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Employee Engagement - Myth or Mystery

Source: HR Pulse, 12th September 2013

Author: Bernice Bowmaker-Falconer

The problem with the term ‘employee engagement’ is that it has too often been used as a stand-in description for employee satisfaction. 
 
Engagement is not satisfaction. Yes, it is true that a happier or more satisfied employee is more likely to have an increased level of discretionary effort but more importantly, there are employees who are happy simply because they don’t feel the need to do much. This is the dilemma that has organisations questioning both the importance and relevance of measuring engagement. And this is where I come in to clear a few things up…
 
An engaged employee is an employee who outperforms a disengaged employee on all levels. This includes:
 
Commitment to their daily role or function within the organisation, and
A dedicated, driven approach to assist the organisation in achieving success.
Simply put, an engaged employee is productive and interested in both what the organisation can do for him or her and what he or she can do for the organisation.
 
It has been proven globally that high engagement equals high reward 
 
The financial ROI has been recorded as up to 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organisations with disengaged work groups within the same industry sectors. This figure is mostly related to productivity levels and willingness to go the extra mile. 
 
There is further proof that within the US workforce more than US$300billion (approximately R2.9 trillion) is lost through low productivity and as these organisations move toward an approach that engages with their employees, they reduce the negative impact of actively disengaged employees while unleashing the organisation's potential for rapid growth.
 
In addition, an engaged workforce will assist an organisation is developing a strong employment brand and have less of an impact on staff. Both of these factors are especially important in the competitive employment environment we have in South Africa as we need to attract the best and keep them.
 
In saying that though, it is equally important to remember – and this going back to the satisfaction dilemma – that the way in which we measure engagement is always linked to performance. We don’t want our clients to have happy underperforming staff who won’t move and we don’t want our clients to make the very common mistake of assuming that high performance levels mean high engagement. The risk here is that an over-performing employee who is in-fact completely disengaged could be looking for another job right now. 
 
I’m not saying all happy employees are the wrong employees 
 
I’m also not saying I want your offices to be filled with people who are not concerned with their personal well-being and only the well-being of the business. I am saying that you need a happy medium, one that will have your business gain its competitive edge by using its people.
 
This is not a process that you should take lightly
 
It’s not an easy road and you will need to ask, answer and respond to hard questions: 
 
 
How do you redefine an organisational climate with a set of existing employees?
How do you formulate both hard and soft values that are going to speak directly to, be bought in by and rallied for by each and every employee?
The truth here is that if your culture is strong enough, the business believes in the values enough and you engage properly with your high performers, those who don’t directly match your culture will be pushed out.

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