FROM THE COMMS CUPBOARD, Episode #17

What do we mean by employee engagement?

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John and Shaun chat about what employee engagement means while falling off their comms cupboard chairs.

What does employee engagement mean, how do we create engagement among hundreds of staff, and is staff a nice word? Plus, is a business responsible for people’s happiness? Kerry Weaver from ER may have all the answers.

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Episode transcript

Shaun: I saw a fun thing on, er … I think I was on Twitter. I say that with such venom, don’t I?

John: It leaves a bad taste in your mouth 😜

Shaun: I’ve really grown to dislike Twitter. Anyway, it’s an essential part of life – an essential part of professional life as much as anything. But I was on Twitter anyway, and there was a fun thing that said: “Write a business horror story in just three words.”

John: OK.

Shaun: Some of them were quite fun. Some of them were really, “Oh god yeah, I know!” One was “email is dead”. I quite like that one. Someone said, “Zoom not working”.

John: I think these have been topics before 😆

Shaun: “Slack is down”. Someone replied to that and said, “Slack is working”! 😆 I thought that was quite good. Another one is “resume office work”. Another one was “go see HR”. Our last episode was about receiving bad news, so that might be one. And then there’s “file not found”. That is the nightmare.

John: Hopefully online working is going to get rid of that.

Shaun: If anyone listening has their own three words, send them in. We’d love to hear what you have to say. But for now, we’re talking about the importance of employee engagement.

John: What do you think employee engagement is? I’ve never liked being called an employee. It doesn’t sound very nice, does it?

Shaun: Is it better than staff?

John: Oh yeah, it’s so much better than staff!

Shaun: Staff was used for decades.

John: Still is. A lot of people still write it. Colleague is nice – it’s friendlier.

Shaun: I’ve spoken to someone who didn’t like that either. It’s subjective I suppose. But the search to find something that isn’t subjective I think is impossible. Stick to one thing. If staff worked for decades, let’s move on to colleagues. Well, probably employees. It seems to be de rigueur.

John: Yet, you can be a colleague without being an employee, right?

Shaun: Yeah! That’s a very good point! So you’re working with a freelancer that week – your colleague for that week, but not necessarily an employee. Did you almost fall off your stool then?

John: I almost fell off the stool 🤕 Got a head injury in this small, dark cupboard.

Shaun: I’d have had to find a light and take a few jackets off you that are hanging up in here. We really are in a cupboard by the way, listeners. So, is it necessary for everyone to be engaged?

John: I’m trying to think how I would define employee engagement. So it would be employees: those people are focused, engaged and probably happy to be there and do their job. And thinking about those things, my answer would be yes. I’m running an organisation and I want them to be focused on the job, I want them to be happy doing it because then I’m going to be more committed to it and feel more energised and engaged. I want to be part of it. So yes.

Shaun: Defining engagement is perhaps where we need to start then, because all of those things are great, but what do we mean by engaged? Is it being fully immersed in the direction of the company, or fully immersed in your role, or fully immersed in the social side of the company? What do we mean by engagement?

John: I think you’re engaged in what the company is trying to do; their purpose. I think that’s a business thing a lot of companies have, is purpose.

Shaun: Their reason for being.

John: Employee engagement is that you understand the purpose of the organisation and want to be a part of it, and you want to help deliver it. Your way of doing that is to deliver your bit; deliver your job. I don’t think it necessarily means you have to be social outside of work. You can be an engaged employee and not stay there until 10pm drinking wine or whatever it is that company does 🍷 Here’s a question for you: Is a business responsible for the happiness of the people?

Shaun: What a great question! Of course, I’m going to say what is happiness? Happiness is different to each person.

John: It makes their job even harder!

Shaun: What happiness is to me at work is very different from the next person, because some people take their reward – take their happiness – from having done a good job and been recognised for it. (An episode we had recently about being acknowledged and getting a pat on the back.) For others, it’s being allowed to leave half an hour early that makes them happy.

John: For other people, it’s having a great job title for their CV, and being the boss and making someone else happy.

Shaun: And for other people, it’s about how much they get paid regardless of what they do for a living.

John: I suppose it comes down to if you’re happy, you’re going to do a better job; if I’m happy at work, I’m going to do a better job and the company’s going to do better.

Shaun: Oh, you’re talking about Kerry Weaver off ER, aren’t you? 🥼

John: She’s a good example!

Shaun: We are going through ER. We’re on season five of that fantastic series ER, and Kerry Weaver is one of those characters that goes above and beyond. Recently, she has felt that she doesn’t have the support of senior management. She’s switched off a little bit and has gone maverick; she’s gone a little bit rogue. Her happiness has been dented somewhat. On the other hand, she’s found a sense of freedom; a different form of being engaged with the business. I guess there are different levels of being engaged with the business, too. You think you can be engaged in one respect, but change tack or change job role or change something about your circumstance – even the person who’s been hired to sit next to you – that can change your engagement with the business.

John: So from a business perspective, some people need to be more engaged than others and need to be engaged in different things. If you’ve got people working in very strategic jobs – they really need to know that strategy and where you’re going to achieve it.

Shaun: Is that only management?

John: No, technically it should be everyone. But could somebody at the bottom of the ladder be able to deliver their part of the job not knowing the bigger picture? Would it make any difference if they did? That’s the question.

Shaun: I’m not sure it would matter as much. Again, it’s subjective. I do think there’s evidence in my work experience of a company over-sharing information. Suddenly, you become a little disengaged with what they’re doing because you don’t necessarily agree with the path.

John: I think, in the jobs that I’ve done, that everyone wants to know things, yet they don’t. Their happiness might derive from, like you said, being able to go home at 4pm every day and not have a stressful thing; not have to check their phone when they go home; not have to log in again. That’s them happy at work. For other people, it’s different.

Shaun: So the key in successfully creating an environment of employee engagement is that it’s best done on an individual level, and knowing those people. So the hard thing, the really tough challenge for any large business is how do you do that when you’re so big? How do you do that when you have so many employees?

John: You need to think about how you measure your engagement. Not just the survey (many organisations have a survey and come away with a score that says “we got 60% employee engagement”) – that’s important, but you can think about measuring in different ways. If people are happy in their job, they’ll stay. You can measure the retention of your people. A big impact on any business is the bottom line, so if lots of people are leaving, you’re going to have that cost of recruitment, and then the cost of training those people and bringing them up to the level they need to be, and the cost of that period of time that person isn’t going to be able to do that job. So you’re going to have three costs when someone leaves, if you think about it in that way. Happier people – engaged people – will stay if you give them opportunity, so that’s a really good business reason for people to be engaged as well.

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