Active believe that creating an environment where everyone is valued, trusted, rewarded and empowered can go to great lengths to combatting the ‘transient’ worker. Angela Love discusses whether approaches to employee engagement are already outdated.

The 90s has often been hailed as a decade of technical evolution. It was the decade that saw the launch of the World Wide Web, the shift from VHS to DVD and the first ever USB stick. But whilst you were busy getting to grips with your new Nokia, or sending your first email or even making your first eBay account, a certain individual named William Kahn was busy devising the theory of Employee Engagement. In short, he explained employee engagement to be “the harnessing of organisation members’ selves to their work roles”. This definition has since been built upon by psychologists, workplace experts and HR professionals, becoming a key cog in the workplace wheel. Kahn’s work and its ripple effect on the HR industry can arguably be seen as a catalyst for today’s workplace revolution.

Today, the idea of having a fully engaged workforce, or creating a modern workplace utopia may seem as far off as it did back in the 90s. Fast paced changes in technologies, workplace design and shifts in the working demographic mean that we need to adopt a realistic approach to employee engagement. Such workplace changes however, shouldn’t put you off; rather than seeing them as barriers or hurdles to overcome, embrace the changes and identify ways in which they could be used to your advantage.

By definition, an ‘engaged’ employee is one who is fully immersed by and enthusiastic about their work so much so that they take positive action to further the reputation and interests of the organisation. Just by having one fully engaged employee, the rest of your organisation can reap the benefits. On the other side of the coin, having one disengaged employee will not only affect your bottom line through lost potential productivity but also limit your opportunity to improve service delivery. As a consequence, the engagement needle, which currently is so precariously balanced, can have a momentous effect on your workforce as a whole, regardless of which way it swings.

I’ve already mentioned the current changes in the workplace, but how can you actually go about utilising said changes to “harness” employee engagement? At Active, we believe that creating an environment where everyone is valued, trusted, rewarded and empowered can go great lengths to combatting the “transient” or fleeting worker. It is now well known that generation Z are less motivated by money, and tend to move horizontally across job roles rather than working upwards, thus building workplaces that really value employees is crucial in this climate.

The physical walls of your workplace can similarly impact hugely on engagement levels. And with workplace design undergoing a paradigmatic shift, what with the implementation of Activity Based Working, biophillic design, co-working and the like, the way employees engage is different. As per the latest Leesman review, 56% of employees worldwide believe their workplace allows them to work productively. In simpler terms then, almost half of employees do not feel supported by their workplace. Creating a great physical working environment which makes best use of the space you have gives people the foundations needed to work and engage to their full capacity. The working environment becomes then, the building blocks or platform upon which employees can do the best work they can.

Ultimately however, “members” are only committed to their “work roles” if they firstly understand what their role is and what is expected of them. Unclear role definition can mean that people are demotivated and have nothing to aim for. Creating opportunities for advancement as well as natural career path opportunities through skills training provide employees with a sense of direction and can give them skills that are transferable to other areas of the business. Not everyone is driven by money or career paths; identify each individual driver and tailor their role to support their desires.

Our attitude towards, and the way we approach employee engagement hasn’t changed enough in the past twenty years. We’ve come along way in changing attitudes to mental health in the workplace, evident by Theresa May’s recent plea to tackle this stigma. We’ve also made huge advancements in recognising the importance of wellbeing, allowing more people to work flexibly and creating more health and wellbeing programs for staff members. Yet despite this, we still see engagement as we did back in Kahn’s day. The latest report outlining workplace research, ‘The Stoddart Review’ has highlighted the issues in the workplace today and has once again drawn people to the issue of productivity in this country. Perhaps a more nuanced and developed approach to improving employee engagement could go a long way to our productivity problem…