How to create a highly engaged workforce

High employee engagement can be defined as a deep sense of ownership and involvement which is motivating and results in improved personal and business performance. What differentiates a highly engaged organisation from others is the fact that in a highly engaged company is that engagement is embedded into the rhythm of the business and it is not a one-time HR initiative.

Forum’s leadership research has found the best leaders affect employee engagement by doing three things:

  1. Building a positive team climate

The concept of climate comes from research done by George Litwin and Robert Stringer at Harvard. Their research sought to answer the question: How important are employees’ perceptions of what it feels like to work for an organisation to the performance of the business? They found that the factor that has the most significant impact on climate is how leaders manage their people.

To build a strong positive climate, it is essential for leaders to ensure the employees understand the company’s overall goals and policies, and also the requirements of their own jobs. They need to demonstrate visible dedication to goal achievement by everyone, set the bar high and hold employees accountable to perform to those standards, whilst ensuring strong performance is acknowledged and rewarded. This then naturally links to the level of ownership employees feel towards their work and team.

  1. Demonstrating trust and credibility

Forum’s recent research found that trust in leaders around the globe is relatively low. On average, only 37 percent of employees said they trusted the leaders in their company to a “great” or “very great” extent, and an average of 25 percent said “not at all” or “to some degree.” This trust gap is critical because of the links we found between trust and engagement: high trust breeds engagement, which in turn drives business results.

Listening and understanding is a critical factor to build trust and leaders can do so by conducting skillful conversations, both formal and informal, and demonstrate empathy for employees’ concerns. Leaders should also act with integrity, show consistency in what they say and do, and do what they say they’ll do; make decisions that are consistent with the stated vision, strategy, and goals and hold themselves accountable. Great leaders give employees a voice in how work gets done by providing forums, both formal and informal, for idea-sharing or problem-solving and take action to implement strong, viable employee ideas.

  1. Understanding and responding to individual employee engagement need 

People who are driven by accomplishment are most engaged in a workplace that allows them to see the results of their work every day. These employees can be frustrated with ambiguity, because they want to be clear that what they are doing is going to be productive.

The need for recognition is about the employee knowing that they are appreciated for the work they do and that their contributions matter. These are the people who light up when they receive praise, and on the flip side, they can start to feel insecure or even resentful if they feel they have gone above and beyond, and they don’t receive any recognition for that discretionary energy.

Employees with a high need for enjoyment take real pleasure in the work they do and the people they work with. These people believe the workplace can be a lively, upbeat place, and they often want to help make it so. They are not necessarily funny people, but they do have the perspective that work can and should be fun, and they can get really discouraged by rules that imply fun has no place in the workplace.

The need to advance is critical for the employee feeling as though they are being challenged and are moving ahead in their careers. These employees are the ones who ask for stretch assignments or even promotions.

For those who value belonging, this need is about doing satisfying, meaningful work with people who are like oneself. People who are high on this need want to work in a place where people appreciate working together and respect, trust, and help each other get things done.


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