Employee Engagement: The evolution of human civilization to the next level
Employee Engagement: The evolution of human civilization to the next level
Have we done away with motivation theories? Have we outgrown Maslow, McClelland, Vroom and Herzberg? Have we found a new way to take employees to the next level of being ‘meaningful’? Is ‘Employee Engagement’ as a concept creating this sense of ‘being meaningful?
The pandemic threw up two points of evolution as human beings in their interaction with each other not the Kardashev type of energy and technological evolution. One was a sense of concern and the second one was a sense of care. The difference is concern is an emotion and care is an action.
In this much researched article Dr. Augustine, the author of the book ‘Futuristic _ HR’ answers the questions raised above?
Events affect us. It doesn’t matter whether it is a natural one or a man-made one. A tsunami, a tornado or an Olympic game or a war affect us. The pandemic has affected and impacted humanity as never before except the world wars.
Humanity evolves after every major event. The pandemic threw up two points of evolution. One was a sense of concern and the second one was a sense of care. The sense of concern normally is a product of the ‘feeling of love’.
The difference is, concern is an emotion and care is an action. Creation is always based on an emotion. Creation of art, poetry, painting, architecture, designs, science and even technology seem to be based on an emotion as its foundation. Curiosity, inner search of consciousness and the desire to find answers and expression appear as creation.
Employee engagement is creation of several initiatives to express concern and care.
Searching for an allegory or an imagery for concern and care that is different from whatever we have heard till now, like the mother bird caring for the chicks or all mothers for their off-springs, or the human relationship like the teacher student made me discover something new.
Caring is much deeper than it appears
My discovery is that no matter which religion or which part of the world or the present or past time frame ‘God’ seem to be a caring entity. Yes, indeed in every religion the concept of ‘God’ is shown or propagated as a caring entity. If Ramakrishna Paramahansa is to be taken seriously that ‘God is in you’ would mean showing that rare unflinching faith in humanity. In simple words it means caring for human being as though they are ‘God’. For Mother Theresa then this concern and care is a way of expressing God’s presence in human beings.
Employee engagement is all about caring for employees. Look at the pandemic times from 2020 to 2022 (hopefully it ends now).
Theoretical frame work of EE
When you look at evolution of human civilization on Kardashev scale (basically technology and energy dependency) or 6 stages of emotional evolution or evolution of human capital (skill and capability accumulation) or the desire for the next generation of human existence (desire for better immunity, better mental health, thought out work environment, being meaningful through the work place and giving and receiving concern and care), we realize the dependency of one to the other. All of them actually lead to employee engagement.
Having looked at EE differently, let us now look at various easy and different ways of building EE. When the foundation of EE is so strong it is bound to succeed.
The practical dimension of building employee engagement -13 different ways
- Develop engagement strategies (Source: onpointconsultingllc.com, by Darleen DE Rosa August 12, 2019). Darleen proposes 5 steps to build EE strategy. They are 1. Provide a roadmap for success of the individual through development plans. 2. Recognise good work. 3. Establish two-way communications. 4. Provide a sense of purpose of employee’s job to the end product. 5. Be fair and realistic. These strategic steps appear in the other steps too.
2. Leaders checking on employees
The best of the 6 suggestions given by Psychology.org.au (Maintaining employee engagement during Covid-19 www.psyhology.org.au-APS-COP-IS-C) is ensuring that the leaders continuously check in with the employees about their well-being. Not very difficult. Just a phone call or a message or any other channel of communication. Top management and senior leaders who understand and show care for employee emotional landscape
For most employees the top management leaders are not only role models they want to emulate or idolize but also heroes and superheroes who will take the organisation to the next level and to further heights.
They can reach out to employees through frequent and planned communication on company’s performance, business environment, any major happening that affects the organisation, concern for employees and their wellbeing.
Top management personnel, spending time in the classroom, teaching the employees of the organisation helps to create a ‘Teaching-learning’ organisation. All senior leaders are to be seen and heard. There is some logic behind ‘G to G’ strategy of Google wherein one Googler teaches another.
3. Customer connect and employee engagement
Adam Grant, management professor of Wharton has a new dimension to add. He advocates that the employees talk to their customers who are the recipients of their products and services to enhance employee engagement level. “When clients, customers and other end users’ express feedback and appreciation, employees develop stronger beliefs in the impact and value of their work” (www.knowledge.wharton.uppenn.edu, Grant Adam, ‘Employee Engagement Making a difference’, Sept 15, 2020)
Employee engagement level enhances when there is a connection between the employee and the customers. This connection can be through the product innovation, or enhanced product quality or immediate response to customer complaints.
