Why should managers bother with employee engagement?
- 6 Min Read
Come on, managers, is it really worth it? John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership, The Myers-Briggs Company, makes a case for engagement as a management priority.
If you’ve read more than a few HR or L&D articles or blog posts, it’s likely that the topic of ‘engagement’ has come up. Engaged employees, who understand their job role and how this fits with their organization’s values, purpose and objectives, are willing and able to give their best at work. It’s not surprising therefore that many organizations see engagement as a way to build performance. In a recent survey[i] of 25,000 business leaders, employee engagement was rated as one of the top three factors driving bottom-line results. Research tells the same story; when employees are engaged at work, they are likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction and motivation, and lower levels of absenteeism and presenteeism[ii], are less likely to leave their jobs[iii] and are more innovative and productive[iv].
It’s clear then that there are many advantages to increasing employee engagement. But how can organizations make this happen? In a careful review of all the evidence, Caroline Knight and her colleagues[v] found that several methods are effective, including increasing intrinsic motivation (the job itself is interesting and rewarding); ensuring that the behaviours rewarded by managers match the organization’s official values; facilitating good relationships; and fulfilling the psychological contract, the unwritten expectations between an employee and the organization.
Knight found that many of the most effective interventions focused on the health and well-being of employees. At the Myers-Briggs Company, we believe that well-being is one of the keys to increasing engagement and retaining staff. Over the last three years we have been carrying out research into well-being, based on an international sample of over 10,000 people[vi]. One intriguing finding was that for those who already had high well-being, the activity most often mentioned as improving well-being further was simply ‘going to work’. This suggests that organizations should be able to create a virtuous circle where a healthy workplace increases engagement and well-being, which in turn fosters a healthy workplace, and so on. Organizations that focus on well-being create differentiation from their competitors and are likely to show improved performance from their employees.
In the right environment, individual employees can do much to increase their work engagement, especially in organizations that encourage ‘job crafting’, where an employee makes changes to his or her job role so that it better fits their interests and skills. This crafting could involve changing the tasks, how tasks are performed, or how often employees work alongside other people. In one example, hospital janitors were able to craft their job to include more interaction with patients. They went from describing themselves as ‘just cleaners’ to seeing themselves as an essential part of the healing team of the hospital, more engaged and more productive. It’s also interesting that in our own research[vii], the top five work-related activities that employees could do to increase their workplace well-being all involved elements of job crafting:
- Focusing on work tasks that interest me
- Focusing on a work task that makes me feel positive
- Undertaking work where I learn something new
- Taking breaks at work when needed
- Undertaking challenging work that adds to my skills and knowledge
Although individuals have a role in building their own engagement, managers and leaders are the catalysts who can create the climate where this can happen. Research shows that managers with a more motivational, engaging leadership style not only directly increase employee engagement, but also foster social support and a feeling of autonomy, which in turn increase engagement further[viii]. Of course, many managers may feel that employee engagement is a ‘nice to have’, but that they are so busy and overstretched that they don’t have time for this and isn’t it the individual employee’s responsibility anyway? The short answer is that the first steps to building employee engagement need not take a large amount of time in order to realise many of the benefits. Simply having the initial discussion about engagement, allowing a degree of autonomy, and demonstrating how work tasks fit into the big picture will help. Where time permits, specific actions that managers may carry out could include:
- Recruit the right people for the right roles in the first instance – but then give them the opportunity to craft their jobs, in a controlled way, as conditions change.
- Ensure work tasks are meaningful for employees. Though it may take longer to set the context of a task and show how it contributes to the wider aims of the organization, a more engaged employee and a better result will be the consequence.
- Don’t rely on an annual, mid-year or even quarterly review; check in often and give (and receive) regular feedback. Remember that different people may want different things from feedback; tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment are an effective way of figuring out how best to communicate with people who may not have the same approach and needs as you.
- Don’t keep the idea of ‘engagement’ a secret; discuss it with your employees.
- Make the right training and development available.
Engagement surveys are used by many organizations, but they can only generate any improvement if employees and managers can take action on the results. This is part of the reason why at the Myers-Briggs Company we are increasingly concentrating on well-being and why we have developed the Global Well-being at Work Inventory (GWWI) to audit this essential element. The key emphasis here is on the individual, and their relationship with their manager and the wider business.
[ii] Schafeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B. & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30.
[iii] Brunetto, Y., Teo, S. T. T., Shacklock, K, & Farr-Wharton, R. (2012). Emotional intelligence, job satisfaction well-being and engagement; explaining organizational commitment and turnover intentions in policing. Human Resource Management Journal, 22 (4)
[v] Knight, C., Patterson, M., & Dawson, J. (2017). Building work engagement: A systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of work engagement interventions. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38(6).
[vi] Boult, M. J. L.., Thompson, R.C. & Schaubhut, N. A. (2019), Well-being in the workplace: Why it matters for organizational performance and how to improve it. The Myers-Briggs Company. Downloaded from https://eu.themyersbriggs.com/download/item/a19467ff17be42508bc433cfebb27a0d
[vii] Boult et al, as above
[viii] Nikolva, I., Schaufeli, W. & Notelaers, G. (2019, in press). Engaging leader – engaged employees? A cross-lagged study on employee engagement. European Management Journal.