Cathy Brown, Director at Engage for Success, discusses the role of Human Resources in employee engagement.

Research shows that organisations with high levels of employee engagement are more efficient and effective, and that highly engaged employees:
• are more customer focused, find they are more creative at work, and take less time off sick;
• care about the future of their organisation and put in greater effort to help it meet its objectives;
•feel proud of the organisation they work for and are inspired to do their best and motivated to deliver the organisation’s objectives.

The connection between engagement and productivity has been demonstrated through research, along with the relationship to wellbeing, customer satisfaction and numerous other business metrics.

The world of work is changing fast. Automation is already changing our workplaces. The UK population is ageing, with fewer young people coming into the job market, educational standards rising in India and the Far East, and innovation thriving around the Pacific Rim. UK productivity has stagnated since 2008/9 and remains about 15% below historical trends, and UK GDP per hour is around 17% below the G7 average. In the 21st Century, the UK’s best assets are our people and our ability to enable them to innovate.

Organisations embedding the enablers of employee engagement as the way they work have more chance of surviving in the new global economy, because they are building the future with, and around, their people.

So, we generally know and accept the evidence that creating an engaging workplace culture is a ‘good’ thing. But the sticking point is often what to do about that! How do we even get started? As irrational human beings, rather than emotionless Human Resources, we actually don’t tend to react very well to ‘engagement initiatives’ or ‘transformation programmes’ – they can have the unintended impact of actually disengaging us!

So, engagement by stealth? Is that even a thing?

Some of the most successful organisations look at engagement in a very different way. Not as something that we do to people, something we impose in the form of a programme or campaign, with targets and measures. They look at it as a holistic way of working – ‘this is simply how we do things around here. Every day.”

Those organisations tend to have a very clear vision and aspiration, one that everyone in the organisation can connect to on an emotional level. We are increasingly looking for purpose in our work, and this is where we find it. Unilever for example have taken a very different approach to this recently, make the opportunity available to many of their staff to dig deeper into their own purpose and values, and then working with their people to find opportunities and development that really work for both sides.

Successful, sustainable organisations also develop and train their managers well. They promote an atmosphere of trust, and discourage micromanagement. Managers have the skills, confidence, self awareness and resilience to treat people as individuals and deal with a complete spectrum of behaviours, goals and conversations. Research to be released this year by Engage for Success and Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School explores the area of team dynamics more closely and highlights the importance of the team relationships in supporting positive behaviours.

Trust in the organisation is a characteristic of highly engaged, highly performing organisations too. The awareness that values are understood and lived, and that behaviour is consistent with those values is vital to organisational success. The case studies from the UK Public Sector featured in our recent paper: Outcomes Through Engagement: How the Public Sector Improves Citizen Outcomes Through Employee Engagement demonstrate this really clearly, with Glenn Tunstall of Kingston Metropolitan Police citing it as the very first aspect he tackled when the force started it’s journey to become the most engaged borough in the Met Police.

Finally, listening (and acting on) what people have to say is a key differentiator between organisations that do this well, and ones that don’t. We are very used to being asked our view these days, for any product or service we buy and many things that we experience. Our views are sought and welcomed. Work is no different!

All of these aspects involve the employees as an intrinsic part of the solution, not as something to be fixed or got around. As humans, rather than Human Resources. So, embedding engaging principles into everything you do as an organisation is the way to go, rather than the transactional activity of ‘let’s run an engagement programme’- after all, would you rather be doing, or be done to?