A business entity exists for the sake of the customer and the return the customer gives to the business entity. Hence when employees are connected with the customer directly or indirectly the employees get a purpose of their job.
There is some magic that happens when employees have an inter-phase with the customers. Something changes in the employees’ attitude towards the customer and the product.
Temkin group published a research study which says that there is a direct co-relation between engaged employees and customer experience. According to a Gartner study 89% of companies now expect to compete based on the experience they provide to customers. The logical flow would be engaged employees provide better customer experience which will provide a better competitive edge in the marketplace. It is the competitive edge that makes an organisation succeed. Therefore, there is a co-relation between employee engagement and success of a business enterprise.
When an employee represents an organisation and becomes its face and spokesperson the attachment of the employee to the organisation increases. So, the engagement level of the employee increases.
There is also a concept of internal customers. For staff/service functions, the internal customers are the employees to whom the services are extended.
Companies like GE and many others invite customers to be trainers and send employees who are not normally in touch with customers to interact with customers as part of the training and development plan of the employee.
4. Connecting with end users – collecting end-user stories.
Prof. Grant goes on to suggest 4 action steps to enhance employee engagement through this rout of connecting with the end user: (1) identify the end-users or recipients/beneficiaries of your team’s work and collect their feedback, (2) share stories of these end-users with your team directly, (3) find new stories to keep the excitement on, and (4) share the stories of your team members.
Employees look for communication from the organisation through their leaders. Due to remote working the recommended frequency is at least once a week by leaders at all levels. Content of communication should include checking with the employees ‘how are they coping with the new normal including health and other factors of employee wellbeing’. This is apart from sharing reliable communication on the pandemic, the company’s performance on its commitment to customers, redesigned business strategy, and other new practices proposed for employee ‘wellbeing’.
Internal communication gets employees aligned to the organisational objectives and creates a sense of pride and belonging.
6. Reliable performance management, rewards and recognition system
Reliability is the key factor in PMS, rewards and recognition system. The basic theory behind reward and recognition is the psychological conditioning which says that ‘whatever is appreciated gets repeated’. Rewards and recognition is a method for appreciating employees’ contribution. This is one of the methods for creating star performers.
Rewards and recognition are organisational ‘story’ creating situations wherein heroes, stars and superstars are born. Interestingly once a star one can always be a star if one continues to perform.
Gallup’s study of 2018 on the ‘State of the Global Workplace’ says ‘the number one reason people leave their jobs is limited recognition and rewards’.
When employees get a feeling that their best efforts are routinely ignored and do not get any recognition, their heart sinks and they leave the organisation. In fact, the saying is that the employees leave their managers rather than the organisation. It is also said that for an employee the immediate reporting supervisor is the organisation.
Recognition has a big role to play for increasing productivity and enhancing employee engagement.
Though rewards and recognition are always stated together, the reward is tangible whereas recognition is intangible. Both have their own values.
Rewards can be cash, shares of the company, automobiles, and similar assets. Dinner with family with one’s manager and his family is another great tangible reward. Paid holidays to exotic locations is another idea which has been grabbing employee attention.
Visibility of reward increases its value as the receiver stands out vis-à-vis others. Rewards also are compared to the rewards given by competition or other reputed organisations. In other words, rewards are comparable as compensation survey is a regular feature and inter-industry connectivity of employees is very high.
The idea is what would be seen, accepted and talked about as a prestigious reward. This might vary from country to country and even city to city. Therefore, designing the reward system should be done with many thoughts and understanding the culture of the location.
There exists criticism of tangible reward system, comparing it to a carrot being given when performance is at an exemplary level and not giving a carrot when performance is not exemplary.
Researchers and management experts are recommending reward system to encourage employees to perform at higher level.
Three types of reward systems seem to be working, namely: (1) Personal rewards,
(2) Team rewards, and (3) Corporate rewards.
Recognition can be certificates, medals, employee of the month schemes, star of the year announcements, plum postings, and recommendation for higher studies at much sought after educational institutes. When recognition is given and the recognition is given due publicity, the recipient becomes a super star.
There are also negative recognition like reprimanding in public (the normal rule is praise or appreciate in public but reprimand in private), being ignored for a plum assignment, not being invited for important decision making meetings and so on.
There are issues with promotion being a recognition tool as promotions should come with competency, company’s value system, behavioural traits of the individual, the individual’s capability to lead a team.
