Colin Hay at Puzzel suggests that there’s more to employee engagement than just creating ‘happy’ or ‘satisfied’ employees

It’s often claimed that engaged employees are generally considered to have a greater emotional commitment to their organisations than disengaged employees. They are also said to care more about what they do, where they work, and whether their organisations are successful in meeting key business goals.

However, there are no hard and fast rules to define what an engaged employee looks like – which makes it a highly complex issue. Employee engagement is difficult to define and tricky to measure accurately. And because it’s tricky to measure, it’s difficult to know how to evaluate problems when things go wrong, as well as to show a return on investment on new employee engagement initiatives. These are issues that won’t go away anytime soon.

Employment engagement influences productivity and customer service

Global research company Gallup claims that employee engagement is a hugely influential factor in everything – from reducing employee churn and absenteeism, to improving productivity and customer experiences. Recent employee engagement research from Gallup revealed that 73 per cent of US employees are ‘actively disengaged’, with 56 per cent of ‘not engaged’ employees looking for jobs or watching for opportunities, compared to 37 per cent of ‘engaged’ employees. It also found that the service sector faced one of the biggest engagement challenges, noting that only 31% of service workers were engaged, compared to 38% of managers and executives.

So what can the service sector do to turn this situation around and make themselves more desirable and ‘preferred’ places to work, with high staff engagement?

1. Offer flexible working hours
2. Move to a work-from-home model
3. Empower your employees
4. Collect employee ideas and feedback
5. Regularly survey employees
6. Build specialist skills
7. Optimise the workspace environment
8. Ensure people are remunerated fairly
9. Provide opportunities for career progression
10. Invest in effective planning tools
11. Recruit the right people
12. Ensure effective two-way communications
13. Try gamification
14. Use metrics to drive positive engagement
15. Ensure the commitment of senior leaders
16. Encourage transparency
17. Engage employees in projects outside the contact centre
18. Build a super knowledge base
19. Empower advisors with desktop data
20. Constantly review/refresh your strategies and programmes

Of course, none of these points in isolation can solve the issues. Successful strategies typically involve several strands and multiple initiatives to put ‘employee engagement’ alongside ‘better customer engagement’ at the heart of an organisation’s goals. They are also likely to be very clear in their objectives. In other words, what is the employee engagement strategy/initiative designed to achieve? Greater skills and knowledge? More employee empowerment? Enhanced two-way communication? More flexible working hours? Better career prospects? And what does ‘improvement’ look like in each case?

It’s also useful to consider innovative new employee engagement techniques alongside more traditional ones. For example moving to a work-from-home model is a strategy that has already proven to be hugely successful for many organisations, in terms of improved productivity and lower attrition/absenteeism while their employees enjoy a better work-life-balance, reduced travel and lower costs.

In global markets, where the difference between success and failure can be marginal, managers must use every tool at their disposal to gain a competitive advantage – and employee engagement is a hugely powerful tool. As former Campbell’s Soup CEO Doug Conant so succinctly put it, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”