What are the benefits of employee engagement? It’s a straightforward question, but as we explored in a previous article, the benefits rather depend on what you consider employee engagement to be!

A definition of employee engagement

In our previous article, we quoted David MacLeod’s definition:

“(Employee engagement) is about how we create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential.”

In this article, we explore the benefits to your business of increased capability and potential – and what capability and potential actually looks like in practice.

Increasing employee capability

Increasing capability should be built into every job role in your business. Employees should have the opportunity and support to build on their skills and knowledge as part of an ongoing personal development process. The process might involve in-house training, mentoring, or working towards external qualifications.

Personal development has traditionally been seen as a way to create more enthusiasm and motivation for employees, and to increase their commitment levels. (More on this later.)

In practice, increasing capability through personal development can be tricky to get going, especially if the employee doesn’t yet know in which direction they wish to progress. This is where employee engagement can be both the support method and the desired result.

A space to grow capabilities

We were a bit cheeky in that we rejigged MacLeod’s definition to:

“Employee engagement thrives in a virtual workplace where employees can offer more of their capability and potential.”

Here’s why.

A virtual environment in which employees can access information, share knowledge and contribute ideas creates a detailed history of individual activity. It offers managers to see an employee’s interests emerge, and with it, the emergence of hidden capabilities, skills and knowledge.

This can be especially true when the virtual employee engagement space has no departmental or geographical boundaries. If someone from Engineering UK can help solve an issue in Product Development USA, for example, then those involved in both departments gain knowledge and capability.

In turn, their increased capability to problem-solve with colleagues they have probably never met in real life helps them tackle the next issue with more confidence. It is a win-win for all involved and for your business too, creating a more capable, confident and creative workforce.

Peer to peer recognition

A virtual space for employee engagement also reaps another major benefit for your business, peer-to-peer recognition. The simple act of someone else giving a five star thumbs up to their idea, providing that crucial nugget of information, or collaborating with a positive “Yes, let’s do this” builds employee confidence in their own abilities. And, by extension, it creates a willingness to expand their own capabilities beyond what they probably thought themselves capable of.

Peer to peer recognition helps build a workplace community that cuts across departments, locations, and time zones. That community validates and acknowledges contributions that a manager or leader simply wouldn’t have time or capacity to do alone, and that validation activity in turn builds confidence and commitment.

Commitment and potential

An employee may be committed to working for you for a whole variety of reasons, most of which will have very little to do with the job they actually do. That’s why a committed employee may not be reaching their potential, let alone expanding beyond it.

The reason might be as simple as purpose. In a thought-provoking article for Forbes.com, Alexandra Douwes suggested that:

“One of the most powerful drivers of engagement is purpose… Cultivating a purposeful workforce not only benefits employees, but it can give employers a competitive advantage as well. Imagine a world where everyone spent the majority of their waking hours working on something that mattered to them. We would have happier employees and more productive companies – the ultimate win-win. ”

The definition of purpose

Ms Douwes recognises that the definition of purpose is different for every employee, and that a strong mission statement and story is part of the way employee answer the question; “Why do I do this job?”

She suggests that every employee (and that includes you as a business leader) should:

“Consider what exactly you want to get out of work, how you define success, and what type of environment might enable you to achieve success  on your terms.”

Purpose and employee engagement

As business leaders, we need to examine what we consider the purpose of any job position in our organisation. If we consider a role to be just another cog in the machine, then we need to refresh our viewpoint as to why that single cog is a vital cog in the whole machine.

A change in perspective can often provide a fresh sense of purpose. (1). A government minister was visiting a factory that manufactured advanced wound management products. A group of ladies were employed to hand-wind bandages. In a moment of breath-taking inspiration (not), the minister asked one of them, “What do you do?”

She replied “I save lives.”

She explained how the precise winding of that bandage saved medics at the scene of an emergency crucial seconds when applying the bandage, and how that could save a life by stemming blood loss faster.

