December 18, 2017

What is HR’s role in employee engagement?

Employee engagement is a very big issue for organisations and it’s a very big issue for HR. Why? Because employee engagement levels are low, critically low according to the US research organisation Gallup. Its annual workforce report claims there is a worldwide employee engagement crisis, with just 15% of the global workforce being engaged with their work. And in the UK? The stats are even worse. Roughly one in 10 (11%) of UK employees feel engaged at work, according to the 2017 ‘State of the Global Workforce’ report. The US fares much better, with 33% of workers saying they are engaged with work.

With statistics like these flying around, it’s easy to see why employee engagement is such a big deal for leaders and for HR. And why there are so many employee engagement jobs, consultancy services, tools and pieces of research.

What is HR’s role in all of this? Well, HR has a pivotal role to play in employee engagement and on all levels. Yes, there are the specific employee engagement roles and initiatives, but essentially, anyone who is in HR needs to think about employee engagement. Just consider this question: what makes employees engaged at work? There are a whole range of answers: fulfilling work, great managers, career prospects, training, good pay and reward packages, alignment to organisational goals….Basically, in order to achieve good levels of employee engagement, you need to get all the HR fundamentals right.

Employee engagement is a more complex topic than is immediately apparent, because it touches on all aspects of HR. A quick glance at some of the employee engagement blogs published by Gallup this year shows that, blogs such as ‘Give Performance Reviews that Actually Inspire’ (September 25) and ‘Weak Workplace Cultures Help Explain UK’s Productivity Woes’ (October 6).

As Gallup says in its report: “Businesses that orient performance management systems around basic human needs for psychological engagement, such as positive workplace relationships, frequent recognition, ongoing performance conversations and opportunities for personal development, get the most out of their employees.”

In other words, engaged employees are those that are in the right jobs for them, using the right skills, working with good managers and colleagues and who feel their careers are going places. Good employee engagement requires HR having a holistic view of the employer-employee contract. HR has to ensure employees have the right skills, tools and environment to perform their jobs to the best of their ability. And HR needs to keep developing employees so that engagement is maintained. Make sure people have clear career progression paths. Engaged employees know what is expected of them. They have goals to work towards, both personal goals and organisational goals.

HR mustn’t forget or neglect leaders and managers either. Support managers and leaders so that they are engaged with work and are able to engage those reporting to them. According to Towards Maturity research, there is a real problem with management engagement. Its In-Focus report ‘Building Staff Engagement (2015)’ found that three in five L&D leaders thought management engagement was one of the biggest barriers to success.

Towards Maturity says there are seven practical ways to improve employee engagement. They are:

  • Understanding learners
  • Making learning accessible and relevant
  • Equipping stakeholders with the right resources
  • Supporting learning in the workplace
  • Minimising barriers
  • Developing a communication strategy to win hearts and minds
  • Celebrating success

Get employee engagement right and you reap the rewards. Gallup’s research shows that business units in the top quartile of the Gallup global employee engagement database are 17% more productive than those in the bottom quartile and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.

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