The real meaning of an engaged employee, by Katie Wan
With turnover rates spiking across all industries in the past couple of years, there has been a common drive to provide better employee experiences all around. However, much of the focus has been on providing organisational perks and benefits: we hear more and more about better maternity leave packages, more annual holidays, flexible working hours and the like. But while these factors are definitely important for attracting new employees and satisfying existing ones, companies must be sure not to confuse them for the real game-changer in staff retention: enabling employee engagement. While workplace satisfaction and engagement are definitely connected, they are not one and the same. The first step to fully tackling this issue is to know that employees who are satisfied are not necessarily engaged.
While factors like good benefits, higher pay, convenient office location and fun office outings are good for creating positive work experiences, employee engagement runs much deeper than that. To really get to the core between their differences, I suggest looking into Seligman’s PERMA model for happiness. Put simply, the PERMA model identifies five key things to unlocking psychological well-being, including: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement. When translated into workplace terms, we can refer to it as: feeling intellectually stimulated and creative, feeling absorbed in the task at hand, having strong relationships with peers and managers, seeing the value of the input, and continuously achieving new goals.
When employees feel satisfied at work, it often means that they are content with components of their work conditions such as feeling positive emotions from saving money on a short commute or enjoying flexible lunch hours with nice colleagues. However, employee engagement taps into a much more meaningful experience: it’s about being able to trust managers and peers, feeling like a valuable asset to the company’s goals, consistently learning and achieving new milestones, and being able to share ideas openly with the team. When employees feel engaged, they are experiencing every component of the PERMA model from the workplace and their actual work. The end outcome is an engaged employee who holds a positive attitude towards their organisation and its values that drives an improved performance.
The most successful companies prioritise and put emphasis on actioning this checklist, or an iteration of, at all stages of the employee lifecycle – from the moment they come in for an interview through to their last working day. For example, this means that as candidates apply, they receive transparency on the recruitment process, are able to openly ask about the role to the interviewing manager, and feel a cultural fit with the office environment. Upon joining the company, they receive an effective and in-depth onboarding, clear expectations are laid out and tailored guidance is provided on their first tasks. As an employee’s time passes in the company, they should receive support for growth in their roles and regular feedback, preparing them to face exciting new learning opportunities and ultimately grow with the company into a new role or set of responsibilities. If companies are able to provide this kind of career journey to their employees, there is no doubt they will see employee engagement soar through the charts. Even if staff do choose to leave the company, the best employers will maintain a sense of engagement with two-way exit interviews and feedback opportunities. But as Richard Branson said, ‘Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to’.
Truly engaging staff throughout the work lifecycle is something most companies are still struggling to do, according to Gallup’s UK study only 17% of UK employees are engaged. Traps often include either failing to move away from the focus on employee satisfaction, or only engaging employees inconsistently and inadequately at various stages of their time at the company, but rarely achieving it effectively throughout. Only by successfully applying these elements to an employee’s experience from beginning to end will businesses truly unlock the full potential of employee engagement and maximize the results.
And there are many benefits to doing this. Engagement reaps significantly more positive results than satisfaction, including higher levels of output, productivity and efficiency. When employees are engaged, they are working harder and smarter regardless of the benefits they receive, but rather out of personal drive and passion for the role. Simply put, they are emotionally invested. And this ultimately cultivates more success for your company: a Gallup survey found that businesses with engaged employees are 21% more profitable than their competitors with low engagement rates. Similarly, turnover rates go down by 40% when your employees feel engaged – a crucial statistic in the hospitality industry which sees a costly 300% turnover annually.
So if you’re facing high turnover in your company, I suggest you look more closely into these two crucial terms regarding the employee experience. Are your employees truly engaged, or are they simply satisfied?
Katie Wan is VP, Head of People at Eko, an all-in-one platform that drives employee engagement, strengthens communications and enables effective training in non-desk workplaces.
Say hello to a new way of working
Start your free trial with Eko today