Finally, employee reward and recognition will be very effective if employees also are heard at the time of developing employee reward and recognition system. A reward and recognition system will work if it is known to be fair and objective. The whole concept in reward and recognition is to establish an emotional connect between the organisations and the employee.
In their book, ‘Human Resources Management (15th Edition), Gary Dessler and Biju Varkey site Bank of Baroda’s engagement initiatives under Anubhuti program. They included, employee of the month, spot recognition prizes, Zero hour program (organising one fun event every month), compulsory community service or social service activity by members at least once in 6 months and Anubhuti workshop to get employees involved (p.10). An organisation can design its own engagement program that is unique. This is because of the socio-cultural environment of the organisation.
7.Opportunity for learning and development
Training and development is looked at here in the context of employee engagement as most employees enquire about learning opportunities as they know growth will come from two sources. One is ‘one’s performance’ and the other is ‘learning opportunities’.
Eleven leaders from Harvard came together and produced a 24-page paper on the practices that can enhance EE. The practices suggested by them are: (1) Recruit strategically, (2) Create dynamic onboarding experience, (3) Support people in developing their careers, (4) Support the whole person not the employee, (5) Create opportunities for meaningful collaboration by including your staff to find solutions, (6) Recognise and appreciate individual and team contribution publicly and informally, and (7) Communicate frequently and transparently. (www.harvard.edu, Beverly Beatty et.al, ‘Promising Practices for Employee Engagement – A guide for leaders and managers’). These practices can be considered by leaders and mangers to enhance EE.
Out of this support development and support the whole person stand out. Connect this to Clayton Christenson’s article on ‘How do you measure your life at the end of your journey’ wherein he says developing people has more value than the bank balance.
8. Workspace environment
Coming to the workspace per se, an airy building, controlled temperature, acute sense of cleanliness, reduced noise level, lighting, vibration, and air quality matter. Employee engagement gets enhanced by reduced attrition and increased productivity with the work environment that we create.
Work environment includes work per se, work content, and the organisational environment, a sense of purpose for the job, clearly defined roles and power over one’s work schedule. All the above factors could be conducive to deliver high level performance.
9. Culture of ‘people first’ by caring for the health of the employees and their wellbeing.
It is all about creating a work environment that makes employees feel they are cared for. It is about employees’ health and wellbeing. Work itself has a built-in elements of stress creators with emphasis on deadlines and quality of output.
Organisations plan employee wellness with better work design, more control on one’s job, number of hours of work, social support system, job security (allaying lay off fears), caring for the family, holiday planning (in several organisations unused leave gets lapsed in order to force employees to take leave), celebrating ethnic festivals, creating opportunities for increased social interaction through outbound training programs, picnics, sports events, and other celebrations.
Quite often employees look for organisations that has better culture. The organisations that have better value systems like the Tata groups of companies, HDFC and Wipro not only attract employees but retain employees even in the face of tempting offers.
Transparent and open communication, fair and objective reward system, great emphasis on training and development activities, training and support from immediate supervisor and top management, good winning team members, sense of pride in the reputation of the organisation and presence of super-stars are elements that build the culture of the organisation that keep employees engaged.
10. Vision, mission, and values
As the organisation grows and matures, there could be a slight shift in the way a business entity looks at all its stake holders, product and services range that are offered to the customer. There could be moments that redefine its value system and the vision from where the values have been drawn.
Apart from the slight changes as mentioned above, the top management needs to articulate the vision for the sake of the employees and lead them to achieve the vision.
Actually, the mission and vision give a direction to the company and purpose to the employees to work and contribute. In fact a study has been sighted below wherein employees prefer to work for companies that exhibits and corporate social responsibility and care for the environment.
Displaying a vision statement across the business entity also makes employees align to a purpose. Values of the organizations were tested during the pandemic as all organizations have statements on people’s practices. The companies with better value systems had an edge over others during the pandemic.
11. Immediate manager or the reporting officer
From an employee engagement point of view, even a job applicant will look at the reporting officer and his reputation as a manager who cares for employees and give them full support for performing. Support in terms of learning, emotionally caring for the employee, recognizing his performance, rewarding his performance, and providing all support systems required for doing the job.
Frequent feedback by the immediate supervisor (as a coach) on one’s performance is said to be a powerful motivator for most employees to perform at a higher level. This is because the employee feels that he has been cared for. Care and respect go together. Care is for the person and respect is for the performance.
