Employee engagement: what’s next in the evolution of HR’s greatest enigma?

Employee line-up

As we hit 2015, everyone has an engagement strategy with whistles and bells. But are we satisfied? Nope, we’re always on the look-out for the next best thing on the market

Engaged employees

Believe it or not, there was a time when ’employee engagement’ wasn’t rolling off the lips of every HR professional…

Sometimes it feels like employee engagement has been around forever. But if we reflect back to the days when mobile phones were the size of bricks and reserved for the avant-garde, we may recall that engagement wasn’t a term rolling off the lips of every HR professional. Yes we knew employees were important but it was all about keeping them satisfied and committed. We soon realised that was all well and good but having happy, loyal staff didn’t necessarily mean they were productive – some were so happy they didn’t actually want to do anything more than have a nice chat with their colleagues at the water cooler and head off home on the strike of 5pm.

Some 20 years ago, the term employee engagement first started to be bandied about. There were various different theories as to what engagement was and how it should be measured but the long and the short of it was that engaged employees were willing and able to go above and beyond the call of duty to help their organisation perform well. And who didn’t want that?

So, as the size of mobile phones gradually got smaller, engagement as a concept started to get bigger. And pretty soon everyone owned a nice compact mobile and a big employee engagement strategy. We spent years comparing our phones, aspiring to the best models and the packages that were going to give us the best bang for our buck. And years comparing our engagement strategies – aspiring to the best models and the package that were going to give us the best bang for our buck.

Related: Tim Pointer: Employee Engagement – the marketing approach

And now, as we hit 2015 everyone has a mobile, well a smartphone really, that does everything you need it to and more. And everyone has an engagement strategy with whistles and bells. But are we satisfied? Nope, we’re always on the look-out for the next best thing on the market.

When it comes to the mobile industry the trend now is wearable technology. Technology we can carry with us everywhere that addresses several needs at the same time. Technology that enables us to connect with people whenever or wherever we want to. Technology that can give us a load of information at the touch of a button and make things happen quicker and more efficiently so we can live more fulfilling lives.

If we’re honest with ourselves, that’s probably what we want from engagement too. Perhaps not a pair of engagement glasses, but a measure of engagement that blends into our day-to-day life effortlessly.  A measure that aligns with our business strategy, and takes into account the idiosyncrasies of our individual organisations.  

Related: Employee Engagement Summit 2015 – Practical tips to build engagement and increase performance

So how does this play out in how organisations are approaching engagement today?

  • We are seeing trends towards surveying more regularly – more organisations are opting for an annual survey supplemented with a few pulse surveys to keep a check on progress.
  • We are seeing more take up of survey methodologies that suit the end user such as smartphone-surveys and the design of reports that can be viewed by managers on their phones.
  • We are seeing engagement models that are enhanced to incorporate increasingly critical workplace issues such as wellbeing, innovation and inclusion because it’s not always just about people saying, staying and striving. We need to safeguard our staff from burnout; we want our people to think outside the box for us; and we need to ensure our workforces are made up of diverse and complementary individuals.
  • And we are seeing social media become a far greater component in the collection of feedback and the dissemination and interpretation of it – be it via Yammer, or bespoke social networking sites such as ORC International’s Communities portal. Increasingly sophisticated text analysis tools allow us to use these social media sources in a more interrogative way to get more insight into the issues closest to employees’ hearts.

So with the surge in technology we’ve reached a point where engagement as a concept is flexible. Providing the core principle is honoured, it can be tailored to how businesses operate, enhanced to incorporate key issues and measured by a host of traditional and contemporary techniques. We surveyed a global sample of HR Professionals last year and the majority were confident that engagement has more life in it, fully intending still to be measuring it in years to come. So it seems engagement just like mobile technology is here to stay, for the foreseeable future anyway. We could say the future’s bright, whoever our service provider is.

About Lindsey Armstrong

Lindsey Armstrong is an employee engagement expert at ORC International. ORC International is a global research agency and leader in the art of business intelligence. Operating across four core sectors: employee research, customer research, markets and products and strategy research, it helps businesses explore, navigate and integrate insights to uncover what truly engages people.

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