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8 January 2021

The secret to employee engagement in the digital workplace

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Worker looking happy and engaged in her job

The rewards of employee engagement have been studied and discussed many times over. In fact, according to Gallup, highly engaged teams are 21% more productive than those with low engagement.

In the 17th Century, Sir Walter Raleigh led expeditions to the Americas in search of El Dorado; a city fabled to be made of gold. Success would mean fortune, fame, and rewards beyond comprehension. Had Raleigh been an HR Director in the 21st century, his quest would undoubtedly have been to seek out the key to employee engagement!

Why bother?

Let’s look at what this means for today’s business that is trying to remain competitive.

The rewards of employee engagement have been studied and discussed many times over.  The common agreement is that more engaged employees equals more productive employees. In fact, according to Gallup, highly engaged teams are 21% more productive than those with low engagement.

Where it all goes wrong

Where many have failed in their mission is to understand how to achieve such a level of engagement rather than merely communicate by shouting louder.

I’ll let you into the secret, but first, let’s talk about what employee engagement is not about:

  1. It’s not just a newsletter that acts as an internal PR effort
  2. It’s not about hiding information or releasing the better sound bites
  3. It’s not a once a month event to achieve a meaningless KPI for shareholders
  4. It’s not a paragraph in a director’s monthly summary to confirm they have engaged with some employees
  5. It’s certainly not something you can outsource or delegate to the newest member of the team as you don’t really have a job for them yet

What’s the biggest failure of employee engagement within your business?

For many, it is the annual employee survey. Often, leaders complain that the completion rate is too low, department leaders didn’t champion the completion of the survey and general apathy was blamed. But the real reason for all these issues is because employees don’t see how the survey will make any change within the business!

Unless you can assure people that their time and feedback is valued and that you will act on their feedback, their level of commitment to the survey will be low. You can quickly change this by setting a deadline to tell people the outcomes and what changes you are going to make.  But don’t hide bad news or feedback!  Instead, be transparent and share results widely so people can view them and comment. 

While I’ve focussed on a survey as an example, the advice can apply across many aspects of your employee engagement strategy and start to form the basis of your engagement culture.

Why the culture discussion is so important

Culture is at the heart of engagement and equally, engagement is at the heart of culture. They are inseparable and when businesses suffer from a poor culture, employee engagement should be the starting point for any business leader who wants to remedy it. While communication cuts across most areas of employee engagement, leadership will always be the defining part of any engagement strategy especially if this is the root in a digital workplace. Access to IT has made leaders in business, sport, politics, and all other areas of life fully accessible to the people they serve. Leaders need to lead employee engagement with confidence through a digital platform and not hide behind gatekeepers who respond on their behalf. 

The foundation for employee engagement is open, honest conversations where information is shared with employees to help them understand more about their contribution to the business.  When combined with a digital platform to help make this a two-way flow of information, including feedback from employees, the value of employee engagement increases. 

There are several ways to boost your employee engagement but don’t let anyone tell you there is a prescriptive route to follow! There are many books and articles available which outline some incredible journeys that businesses have taken to turn around a failing venture.  You should read these.  But then determine what factors will work for you. There is no formula and right or wrong way!

Here are some ways businesses have sought to drive employee engagement:

  1. CEO led feedback groups – previously in person but now increasingly online
  2. Ask the CEO discussion forums – where employees can post questions and genuinely get a response from the CEO
  3. You said we did digital forums – a place where the business can actively feedback the difference the employees have made
  4. Meaningful newsletters and updates – not just a PR exercise but news about the business focus, financial standing, growth opportunities, how people can contribute, celebrating successes etc
  5. Wellbeing focus – digital groups offering peer-to-peer support, signposting of service, and any schemes that may be open to employees
  6. Company values – constantly referring to company values and making them accessible to everyone across the business
  7. Knowledge sharing – making reports, finances, policies, competitor research, and other resources available so that employees can use the information within their daily work or provide comment/feedback to improve a process
  8. Peer recognitions – strip away the bureaucracy of saying ‘thank you’ to a colleague and let people provide recognitions in the moment
  9. Booking holiday – it might appear to be just a process but booking a holiday (or any other type of absence) is a hygiene factor for all employees.  It needs to be quick and visible
  10. Providing access 24/7 – businesses have come to realise that employees expect a better level of service and this includes access to information.  Making all the above available through any device 24/7 is now a basic requirement. 

Your leaders are the key

Are you still looking for the secret?  It’s leadership.  Unless your leaders are living the company values, being an engagement role model, and holding other people to account for creating an open culture, then you’re not going to deliver the engagement you desire.  You can make your mission a lot easier by ensuring you have the correct software in place to provide a platform for you to drive employee engagement.  Don’t be fooled by software that is trying to be an engagement platform but really is not suitable to support you.

Introducing People First Connect

People First Connect, by MHR, is a remote working platform that enables employees across organisations to connect, engage, and be empowered. Vital to increasing productivity and boosting employee engagement. 

PS. Sir Walter Raleigh never found El Dorado, but an HR Director has the tools available to help them deliver employee engagement within the digital workplace!

Andy Davies

As an expert in human resources and a member of the CIPD, Andy is now responsible for developing the implementation strategy for People First partners. Passionate about the future of HR, employee engagement and performance management, Andy often writes and offers best practice advice on the need for archaic HR practices to evolve in order for organisations to stay relevant within the ever-changing world of work

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