Employee Engagement – Thinking Beyond Celebrations

Divya Singh

“Wow, it’s going to be fun this weekend!”, many employees were excited about the annual picnic. Without any doubt, everybody enjoyed the annual getaway which was held in a beautiful location with unstoppable fun, music and scrumptious food. The next day, the HR department got overwhelming responses on the success of the event. The entire HR team met for a while to review the event.

The conclusion of the discussion was such events should be organized more frequently. One of the team members also shared an idea– “Let’s start a weekly employee birthday celebration with cake, gifts and some snacks”. The idea sounds good and they knew it was going to be fun. The team quickly worked on the proposal and instantly got approval from management. Now, they could hear laughter and claps every Friday as it was Good Friday Birthday Blast. On the quarterly report of Employee Engagement, HR shared Annual Picnic and Good Friday Birthday Blast as employee engagement activities. Management also applauded the good work of HR and asked them to propose more events for employee engagement.

The above scenario is not an imaginary one. This is a reality in some organizations in terms of employee engagement. No doubt, picnics, parties, and gathering programs are really refreshing, fun and a good break from hectic schedules. However, employee engagement means more and beyond these celebration moments.
First, let’s try to delve into various thoughts of different scholars about employee engagement. As per Trust et al (2006), “Put simply, engagement means feeling positive about your job”. And, in the words of Robinson et al (2004), it is “a positive attitude held by the employee towards the organization and its values”. The above two definitions can be related to job engagement and organization engagement analyzed by Balain and Sparrow. So, as per Balain and Sparrow, employee engagement has the first aspect of job engagement, when employees are happy to put discretionary effort as they find their jobs interesting, challenging and rewarding. And, they also added another interrelated aspect- organization engagement, when employees could relate to the values and purpose of the organization and, consider their organization as a great place to work and to continue to work.

Simplifying the above definitions of employee engagement, let’s ask three questions to ourselves. Just relate with an organization we are currently working or our past organization:

Am I very happy to exert extra effort (beyond what is mentioned in my JD)?

Do I always talk good things about my organization even when I am outside with others?

Am I very happy to continue coming to work?

If answers to all the above questions are “Yes”, then we can consider ourselves as highly engaged employees in terms of job engagement and organization engagement. The ultimate purpose of employee engagement, as analyzed by Balain and Sparrow, is the achievement of high-level performance.
In order to enhance employee engagement, we can take inspiration from best practices at the local and international levels. Following are some of the best practices to enhance employee engagement:

1. Work Environment
Parties and picnics can be some examples of creating fun at the workplace. People love coming to the office when they know there is some celebration. It can be birthday parties, Friday parties, events, etc. When we say positive and favorable work environment for employee engagement, it does include such events, however, we need to think of better ideas. One example of creating a positive work environment can be respectful work culture where employees, despite any level and any diverse group (be it gender, age, culture, religion, ideology, geographic, physical differences, etc.) feel respected. The senior management team and all line managers should act as a role model encouraging respectful work culture by ensuring ‘Zero tolerance to rude behavior’. Another good example can be having some platform to capture employee voices, like a single point of contact (SPOC) related to employee concerns. We can refer to the Grievance Cell which is in practice in one of the commercial banks in Nepal. Such SPOC becomes a hub to listen and resolve employees’ voices.

2. Job Design:
Referring to the Job Characteristics model of Hackman and Oldham (1974) and further suggestions added by Robertson and Smith (1985), there are five characteristics that ensure effective job design. This model can also be referred to enhance employee engagement. The five characteristics of job design are (a) skill variety-when job demands a variety of skills, (b) task identity- when one could visualize his/her job in relation to an entire product/service, (c) task significance- when one’s job has a positive impact towards the organization, (d) autonomy- when there is authority along with responsibility, and (e) feedback- when one gets regular feedback about his/her effort. For instance-in an organization, some profiles could have very limited scope. An example could be a junior-level individual in the Accounts department who needs to handle only bank visits for cheque deposits and cash collection. Referring to the skill variety of the model, different tasks requiring different skill sets can be added to break the monotony and also to make employees skillful.

