As businesses recalibrate to excel in a world where Covid-19 has gone from pandemic to endemic, some speak about adjusting to a new normal, which, as we know, is a well-worn phrase. On the contrary, rather than settle into a new steady-state, our endemic and post-pandemic world is likely to continue evolving and changing and the only way businesses will maintain a genuine connection with their staff is through authentic employee engagement.

Employee engagement is crucial not only to lift staff morale and boost performance in a hybrid workforce but also to ensure people choose to stay with their employers. Whether one uses the phrase “talent tsunami” or “the great resignation”, the cold hard facts are that we are in the midst of a global realignment where staff are resigning in large numbers, driven in part by pandemic burnout and a feeling of being disconnected because of remote working.

In our local context, add the human capital flight where skilled workers can work almost anywhere thanks to the pace of digitisation, it becomes clear why authentic employee engagement is an existential imperative for organisations.

Employee engagement is key

Employee engagement should be seen as a measure of the emotional commitment an employee has to an organisation, its employees, its vision and its goals. Simply put, it gauges the satisfaction level of an employee. When employees are engaged, they are emotionally connected to others and cognitively attentive to the direction of the organisation. Engaged employees have consistently shown to be more productive, profitable, safer, healthier, and – crucially – less likely to leave their employer.

The most vital pillar of authentic employee engagement is building and maintaining a positive, virtuous company culture where employees feel valued, recognised and have opportunities to grow as an individual – personally and professionally. While many companies may feel they managed to make headway in this regard pre-pandemic, most will admit that maintaining and adapting this in a hybrid and remote world of work is challenging – especially for new hires and younger staff members.

Another important pillar of employee engagement is prioritising employee recognition. One of the biggest motivators for employees is to be held in high esteem by their peers – being acknowledged for exemplary performance. A winning employee recognition programme doesn’t have to be expensive – it starts with having a company culture that advocates appreciation for top performers. This can be the foundation for solid staff engagement, continuous employee development, and retention strategies for the future.

A third pillar to focus on is work-life integration which became a major challenge for many employees. A direct effect that remote work has on employees is that the natural boundaries they once had between work and life have been eliminated. While this is not a new concept, the desire to achieve it skyrocketed as a direct result of the changes in the world of work. It is known that many people have worked far longer hours – the productivity of these notwithstanding – and have had great difficulty delineating between work time, family time and personal time as all three were forced into the same space.

Managing and measuring employee engagement

The only way organisations can manage employee engagement is by keeping their finger on the pulse. In the same way that measuring a pulse is used as a fundamental indicator of human health, the pulse of an organisation can signal its health or underlying challenges. It is crucial to see this as a continual investment. With the concept of people managers, Altron Karabina strives every single day to make an employee feel part of a family, and what are some of the components of a healthy family? Communication, trust, respect, honesty, transparency, shared responsibility, support, and commitment.

It may seem odd at first, but technology really can, and does, improve person-to-person engagement. We, like others, had to invest in human resources technology to be able to reach and engage with employees working remotely. This technology has been integrated into employee recognition tools, performance management tools and survey tools. This is the beauty of technology used correctly – it enables an organisation to deliver better, and quicker, results. In other words, it augments carefully curated policies and procedures.

Measuring the key drivers of engagement enables an organisation to determine whether its employees are, in fact, engaged or disengaged. Surveys are a starting point to keep abreast of what is happening with employees and to identify areas in the organisation that need to be developed to increase productivity, motivation, and morale. It is important to note that when doing surveys, the global participation rate benchmark is 70% for an organisation to be able to generalise the results.

However, it is not enough to simply conduct an engagement survey – the organisation needs to take effective action based on the feedback from employees. After conducting a survey the data needs to be analysed, reported and acted upon. This is true for all surveys, whether engagement or exit. Important to note is that organisations might not be able to solve all issues at once or please everyone, however, they need to focus on key initiatives and take successful action.

In our case, each business unit is analysed so that both operation and people managers can make meaningful changes in the organisation to work towards more authentic engagement. We also encourage the business units to meet with team members and communicate survey results. After this, we create action plans that address survey feedback and recommendations.

Once initiatives have been implemented, a pulse survey – which is what we call them – needs to be sent to employees, measuring the impact of the changes made and whether staff engagement has increased. Over a longer period of time, by following these disciplined steps organisations will start seeing the return on investment because engaged workers are more productive, and more productive workers improve the bottom line.

The focus on mental health, workplace flexibility, staff retention and the drive to develop safer and more inclusive workplaces will continue to accelerate in the coming years. In order to stay ahead of the curve, businesses must make authentic employee engagement a key pillar in their people strategy.

By Louisa Spangenberg, Senior People Manager at Altron Karabina.

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