The concept of employee engagement is relatively new to the ongoing list of company leadership concerns. In a previous world of command-and-control management, employee engagement simply wasn’t necessary; employees did as they were told. But, as management styles have become more progressive – the workplace, more participatory – the need not just to direct, but also to engage employees has become clear. And, very often, the responsibility for meeting this need is handed off to employee communications practitioners.
As an employee feels a sense of accomplishment in an important job done well, the employee’s level of engagement increases. Communicators have an important contribution to make to this sense of well-being. By clearly defining company strategy, communicators help employees better understand how their actions support achievement of company goals. By facilitating dialogue with leaders and teams, communicators create shared understanding and facilitate collaboration. By publicly celebrating employee accomplishments, communicators tell an ongoing story of organizational success, creating momentum to inspire even greater achievement.
Communicators can create a supportive environment, but who makes employee engagement thrive?
Many see employee communications and employee engagement as inexorably linked, sometimes to the exclusion of other factors. It’s similar to what often happens with change management initiatives. While there are many factors in effective change management – processes, tools, technologies and, of course, communication – the focus often zeroes in on the communication component as if the others don’t exist.
Does this mean that the ability to increase levels of employee engagement lies solely with the communications team? There is a simple (and I believe true) maxim about employee retention: Employees don’t leave companies; employees leave managers. This implies that low employee-retention scores – the ultimate measure of “disengagement” – is the result of the employee-manager relationship. Many successful managers understand this and empower their teams through expanded responsibility, greater autonomy and shared recognition for successes. This is at the heart of engaging (and retaining) employees.
Certainly, communicators have a role to play, but I believe it is the relationship between managers and their direct reports that ultimately determines levels of employee engagement. How often do we hear “underengaged” employees complain that they are underemployed and underappreciated? How many employees truly are underachievers, not through lack of wherewithal but through lack of direction, initiative and understanding?
Of course, we must all be held accountable for our actions, but employee engagement rarely lags when managers make conscious and credible efforts to empower their teams. These managers avoid dictatorial proclamations. They listen to their direct reports and consider their perspectives. They look for opportunities for individuals to play to their strengths as well as to cultivate new skills and experiences. They reward exemplary performance and counsel poor performers to improve.
Communicators can create a supportive environment for the enterprise, but it’s the individual manager who determines whether employee engagement will thrive.
Does your company have an engaged workforce? Are you personally contributing to it?