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A Proven Perspective On Employee Engagement

Employee engagement hmmm, I hear this word quite often and many use this word without actually understanding the real meaning. In my two decades of experience in Human Resources, I have come across a lot of managers and even leaders who didn’t quite get it right or even worse got it entirely wrong.

Where or whom do we go to when we need employees to be engaged? Mostly the answer would be HR. The minute I hear this, I ask only one question, if HR takes care of recruitment, onboarding, training & development, grievance management, disciplinary issues, resignations or terminations, and also employee engagement, then what are team leads doing? In my opinion, engagement is no longer just the responsibility of HR, it’s everyone’s baby, including the employees.

Where to focus efforts?

When one goes ABOVE and BEYOND their roles and responsibilities, they are engaged.

With this simple mantra, when I was given the opportunity to lead engagement in my previous role, in a single year along with a team that I formed across the company, we grew our engagement score by 27 points. These engagement scores emerged from regular surveys by a third party – Aon Hewitt. Not just that, it also continued to increase steadily for the next two years. Clearly, when everyone participates, engagement grows.

During this tenure, I also learned that the employees can be classified into three categories
a) Actively Disengaged Employees
b) Engaged Employees
c) Not Engaged Employees

If you lingered on “Actively Disengaged Employees”, you are absolutely correct; this is the scary lot. They are not only disengaged and unhappy about the work and organisation, but spread negativity among others and bring down the overall engagement levels. The worrying part is that despite being unhappy, they stick around the longest. In fact, other potentially engaged employees also slowly start moving out, leaving a large proportion of actively disengaged employees in your workforce.

To add to that, it might come to you as a surprise or perhaps you too are aware of this, that the vast majority of your workforce comes under the not engaged employees segment, they simply come to work put in their time and leave, they don’t see the need to go ABOVE and BEYOND their role and responsibilities. Here is where we as individuals, leaders, managers, peers & colleagues must step up and be the catalyst.

Employee engagement during a crisis

March 2020 was the beginning of COVID – 19 in India and no one was prepared for what was going to hit us, and when it did it hit us like a ton of bricks.

The employees were all of a sudden cut of from the office surroundings, colleagues, water cooler gossips, sutta (cigarette) breaks, team lunches, etc.

This is when I started speaking with industry leaders, my ex-colleagues on what’s next. How do we manage this situation and all they were worried about was productivity, how do I meet my targets & what will my client say? In the months to come the managers were happy that the targets are being met, production is high and attrition is low.

Now, why was that, was it that employee engagement increased or dear I say it was the fear of losing a stable job in these tough times? And attrition being in control was more of a consequence of jobs simply drying up in the market.

Now don’t get me wrong there are good leaders as well, who have the ‘employees first’ mindset. They looked at the employee’s mental wellbeing, stress levels, challenges they faced and addressed them.

One of the leaders I spoke with mentioned that he had a great idea, which helped him improve productivity and my obvious question was what was it? The statement was “Now that the individuals are saving time on travel, this saved time will be put into production”. I ask you if this happens what does the employee learn from his leader? Take my word for it, employees learn that this is an acceptable practice.

And why only in COVID times, in my previous role I used to conduct a lot of IJP’s (internal job postings) and was at times amazed by the answers we would get to hear as the jury during role-plays. There was simply no empathy. It didn’t take very long before realising that where managers had shown the same lack of empathy towards their team members, it was assumed to be part of the job and very normal behaviour.

Once again, I reiterate that employee engagement is not only an HR issue it’s a business one and everyone should take notice.

WFH and employee engagement

WFH (Work from Home) the most widely used acronym in the corporate world now. To maintain BAU, companies provided the following a) Internet Data Card b) VOIP (International calling) c) Personal Laptops / Desktops d) Internet Reimbursement. Some even provided a furniture allowance to help employees set up a desk from their homes. Yes, it plugged the resources gaps, but did it really resolve the teams’ challenges they faced daily while WFH?

Teams faced internet issues, banking issues, laptop issues, etc. When employees reached out to customer service advisor (internal or external), they too, were working from home due to the pandemic situation, and many times calls dropped or there was background interference – pressure cooker whistle, kids crying in the background, on one call I even heard a train pass by.

Employees in India typically face, space constraints not everyone has a separate study area or a dedicated space to work from home, poor infrastructure (internet connectivity), joint families, the Indian woman still had to continue to do everything she did and also now had to take care of the kids who are at home attending school. Most families don’t have full-time help at home either.

With all this, what do you think would be the engagement of your employee with their work or workplace? Some employees may be putting up a happy front, taking calls, and maybe continue to be engaged, while some others may be merely doing their jobs. Few others might just be waiting to hang up or not interested.
In some cases, it may be very apparent that they are upset and frustrated.

Can you imagine, if there is a significant number who are not engaged, not being heard, and are in front-facing roles, what can happen? Yes, the business is bound to suffer sooner than later.

What role can leaders play?

In the digital age where the touchpoints are limited and through audio/video only, we as leaders need to step up and take charge of engagement quickly, yes, I know I have mentioned that it’s everyone’s onus, but the buck must stop somewhere!
If some teams are engaged it is because of touchpoints created by the leader. I still remember my previous bosses in this regard. This is around the time video calling was a novelty and there were no smartphones around. I had to connect with them over phone calls as we were in different locations. After each call, I felt energised, more focused and happier, and ready to take on challenges. Not just that it impacted me positively, it also rubbed off on my teams.

Why and how did it work. It is because they cared and not just words but genuinely! You could feel it in their tone, their voice, pitch, and most importantly they heard me out. There are many such things a leader can do, but this one was most impactful for me because there was empathy. Many times when we are asked what is “empathy”? Our answer is putting ourselves in the other persons’ shoes and understanding their pain. Why is it only always about pain and not about joy/happiness/pride/surprise?

I guess, enough said, I leave you with my thoughts and experiences to ponder about how you can engage your teams here on.

How would you score employee engagement in your organisation? Is it high or low? Is it purpose-driven or mandate-driven? Do you wish to give your company direction, and drive employee engagement strategically?

If yes, simply reach out to us at contact@yellowspark.in and we’ll give you a customised program for your organisation. This will be a fun, educative, and immersive experience for all your employees and you!

Author Profile: Prashant Mehta comes with over 8,395 days of experience as he likes to put it, simply said it adds up to over 2 decades of rich experience in Human Resources. He is passionate about employee engagement and also a certified ACC and Happiness Coach and a Mindfulness trainer. Prashant was invited by Yellow Spark to share his views in an article as a guest writer.

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A Proven Perspective On Employee Engagement
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Published on:  April 28, 2021