Ask anyone who has a job if they feel engaged at work and you will normally encounter a blank stare or a question: “What does engagement at work mean?”
But if you ask the same person if he or she is happy at work, you are guaranteed to receive an immediate response. What most people don’t know, is that the difference between the two is semantic, because being “engaged at work” is in fact the same thing as being “happy at work”.
You might wonder why companies would even bother assessing an employee’s happiness at work. Surely in today’s challenging, belt-tightening and cost-cutting economic climate, those who have a job should be thankful that they are gainfully-employed — and some even think that those with jobs should feel fortunate to be receiving a pay check every month.
This could not be farther from the truth, and simply put, happy and engaged employees make business sense — driving profitability, productivity and workplace harmony.
Referred to as “employee engagement” by the communication industry, the concept of driving workplace happiness include areas such as ensuring shared values and purpose, raising motivation, creating emotional connections to the organisation, enhancing productivity, undertaking meaningful work, offering recognition, and encouraging two-way communication among the entire workforce.
Engaged employees are those who want to do good work and drive the business forward.
More importantly, employee engagement goes beyond having hip offices, free food in the company cafeteria, or even in-office shoulder massages. Of course, freebies and perks such as these help, but true work engagement is much more than this.
So how do you create an office environment of happy and engaged employees?
Firstly, it requires a proactive approach that takes effort, dedication and buy-in from senior management. There must be a commitment to transparency — sharing future plans, milestones and successes, and ensuring that employees understand and support the values and mission of the business.
Because when employees feel connected to the overall purpose of the business and the expectations of their line managers, they are more likely to enjoy work and align themselves with the bigger picture.
Communication must be two-way, with continuous feedback provided by employees back to management and vice versa, including taking the time to listen to employees often. This has to be more than a quarterly e-newsletter, and instead incorporate a mix of events, digital, activations and one-on-ones that balance the fun and the serious.
This also applies to the office environment, where social connections are encouraged and mistakes are considered a natural part of driving innovation.
Recognition and rewards are also extremely important in employee engagement, in order to show that the business appreciates the commitment and efforts of its employees. The focus must be on rewarding appropriate behaviour that drives the organisation forward.
So what are the business benefits of an engaged workforce? In terms of a bottom-line impact, the research is plentiful. Attrition rates are 12 times higher for disengaged employees, whereas highly-engaged employees are almost 90 per cent less likely to leave an organisation than those who are disengaged.
This is significant when costs to replace an employee are estimated at 20 per cent of their salary.
Productivity is also affected by engagement and happiness at work, with engaged employees outperforming others by 21 per cent. Engagement influences customer service, where it has been found that companies with excellent customer service have 1.5 times as many engaged employees as those with poor service, and engaged employees even take fewer sick days — on average 3.5 fewer than those who are disengaged.
At an organisational level, a Towers Perrin study revealed that companies with engaged employees benefit from a 19 per cent increase in operating income over 12 months versus a 33 per cent decrease in companies with disengaged employees.
The case for employee engagement is incredibly strong — it not only makes good business sense for the organisation, but also creates a win-win situation where both employees and management are working in harmony toward a shared goal.
If this is not the foundation for a fulfilling and rewarding career, then what is?
The writer is Director of Strategy at Cicero & Bernay PR.