Business Today

How HR managers can drive employee engagement in the workplace

Picking the right person for the job is the obvious first step but for employees already working within an organisation it is useful to examine the variables that can impact the level of engagement.

Pallavi Jha        Last Updated: April 9, 2015  | 16:44 IST

Attrition rates usually drive HR heads cuckoo. In boom times, the affliction worsens. I met a chief HR officer recently who said, "The attraction rate is more than neutralized by attrition rates. Our bottom line will be severely impacted."

How is it that one person will be invested in their work while another is less engaged? Picking the right person for the job is the obvious first step but for employees already working within an organisation it is useful to examine the variables that can impact the level of engagement.

If we were to survey HR managers on some of their biggest focus areas in the coming year, employee engagement would most likely top their list. Dexterity and the constant need to stay relevant have now become prerequisites for companies in a complex marketplace. How can today's leaders feel confident enough to face the internal and external pressures that prevent their brands and businesses from reaching their full potential? Business environments are ever-evolving due to the fast pace of demographic, technological, economic and political change, and companies with disengaged employees will find it tremendously hard to keep up with the competition. The marketplace is ruthless.

Employees in the predominantly Gen Y-domain workforce suffer from the Starbucks Syndrome; they want instant gratification. Management, usually paranoid, tries too hard to please; in-office cafes, gyms, yoga therapy, stress-buster facilities abound. But they only end up raising expectations further. It is a catch-22 situation.

Companies are not flexible and adaptable by nature, but their employees can be when motivated. Engaged employees are resilient in the face of changing environments - maintaining high performance in good times and going above and beyond during low-growth phases. How committed your employees are, emotionally and practically, to the success of the company will be the prime determinant of whether an organisation succeeds or not in a challenging market. It does not mean that financial compensation does not matter. It does.

Dale Carnegie Training partnered with the National HRD Network India to survey more than 1,200 executives, individual contributors, managers and chief HR officers across the country in 2014. The objective behind the employee engagement research was to go beyond measuring national levels of engagement and identify the underlying factors that influenced it positively. Further, it sought to assess and, therefore, set the standard for what was being done right as well as the perceived gaps in competencies to arrive at definitive action points to improve motivation at the workplace.

One of the foremost goals for business leaders going ahead should be not only how to drive employee engagement in the workplace, but also how to ensure it becomes an ongoing part of the HR strategy. The average hike on current salary that an employee in India would consider acceptable to leave his current job is 20 per cent. At this pay increase, we found that 58 per cent of disengaged workers would accept another job offer versus only 14 per cent of fully engaged employees. This salary inelasticity of fully engaged employees indicates a kind of loyalty that companies today are often hard-pressed to develop.

The famous line, "My assets go down the elevator every night," which CEOs wax eloquent on, is now a hard grim reality. Failure to inspire and engage means that they are unlikely to be using the elevator the next day to return.

Although employee engagement does not entail rewards, a rewards programme can well be used as a tool to further motivate and engage employees, especially in small to medium businesses. Rewards typically include incentive pay, bonuses, promotions, etc. This system tends to harbour a transparent work culture where career growth is performance based and every employee is aware of what he needs to achieve in order to gain the benefits he desires. Such an atmosphere engenders a healthy, competitive environment of fairness and equality in which each individual is more motivated and inclined to perform his best.

For one, these programmes often include training and professional development opportunities to enhance the employees' skills and abilities, enabling them to perform more effectively at their jobs.

While there is no gainsaying that monetary rewards, financial package, and compensation enhancements do matter, if a company has a good corporate culture, and an exciting work environment, then retaining employees becomes a comparatively easier task.

More than rewards, awards make a difference. Many employees I engage with in different forums tell me, "Contrary to popular perception, more than financial gains, we look for recognition. Appreciation of one's work through tangible and intangible means makes a huge difference."

(Pallavi Jha is the chairperson and managing director, Dale Carnegie Training India)

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