In an employee’s work life, the person who plays a major role is the immediate boss. Many a career has been built and more than that has been destroyed by the immediate boss. For all practical purposes the ‘immediate boss’ is the organization of an employee.
There are so many different things an immediate boss does including coaching and mentoring the employee.
The employee is also equally in a position to destroy an immediate boss’s career in the event of the immediate boss mishandling the employee’s career or causing unnecessary pain and harm to the employee. Workplace harassment, sexual or otherwise, also can come from the immediate boss.
The immediate boss is the ‘Guru’ of the traditional education system. In fact, if there is one single person who can be held responsible to a larger extent for an employee’s engagement it is the immediate boss.
12. Work diversity and inclusion
Employees are cared for and are given equal opportunity without any regard for their sexual orientation, colour, caste, creed, language, and physical appearance. The central theme is to make employees feel really valued by regarding their opinion and being fair and objective to their performance evaluation, recognition, and reward.
Sharon Florentine Senior writer from CIO lists 8 best practices for creating and sustaining inclusiveness and diversity. They are: (1) establish a sense of belonging for everyone, (2) empathetic leadership is key, (3) A top-down approach isn’t enough (top-down, bottom-up, and middle up and down), (4) quotes don’t automate inclusion, (5) inclusion is on-going and not one of training, (6) maximize joy and connection and minimize fear, (7) forget fit and help individuals to thrive and (8) consider it your brand. (www. cio.com, Florentine Sharon, ’Diversity and inclusion: 8 best practices for changing your culture, Feb 14, 2019).
Sharon’s interpretation of each of the steps gives deep insight into diversity and inclusion issues.
13. Best Friend at the workplace and good relationship with colleagues
Having a best friend at the workplace keeps the employees together and attrition goes down. Gallup reported after a study that workplace friendship increased employee satisfaction by 50 %. The employees with best friends in the workplace are likely to be 7 times more engaged than others.
Organizations can plan a series of activities to bring employees together and enable their social interaction. Frequency of interactions builds relationship.
Process Flowchart (pl place the process flowchart for EE here)
Examples from companies
DocuSign is a global technology platform to manage documents of any size without printing, faxing, scanning, and overnighting.
DocuSign has been the ‘Best employer’ winner for Glass door surveys consistently for five years. Several things are going right for the company. When it comes to employees, the $5000 per employee education fund, organisationally the 1% contribution to environment fund, collectively conscious and continuous effort made to live the mission, strategically detailed focus on diversity and inclusion from all races along with equal pay and opportunity are some of the initiatives that stand out. The mission of DocuSign is to eliminate error-prone paper-based processes which are slow and expensive. DocuSign employees meet outside of work at least once a month.
Dan Springer the CEO of DocuSign says “I consider feedback a gift and we have created multiple opportunities for employees to tell us what we are doing well. Based on that we take action” (www.glassdoor.com, Jackson Elisa Amy, ‘How DocuSign Leverages Glass door to Build a Winning Culture and Candidate Pool’, December 10, 2019).
The best part is their employee survey has just 12 questions. It can be filled by a manager in just under 5 minutes either on the phone or online. Both the CEO Dan Springer and CPO Joan Burke believe in feedback and initiate action.
During the lockdown, employees were allowed to spend up to $300 for buying a computer screen or something. Employees with small children were allowed to spend up to $1000 to keep the small kids busy. Many companies gave up performance reviews. But DocuSign continued with it as it connects with employees. Discreet counselling was also organized for employees to help when needed. (www.diginomica.com, Milne Janine, “I did not go into HR to be sitting by myself, on Zoom every day”, the low down on lockdown from DocuSign’s Chief People Officer’, April 24, 2020). It is no surprise that with so many initiatives DocuSign emerged as one of the ‘Best Companies to work for.
EdelGive takes great pride in employees contributing financially and physically by devoting time and volunteering service to non-profit organizations. More than 3000 employees from 100 plus offices supporting the need of the community is remarkable. There is a dedicated team to monitor, guide, and plan EE initiatives. The organization has the managerial bandwidth to help the non-profit organization in all managerial functions. Employees are not only encouraged to contribute financially but are up-front to interact with the receivers of voluntary services. Story sharing sessions of employees giving voluntary service encourage the listeners and the community they workaround.
