Engaging the Workforce
Engaging the Workforce
The first thing to say about employee engagement is that there is no quick fix; no button to press; no magic therapy involved in achieving employee engagement. It is all about the attitude of ‘controllers’ (ie managers) towards their employees, and about their combined attitude towards the meaning of work.
What do we mean by employee engagement?
Employee engagement is a relatively recent interest for researchers and is characterised by energetic and effective connection with work.
Engagement has been described as ‘a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterised by vigour, dedication and absorption’.
- Vigour is characterised by ‘high levels of energy and mental resilience whilst working, and willingness to invest effort in one’s work, and persistence in the face of difficulties’.
- Dedication refers ‘to be strongly involved in one’s work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge’.
- Absorption is characterised by being ‘fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one’s work, whereby time passes quickly and one has difficulties with detaching oneself from work’.
Engagement, as described above, can be provoked in three ways, producing varying degrees of intensity:
- Loyalty – a form of employee engagement that arises from experiences in the past of good, mutually supportive, relationships between the employer and the employee.
- Economic – a form of employee engagement which is based on an assessment of costs and benefits of remaining with this employer compared to the costs and benefits of moving to another employer.
- Social engagement – a form of employee engagement which is closely associated to psychological ‘flow’, a sense of oneness with the activity being pursued. This aspect of engagement is very intense, and produces a sensation of ‘feeling at one with the world’, has the capacity to banish anxieties and concerns, and makes one feel completely focused, satisfied and happy. This form of engagement produces the highest levels of performance in individuals.
So, how is engagement achieved in the workplace?
Unlike economic engagement that merely relies on paying people more (the argument supporting Bankers bonuses to keep the Bankers in London), achieving social engagement requires a systemic approach.
There is no quick fix; no button to press; no magic therapy. Achieving social engagement is about the attitude of ‘controllers’ towards their employees, and about their combined attitude towards the meaning of work.
The effective systemic approach forms a significant portion of The Wellbeing and Performance Agenda, an agenda that is concerned with sustaining psychological wellbeing at work as this produces the context for individual high performance. ‘If you feel well, you perform better than if you feel ill’.
The coat hook for social engagement is commitment and trust between employers and employees. Those who feel strong commitment and trust between themselves and their ‘controllers’ will manifest the sensations of strong social engagement. The route to strong social engagement, therefore, is strong commitment and trust between people at work.
How do you build and sustain commitment and trust?
The systemic approach is based on the principles that people behave according to their interpretation of the context in which they find themselves, and that it is the cultural context of the workplace that determines the performance outcome. The approach is equally based on adaptive principles – shared responsibility for an organisation; independent judgment; embedded learning; leadership skills development and the exposure and resolution of ‘Elephants in the Room’. This requires a focus on three elements of work:
- Managing my Organisation. This focuses on laying down the cultural context within which everyone is expected to behave. Key to this is ‘the big idea’, an architecture that is inclusive and ‘rules’ that address 13 factors of work that have critical influence on commitment and trust. This produces a Positive and Adaptive Culture.
- Managing my People. This focuses on the behaviours that ‘controllers’ should demonstrate in their interactions with others that promote commitment and trust, and have the persuasive power to persuade others to do things they might otherwise not wish to do, but to do them without any form of psychological distress, and with a high level of engagement. The behaviours become a natural consequence of acquiring and embedding 9 personal attributes.
- Managing Myself. This focuses on building personal social resilience – the ability to cope with adverse events without experiencing any stress symptoms, and using adverse events to trigger opportunities for personal growth. Strengthening resilience is based on understanding that everyone is motivated by self interest, and that we can all act in ways that builds and sustains commitment and trust between individuals that leads to reciprocal behaviours. Supporting someone else’s self interest in a context of commitment and trust almost always results in the other person supporting our self interest. This strong relationship between people sustains resilience, but is, also, central to social engagement.
Some reflective questions you might like to ask yourself about employee engagement:
- 1. Which form of engagement is strongest, if any, in you and those with whom you work? Measure your strength on a Likert Scale of 1 = not very strong to 5 = totally engaged.
- 2. What is the route to social engagement? How far along that route do you think you have travelled in your current role?
- 3. People who work excessive hours may be either strongly socially engaged with their work, or suffer psychological presenteeism (remaining in work but under performing due to anxiety and depression caused by poor manager behaviour, excessive and uncontrollable demands and a host of other causes). Can you spot the difference in your workforce? One group will make you a metaphorical fortune; the other will cost you a metaphorical fortune!
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