Celebrate your purpose

The ladies knew the purpose of their job because they understood

  1. The wider picture
  2. Why their expertise mattered so much to the customer.

That helped them engage fully with the skilled work they did. They were committed to saving lives, not just doing the job. As a result, the benefits to the business were hand-wound into every bandage that left that factory: commitment, engagement, quality, and consistency.

The five dimensions of employee engagement

Commitment is clearly a major benefit of employee engagement, but is it a direct result of it? In a ground-breaking study for the MIT Sloan Management Review in 2015, (2) V. Kumar and Anita Pansari wanted to learn:

“How employee attitudes and behaviors affected company performance. This led us to define employee engagement as a multidimensional construct that comprises all of the different facets of the attitudes and behaviors of employees towards the organization.”

The research team broke employee engagement down into five ‘dimensions’:

  1. Employee satisfaction
  2. Employee identification
  3. Employee commitment
  4. Employee loyalty
  5. Employee performance

The authors suggested that each dimension needed to occur in order, so that employees could progress from one to the next. Identification couldn’t come before satisfaction, for example, and commitment couldn’t happen before identification.

The authors were very clear on the business benefits of commitment, and the way it evolves:

“Commitment is an important facet of employee engagement, as it induces employees to do more than what’s in their job descriptions. It develops over time and is an outcome of shared experiences. It is often an antecedent of loyalty…. A committed employee guards the organization’s secrets and works for its best interests.”

Note the emphasis on “shared experiences”. Without a framework for sharing work experiences, this paper suggests that it’s much harder to build commitment.

This takes us back to our concept of a virtual space for employee engagement that can facilitate and bring together these shared experiences. Shared experiences are the outcome of team and individual-level shared knowledge, skills, input, involvement, and ideas, not just the broadcasting of company successes.

Loyalty releases potential

For the business benefit of potential to be fully realised, the authors saw the need for loyalty.

“Employee loyalty to an organization creates a positive attitude about the organization, which can motivate employees to do more than expected.”

And, needless to say, from loyalty comes the bottom line benefit most businesses look for first, better performance.

“Employee performance can be seen in the quality of goods and services the company produces and in customer interactions and feedback.”

Benefits to your customers of employee engagement

The authors’ conclusion neatly sums up the business benefits of engaged employees to the people who actually determine the success or failure of any business – the customers.

“Engaged employees will pass on their enthusiasm to customers, and they will develop and deliver better products and services — thereby positively impacting sales and profit.”

And finally… engagement and employee health

One significant business benefit of employee engagement that is often overlooked is employee health. A study published in the US Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (3) examined a health risk appraisal (HRA) which covered employee engagement, health risks, and on-the-job productivity loss (presenteeism).

The results were impressive:

“The highest engaged employees had significantly fewer health risk factors (69.7% overall low-risk status; 1.91 average health risks) and significantly less presenteeism (7.7%) than the mid engagement (67.9% low-risk, 1.98 risks, 9.2% presenteeism) and worst engagement (55.0% low-risk, 2.53 risks, 14.0% presenteeism) groups.”

Making it happen

With so many business benefits associated with employee engagement, why are some businesses still struggling to make it happen effectively? That’s the subject of our next article, the methods of employee engagement.

About TalkFreely

Our employee engagement app creates the workspace where employees can offer more of their capability and potential. With TalkFreely, you can:

  • identify areas of your business that are disengaged
  • visualise the problem
  • take action to do something about it

Our app is practical, easy to use and available to every employee, wherever they are, on whatever connected device they use. Call us with your specific requirements on 01730 207 150, or take our software for a free trial run.

TalkFreely: the employee app that engages everyone.

REFERENCES
  1. Personal anecdote from one of our team
  2. “Measuring the Benefits of Engagement” V. Kumar, Anita Pansari, MIT Sloan Management Review Vol. 56, No.4, Summer 2015
  3. The Association of Employee Engagement at Work With Health Risks and Presenteeism. Burton, Wayne N. MD; Chen, Chin-Yu PhD; Li, Xingquan MS; Schultz, Alyssa B. PhD. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: October 2017 – Volume 59 – Issue 10 – p 988–992, doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001108