In EdelGive, they offer a plethora of opportunities to employees to volunteer as one program alone may not excite everyone. The basic thought is whatever they do should be replicable and customizable. “Over a time we found learned that not all people are interested in all causes and when it comes to volunteering the cause often maters”, (www.indiacsr.in, Jaswaney Priti, ‘Employee engagement: What it takes to run a large scale program’,25/01/ 2018)
Employee engagement-wise such efforts make employees find meaning in what they are doing. Apart from religious organizations, such large-scale voluntary services from a corporate setup are rare and exemplary.
Volkswagen Group of America
Volkswagen believes the company is as good as its employees. “We believe in involved, inspired, and energized employees are the hands, heart, and soul of the company, enabling us to grow and thrive while meeting constant challenges in the marketplace”, (www.volkswagengroupofamerica.com,’ Employee engagement’. There are several initiatives from Volkswagen to improve EE. Some of them are (1) Matching donations from the company as employees to a maximum of $5000 per employee per year. Employees can choose the organization or institution to be the beneficiary of this contribution and (2) Voluntary day program wherein employees get a paid day off for voluntary services wherever the need is felt or in support of government programs, (3) Employee suggestion schemes also allow employees to use their creativity and innovative spirit to improve companies operations, and (4) Employee satisfaction survey conducted among 570,000 employees from 156 locations in 46 countries give the organization to know what is going right and what needs to be improved (www.annualreport2017.volkkswagenag.com,’Employee participation – Volkswagen Group Annual Report’). Volkswagen diligently works on EE to ensure the employees feel engaged at the workplace.
It is not that the motivation theories have been replaced. It is that the human race, in its process of evolution, has gone a little ahead with the concept of EE.
Humanity today thinks about caring not only for fellow humans but also for the environment and the other living beings on earth. When the attrition was 20 plus in most software companies TCS remained at 11% or so. They could have scored very high on all the above 13 points and more. That is something to aspire for.
Research conducted by 4 researchers on EE found that employees were more engaged when they worked for organizations that practice corporate social responsibility and care for the environment. (HBR Oct 13, 2021, Daniel Steel and others)
EE pays back the investment made to employees. When EE is given due importance employees become the centre of the organization. The organizational performance could be a corollary though could be outstanding.
Research had shown that 1500 academic (read research-based) articles have been published in 2020 alone on EE. There are no other HR processes where so many articles have been published in a single year, by researchers in the recent past. It only shows how much EE matters in managing people. EE is basically ‘concern and cares’ for the other person as humanity moves to the next level of evolution.
If EE is the process of raising the bar for improved employee happiness, higher productivity, reduced attrition, unleashing the untapped potential of employees, prompting innovation through employee creativity, improved communication, and connectivity. That is where my question of ‘haven’t we moved ahead as evolving humanity from the days of Maslow and other motivation theorists, comes into the fore for thinkers and practitioners.
The extensive research done shows that the process of creating EE is much deeper, sharper in focus, and very elaborate vis-à-vis the motivation theories. Social scientists, behavioural psychologists, and practicing managers could feel satisfied that people practices are now led by and focused on enhancing employee engagement efforts.
Augustine, ‘Futuristic_ HR’, ACA Publishing House, June 2021’
onpointconsultingllc.com, by Darleen DE Rosa August 12, 2019
Maintaining employee engagement during Covid-19 www.psyhology.org.au-APS-COP-IS-C
www. Knowledge.wharton.uppenn.edu, Grant Adam, ‘Employee Engagement Making a difference’, Sept 15, 2020
‘Human Resources Management (15th Edition), Gary Dessler and Biju Varkey
www.harvard.edu, Beverly Beatty et.al, ‘Promising Practices for Employee Engagement – A guide for leaders and managers’
(www. cio.com, Florentine Sharon, ’Diversity and inclusion: 8 best practices for changing your culture, Feb 14, 2019
www.glassdoor.com, Jackson Elisa Amy, ‘How DocuSign Leverages Glass door to Build a Winning Culture and Candidate Pool’, December 10, 2019
www.diginomica.com, Milne Janine, “I did not go into HR to be sitting by myself, on Zoom every day”, the low down on lockdown from DocuSign’s Chief People Officer’, April 24, 2020
www.indiacsr.in, Jaswaney Priti, ‘ Employee engagement: What it takes to run a large scale program’,25/01/ 2018
www.volkswagengroupofamerica.com,’ Employee engagement’
www.annualreport2017.volkkswagenag.com,’Employee participation – Volkswagen Group Annual Report’
www.annualreport2017.volkkswagenag.com,’Employee participation – Volkswagen Group Annual Report’
For a detailed version of this article, please read Dr. A C Augustine’s book on ‘Futuristic_HR’