3. Reward & Recognition:
There is nothing as powerful and motivating as getting a reward and being recognized for good work. Any form of reward, financial or non-financial and recognition can be introduced to make employees feel motivated and to reinforce good behaviors. We can refer to an example of Southwest Airlines which has one of the best people practices, they have a peer-to-peer SWAG (Southwest Airlines Gratitude) recognition program, where employees recognize and reward each other with points. Such accumulated points can be used to swap various benefits such as travel passes, gifts, etc. Another good local example is Asian Paints Nepal, where they have Employee Excellence Award- Recognition on the Spot (ROTS), which recognizes employees at all levels immediately for good work based on given criteria.
The highlight of this award is recommendations can come from even cross departments as well. A few things to note while implementing an effective reward & recognition mechanism are; a system of rewarding good performers immediately, fairness in terms of clear criteria, the practice of public announcement of reward, and not to miss the easy administrative process to implement.

4. Learning & Development Opportunities:
Employees feel empowered when the organization is investing in them in terms of training and development opportunities. Learning and development are beyond training. It also includes career development as well as the flexibility for employees in terms of opportunities to handle new or higher roles. Citing an example of some MNCs in Nepal, they have provided international exposure to their selected competent employees. Many employees have got better roles within and outside their organization after returning from international assignments. This has met both the purpose of learning as well as career development.

5. Role of Line Managers:
Line managers at any level (even Supervisor having one team member) plays an important role to make employees feel supported, motivated and recognized in the workplace. They are the first point of contact for an individual. For employees to excel on the job, continuous support and guidance are essential. Here comes the role of line managers. An instance can be, that HR devised a goal-setting process, which requires line managers to spend a considerable amount of time with their team members for goal setting and also is accessible throughout the year for guidance. Another example where a line manager can make employees feel positive about their job and organization is by rewarding high performers timely.

6. Employee-friendly Benefits and Wellbeing Initiatives:
Employee-friendly benefits can be introduced which can bring some ease to the lives of employees. One recent local example is Leapfrog Technology, which has started giving menstrual leave to its female staff. It shows the company›s concern for female employees. Another good example can be referred to Daraz Nepal, where they have introduced no meetings on Monday so that employee can enjoy their weekend without any stress. Also, citing the example of employee well-being, Happy Minds has been providing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for many organizations promoting mental health.

7. Participation of Employees: 
Involvement of employees in problem-solving also makes them feel valued and positive towards the organization. Since junior-level employees are involved in the operational nature of work, they know ground realities that senior people may not be aware of. So, it’s logical to involve junior employees while solving practical issues. Again, we can refer to Southwest Airlines, which enlisted employees from all departments to participate in the design process of their new uniform instead of hiring an external agency.

8. Know About the Organization’s Achievements:
Being aware of one’s organization›s achievements can instill a feeling of pride. Rather than only sharing big achievements, even small milestones need to be shared as well. Many times, departments such as finance, HR, audit, administration, etc. feel less significant as their contribution is not applauded publicly. Normally, core departments such as sales, marketing, production, etc., are appreciated for achievements at the organizational level. So, HR should build sharing culture, whereby every department’s achievement, even small milestones gets communicated throughout the organization.
The examples above are drivers to enhance employee engagement, which makes employees feel positive about their job and organization. There are no ends and we can take inspiration from many organizations-even from startups around us. Employee engagement actually does not start or stop at one function of HR, it should actually be driven considering all major HR functions and throughout the employee life cycle. If we could think from this perspective, employee engagement becomes holistic and can truly help the overall organization to achieve high performance.

Singh is currently Visiting Faculty at King’s College, HR Professional and SHRM-SCP (Society of Human Resource Management-Senior Certified Professional). She can be reached at divyasinghyolmo@gmail.com. 

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