” he says.

“But here's the twist in our tale: the path from traditional models to this new realm of engagement is scattered with hurdles. The old, uniform strategies are fading. Now, the spotlight is on continuous, real-time feedback, leveraging technology not just as a tool but as an extension of our human touch, and addressing the mental and emotional wellbeing of our teams,” Naithani adds.

And amidst this, Naithani points out that the role of the managers has never been more pivotal. They are the bridge between our organizational goals and the individual needs of the team members. This is increasingly relevant in a diversified and hybrid workforce perspective.

According to Naithani, adopting the following strategies in employee engagement can echo the voices of the diverse workforce:

  • Crafting customized engagement plans that cater to individual needs
  • Transitioning to a culture of frequent and constructive feedback
  • Leveraging technology to connect, collaborate and create a seamless experience
  • Fostering a culture of wellbeing where mental, emotional and physical health are nurtured
  • Empowering employees to be a part of the decision-making fabric
  • Implementing recognition and reward systems that genuinely appreciate contributions
  • Leadership training that focuses on empathy and effectiveness
  • Building ‘community and belonging’ beyond the confines of traditional workplace boundaries

“This journey isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon – a continuous evolution towards workplaces that don’t just aim for productivity but thrive on nurturing and fulfilment. By embracing these strategies, we can transform our workplaces into environments where engagement is not just a goal, but a natural outcome of our collective efforts and shared values,” Naithani says.

Labelling it as ‘broken’ seems overly pessimistic

Suprita Bhattacharya, Chief of Staff, Master Capital Services, says employee engagement is a significant focus for many organizations, and while there may be challenges, labelling it as ‘broken’ seems overly pessimistic. She believes that such a characterization can create a sense of hopelessness, which is not conducive to the positive and proactive approach that HR-driven organizations should strive for.

“When evaluating the current scenario of employee engagement, it is evident that challenges exist, but the situation is not irreparably broken. The way forward involves a holistic approach that considers individual differences, emphasizes positive cultural elements, and ensures ongoing efforts toward improvement and consistency,” she adds.

According to Bhattacharya, the lack of initiatives on the part of management and staff is the main cause of challenges with employee engagement. “It's critical to close this divide, and HR plays an essential role in building harmony. Since there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for engagement inside an organisation, choosing a general approach presents another challenge. Given that employees have varied degrees of emotional intelligence, engagements must be tailored based on demographic data. In this delicate space, building an emotional bond is essential. Furthermore, it's critical to remain consistent while admitting that continual efforts are necessary to adapt to cultural developments,” she says.

Way forward

With changing employee priorities, Subramanian of Fidelity Investments reiterates that it is necessary for organizations to re-examine their employee engagement models to align them with what employees truly value at work. “We are living in an unprecedented era marked by rapid and simultaneous disruption due to various factors, including the global economy, competition, changing work models, technological and environmental changes, and the like. Organizations and employees have an interdependent relationship, and change is a two-way street,” he says.

“Both organizations and employees need to reorient and recalibrate themselves to the dynamic realities of today. Organizations need to be attentive to employees’ changing needs and priorities, and customize solutions to address them, to sustain engagement. For their part, employees need to have a greater understanding of the macro system and organizational dynamics, enabling them to develop resilience and be better at adapting to continuous change. A partnership based on an appreciation of each other’s contexts towards a co-creation of experiences aimed at employee engagement will result in a more rewarding relationship,” Subramanian adds.

Subramanian also shares some suggestions to improve the employee engagement touch points within the organization:

  • To maintain aspects of cultural uniqueness, organizations require certain touchpoints with their employees, which can be challenging to establish in the current hybrid working scenario. One’s manager is often the first touchpoint of the organizational experience, and hence, individual employee experiences may vary, especially in the current context.
  • Organizations employ a variety of resources, including detailed employee surveys, quick polls and purposeful nudge-based checks to gauge engagement. The use of technology-based tools has seen a rapid increase in recent years.
  • Traditional listening posts such as all-employee meetings, focus groups and one-to-one interactions still have a major role to play.
  • Traditional levers such as interesting work, compensation, benefits, opportunities to learn and grow, etc. continue to be important to employees. Hence, they need continued attention and investment by organizations.
  • The role of associations, both formal (Toastmasters, for instance) and informal (hobby-based clubs) is critical too. In addition to enabling learning, they provide opportunities for employees to exhibit their talents and forge communities at work, thereby aiding a sense of belongingness.
  • For their part, employees need to have a greater understanding of the macro system and organizational dynamics, enabling them to develop resilience and be better at adapting to continuous change. A partnership based on an appreciation of each other’s contexts towards a co-creation of experiences aimed at employee engagement will result in a more rewarding relationship.

On a closing note, Bhattacharya of Master Capital Services says, “To optimize the effectiveness of engagement programs, it is crucial to cultivate a positive work culture to address challenges successfully. Fostering transparency in the workplace strengthens trust, and relinquishing excessive control while empowering individuals fosters a sense of responsibility. Designing innovative engagement initiatives aligned with organizational goals accelerates alignment with the company's values. Consistent feedback mechanisms and developmental programs amplify the potential for sustained employee involvement.”