Simply put, employee engagement is the precise opposite of “physically present, mentally absent.” It means that employees are happy with their role, productive, and present in the here and now, with all their faculties engaged and focused on work.
So, why does this feel like such a big ask most of the time?
What drives engagement?
Research boils engagement down to a combination of these magic ingredients- energy, enthusiasm, and focus. However, employees are found to be most engaged when multiple tings come together - they are happy in their role, are assured of personal and professional growth, they feel a connection to their teammates or coworkers, and they feel well managed and mentored.
When their work environment is positive, fair, and appreciative of good work, when rewards are in the form of ongoing, vocalised acknowledgement of both small and big contributions to the team, and not merely as formal recognition at some event, and when there is good rapport with both peers and superiors, people are most likely to want to come back to work.
That's why it takes sincere effort to make engagement real.
Engagement for the management:
Managerial jobs are hardly a piece of cake. There is stress trickling down from above and plenty to deal with downstream, with subordinates, timelines and their own ambition to get ahead. Moreover, the conventional “boss” approach is becoming obsolete, given the flatter organisational structures in may new-age companies in India and a younger, millennial workforce free of the colonial hangover, armed with a broader worldview.
When managers are reinvented as mentors or coaches, they feel a greater sense of purpose. Instead of handing out assignments, deadlines, instructions and orders, they can focus not only on developing their own leadership potential but also on team building, fostering individual employee growth, monitoring achievements and handing out rewards on merit.
Where does India stand on employee engagement?
ADP Research Institute’s recent global survey covering nearly 20,000 full and part-time employees across 19 countries revealed that between 2015 and 2018, India reflected a five per cent increase (the maximum in the world) in the number of employees who were fully engaged.
However, scratch the surface and you find these things:
● Stress levels are on the rise, diminishing employee morale and productivity.
● Work-life balance is literally hanging in the balance with long commutes and unrealistic deadlines.
● Only one-fourth of Indian business leaders actively pursue employee engagement.
● There is a need for effective training and strategy to boost employee engagement.
● Many companies still have a very “Big Brother” - type of approach, monitoring their employees’ phone usage, social media usage, break time, etc.
● Many companies still swear by hierarchies that should have gone out with the British Raj.
● A lot of people in India work for businesses or industries owned by large, established families or clans, wherein there is not much scope for individual growth based on merit.
Strategic employee engagement is still a relatively new concept for organisations in India. In order to boost productivity, and with it, profits, companies should start to reimagine employee relations and actively pursue this as a goal.
Low engagement levels cause burnout and are fertile ground for unhealthy and undesirable work behaviours, which are extremely harmful to businesses in the long term. Not just that, a disengaged workforce simply stalls any progress and becomes evident in the form of lost days, bickering, and no sense of direction.
What some forward-thinking Indian companies are undertaking for employee engagement:
RMSI, an IT services company that provides geospatial software to clients across the globe recently toppled Google in a survey conducted by the Great Place To Work Institute and the Economic Times. 700 companies across 20 sectors were surveyed, with over 1.8 lakh responders. In general, MNCs came across as better places to work and grow than Indian companies.
What set RMSI apart?
● Flexible work environment
● High levels of empowerment and accountability
● Ownership of one’s domain or function
● Leadership development programs
● Opportunities to expand skill sets
● Onsite work opportunities
● Respect for all employees
● Intellectual stimulation
● Healthcare and other benefits
● Active hobby groups
Women are considered an integral part of the workforce, and policies concerning women employees’ growth and wellbeing are given great importance at companies like RMSI and Google, with:
● Well-defined sexual harassment policies
● Emphasis on self-defence for women with active workshops
● Extended maternity leave and flexible hours
● Option to take a short-term break from work
● Medical, Ob/gyn, breast cancer check-ups
● Opportunities for growth for women leaders like the Women@Google initiative
● Academic scholarships in technology sectors
What forward-thinking companies across India are doing to improve employee engagement:
● Regular employee pulse checks, either through anonymous data collected on Survey Monkey or with engagement software to give an idea of employee happiness indices.
● Informal meetings or lunches where ideas are shared on an ongoing basis, and feedback is given, as opposed to formal meetings and high-stakes appraisals
● Employee focus groups as well as one-on-one ideas and feedback sharing sessions
● Fun activities that foster camaraderie and teamwork
● Scoping out and grooming internal talent rather than bringing it in from outside
● Flexible work hours; for instance, taking different time-zone calls from home to beat the traffic and difficult commutes
● Women-friendly workspaces and daycare centres attached to the office
● Employee reward programs, discounts on stay, food and beverages
● Diversity and inclusion as an essential, integral motto of the company culture
● Opportunities for not just vertical, but also lateral growth
● Occasionally allowing for personality quirks and extracurricular talents to shine at offsite and internal events
● Fostering innovation and new ideas
Corporate employee engagement wellness programs are also on the rise:
A high number of physical and mental health issues plague corporate India. These include diabetes, obesity, hypertension, stress, low morale, anxiety, depression, etc. Recognising this, human resources in several companies have come up with wellness programs that go well beyond linked health insurance.
These include scheduling medical, OB/Gyn, dental or eye check-ups, surprise visits from spa therapists for head-and-shoulder or foot massages, regular fitness and nutritional information through mailers and blogs, yoga and meditation camps, etc.
There are also companies like HealthifyMe that offer wellness packages that are app-driven, gamified, team-based and show measurable impact. All of these programs are designed for increased engagement and retention, to reduce dissatisfaction and attrition.
Fun at work:
Companies are taking fun at work quite seriously. Apart from fun engagement activities, there are initiatives like Google’s annual “Bureaucracy Buster Day” where employees get to suggest policy changes. Also, employees get to bring their kids or parents to work on specific days.
All in all, introducing the human element and the fun factor are crucial in making employee engagement successful. Some of the most significant corporate collaborations in history have come about as a result of an engaged workforce.