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Home > News > July 2004 > 02-Jul-2004

New research shows how to engage employees

Research by the independent Institute for Employment Studies has focused on employee engagement and its benefits, working with private and public sector organisations, to define and measure what it is and how it functions.

Senior researcher Dilys Robinson commented on the work, "Engagement is not something that just happens, and will not result from an internal PR exercise. It develops in organisations that really care for employees and their well-being, that invest in people, that listen to them, and are well-managed. Measuring and assessing engagement accurately is therefore just as important. However, just scoring from a range of simple off-the-shelf questions is unlikely to be useful as a diagnostic tool, you do need an in-depth understanding of what drives engagement in your own organisation."

How to engage employees

IES demonstrated that employee commitment has a direct relationship on bottom line performance in key research published as From People to Profits: The HR link in the service-profit chain in 1999. Now in a new report entitled The Drivers of Employee Engagement, IES researchers identify what employers need to do to get not just committed, but engaged employees:

  • Demonstrate they value their employees, by investing in their training and continuing development, and by taking seriously employee appraisal and personal development plans.
  • Communicate to employees a strong business context and awareness, and enable them to implement their ideas to make the organisation better.
  • Encourage a continuing and open dialogue between employees and the organisation, to maintain positive feelings of involvement.
  • Realise that as length of service increases, it is harder maintain engagement. Factors such as career frustration, boredom, and cynicism can be overcome by offering new development opportunities and career challenges.
  • Understand that professional workers are more likely to engage with their craft rather than with the organisation they work for. These workers are valuable assets, however, so it is worth making the extra effort to engage and therefore retain them.
  • Provide equality of opportunity to all employees, and deal effectively and sympathetically with ‘shocks to the system’ such as accidents and harassment.
  • Monitor levels of employee engagement, overall and for different employee groups within the organisation. Low levels can result in increased staff absence, reduced customer satisfaction, and lower intention to stay with the organisation, all of which will impact on the customer and therefore on the ‘bottom line’.
  • Have clear and accessible HR policies and practices and a commitment to employee health, safety and well-being.

A key finding of the research is that engagement is mainly driven by the extent to which employees feel they are valued by, and involved with, their organisation. Sub-drivers, however, vary between and within organisations, which points to the importance of employers having an in-depth understanding of engagement in their own organisations. Employers cannot expect employees to ‘go the extra mile’ unless they demonstrate that they are truly valued.

Co-researcher Sue Hayday commented on the practical outcome of the study, "After extensive discussions with 40 organisations and in depth analysis, including a massive database of attitude survey information, we have a report full of practical advice to HR professionals, with an engagement indicator and a diagnostic tool. The challenges are highlighted but engagement stands out as something that can be better understood and of direct benefit to performance."

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