Gary Cattermole, Director, The Survey Initiative, is an employee engagement specialist and Engage for Success Guru. Here he steps up onto his soap box to share his thoughts on happy employees and employee engagement.
It’s a constant bug bear of mine that people think employee engagement simply means happy employees! It doesn’t. It’s not true, and I even have evidence to prove it. Let’s start with basics, what does employee engagement provide to the workforce?
Engage for Success define employee engagement as – ‘a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organisation to give of their best each day, committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, with an enhanced sense of their own wellbeing.’
In general terms employee engagement is based on trust, integrity, two way commitment and communication between an organisation and its members. It is an approach that increases the chances of business success, contributing to organisational and individual performance, productivity and wellbeing. It can be measured. It varies from poor to great. It can be nurtured and dramatically increased; it can be lost and thrown away.
If I look back over my career and think about when I was most engaged, on reflection I wasn’t always ‘happy’. I remember being asked to take on projects and work which were outside my remit and which I hadn’t experienced before (from presentations in front of hundreds of people, to complex project management). I was constantly being challenged and stretched. My manager saw something in me and was very supportive in helping me develop my career goals; but I was out of my comfort zone doing things that I never thought I could, but I did, and of course I was incredibly productive for my employer. I also learnt so many new skills and began to believe in myself and my abilities and as a consequence had much more faith in my skills, gaining a huge sense of achievement and personal satisfaction. However, let there be no doubt, during these times I was far from happy; in fact I can remember some intense feelings of being under stress and pressure – albeit manageable.
Don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world we all want our employees to be happy. We spend enough time at work so we need to enjoy our work, but we know that it is highly unlikely that people are going to be happy all the time. This doesn’t mean that they are not highly engaged or motivated however and we need to be careful to acknowledge and understand this.
We always recommend our clients set their employee engagement indicators against key business performance indicators. This allows you to quickly understand and visualise the relationship between engagement and performance within your organisation. It also helps to locate areas/branches that need support. For example, we were working for a major High Street retailer and many of their outlets were highlighted as having a ‘happy’ workforce – great, everyone thought. However, when these ‘happy areas’ were put alongside the business performance stats it quickly became clear there was a link between underperforming stores and happy staff. When we analysed the issue in more depth we uncovered a problem with weak store management. The employees in these stores were having a great time at work, and everyone thought the manager was their best friend. In essence all of the sales assistants were very happy to get up in the morning to go to work, but whilst they were there they were only just doing the basics: stocking shelves, cashier duties and minimal customer service. Nobody was trying to up sell or offer products that could be useful for a customer, or go above and beyond their duties in any way. Interestingly, happiness levels in those stores performing the best were typically lower by 10% than their poorer performing counter parts. Again, upon investigation, staff were not unhappy but they were being challenged, stretched and demanded of by their store manager. Merely having happy staff did not equate to employee engagement and higher productivity.
Even in the most inspirational of workplaces I think it’s unfair to expect employees to be happy 100 percent of the time. One piece of advice I would give to middle managers is to take into account all those factors that affect an individual that are not within the control or remit of the organisation. I think we have to take a holistic approach to an employee’s wellbeing. A good manager will understand an individual’s personal needs and will spot signals if something is not going well and should offer support, where possible, but at the very least they need to be aware of individual needs and circumstances. They cannot necessarily influence levels of happiness but can foster great feelings of support and, as a manager, you have the single biggest control of an employee’s engagement levels.
Interestingly, we have a vast range of people in vocations where they openly state day in day out that they love their job. Here, doctors, teachers, police and firemen for reasons close to their hearts believe that this is their raison d’etre. But naturally it doesn’t stop them from being unhappy in the workplace. Take Junior Doctors at the moment, they love what they do, but not even Jeremy Hunt would say they were happy!
When I go to work I’m pretty much happy most of the time, but I would be lying to say that I never get stressed as I juggle work and family life. However, I am productive and I’m inspired each day to create new solutions for my organisation and our clients. I would recommend that each one of you walk through the doors of your workplace on a Monday morning and survey the mood. If someone’s looking too happy, maybe ask yourself why?
To discover more about employee engagement, visit www.surveyinitiative.co.uk.