What drives employee engagement? Ask a group of human resources and organization development practitioners, and you’ll likely get similar answers: It’s about autonomy, interesting work, recognition, fair pay, good benefits, etc. Ask a group of employees the same question, and the answers will likely be more varied. While these factors may influence employees, what drives individual engagement is more personal.
Then does that mean that communicators can have no influence on engagement? No. Communicators may not be able to create employee engagement, but they can certainly support it. Here are four different types of messages to use:
1. The “who we are” message
Everyone wants to have a sense of belonging – a connection to something greater than oneself. Messages that underscore the best attributes of your organization’s culture provide a sense of mission to your employee audience. Messages that focus less on what we do – more on how we do it, who we are and what we are capable of accomplishing together – are the messages that will build camaraderie and inspire action and initiative.
2. The “where do I fit in” message
Knowing where you fit in and understanding why what you do matters will always be part of a fulfilling work life. Certainly, it is up to the supervisor or manager to be specific in illustrating the line of sight from the individual’s work to the organizational goal. What the manager does on a micro level, the communicator can accomplish on the macro level. How does the work of various departments and functions contribute to the success of the organization? These are good stories to tell. Similarly, just as managers may privately recognize and reward employees for their contributions, communicators can do it publicly through any – and every – employee communications channel.
3. The “let’s look at the future” message
Senior executives may be skittish about trying to predict future events, but that doesn’t mean they can’t convey optimism about whatever the future may hold. The organization’s narrative must not only convey optimism about the future, but also a clear roadmap to accomplishing the organization’s goals. An employee who feels that “the plan” is being kept secret is an employee who feels disenfranchised. An employee who is optimistic about the future is an employee more likely to feel engaged with the company and the work.
4. The “manager’s” message
Research shows that many if not most messages are more likely to be believed when delivered by an employee’s direct supervisor; however, not all managers communicate effectively. A wise communications practitioner knows this and supports managers with talking points, meeting materials, Q&A documents and so forth – but only a foolish practitioner stops there. Make no assumption that “the cascade” is operational – use other channels consistently to back up any communication whose success is relegated to managers.
Does effective communication drive employee engagement? If the factors affecting engagement are as personal as I believe them to be, effective organizational communication is likely not the main driver for any individual employee. However, it can certainly be a contributing factor – if not the foundation – for an engaged workforce.