Employee engagement. It’s a phrase we use almost every day and with know that it is definitely A Good Thing. But what exactly is employee engagement, and what are the key elements? The result of some recent research may surprise you…

Employee engagement is often defined by its results; better productivity, clearer communications, innovation success stories. However, that assumes every business understand what employee engagement means to their employees, and what is required to achieve it.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Eric Garton and Michael C. Mankins of Bain and Co. looked at employee engagement from the perspective of what was required to achieve three level of employee engagement:

  1. Satisfied
  2. Engaged
  3. Inspired

Each level has certain key requirements. Satisfied employees require a safe working environment, the tools to do the job, the freedom to do their jobs without excessive paperwork, and proper recognition and reward for their efforts. So far, so good.

Engaged employees require more; to be able to make a difference, have an impact, learn and grow in their role, have job autonomy and, perhaps most interesting of all, feel they are part of ‘an extraordinary team’. Note that word, ‘extraordinary’. Not a team, not even a good team, but an extraordinary team. This evidence would suggest that without the right team in place, no employee will be able to rise to the top level, to become an inspired employee.

Inspired employees require everything the other two levels need, plus inspiration from their company and their company leaders.

As Garton and Mankins point out, moving up to Inspiration level is important for both employees and the company. According to their research, inspired employees are 2.25 times more productive.

There is a striking element ‘missing’ from this viewpoint; monetary reward. It appears at the Satisfaction level, but disappears after that. In other words, Garton and Mankins are suggesting that financial reward alone cannot counteract the absence of level 2 requirements. If your business doesn’t create the right team, and enable employees in that team to do their jobs with autonomy to really make a difference, waiving a fatter pay cheque will not make them either more engaged or ultimately more inspired.

Equally, coming up with inspiring mission statements and bringing in new leaders will not pull employees up from Engaged to Inspired, unless the foundations are in place for them to convert that inspiration into working reality. At level 2, employees need to be able to make a difference – and be able to see that they have made a difference. That in turn comes from the level 1 requirements for recognition and reward.

The challenge, therefore, is to put in place easy to access, simple to use systems that allow every employee the potential to rise from level 1 to level 3. As Garton and Mankins state:

“It’s probably unrealistic to think that you can inspire every employee in your organisation — each individual works for different reasons. But many people do seek fulfilment in their jobs. If you aren’t trying to inspire these employees, you are leaving real money on the table.”

An employee network allows your business to put in place all those key elements in a virtual solution any employee can access, anytime. It’s a safe place to work as it’s purely for your business employees, it gives them the tools they need to rank, comment, response and interact, and it’s not bogged down with excessive bureaucracy or overbearing management.

A cloud-based employee network allows any employee to be a member of an extraordinary team, even if the team consists of people spread across the entire country or the globe. With transparent contributions and recognition and reward systems built in, input and effort can be noticed and acknowledged by both management and your employees’ peers.

With all the right elements in place, adding the top layer of inspiration from your business leaders becomes in itself an inspiring task. How can you lift your employees to new heights? Is your company mission getting stale, or too profit-focussed? An employee network gives you a safe environment to gently test what exactly does inspire your employees – and what leaves them cold.

So if your employee engagement solution isn’t getting the results you expect, strip it back. Check those fundamental elements exist in your solution. Then rebuild, ensuring all the elements support in place to help employees be truly inspired by you and your business.