Employee engagement is a high priority for businesses operating in any sector, and as such it’s evolved into a serious business issue that has moved beyond the sole remit of the HR team. While engagement is regularly on the agendas of board meetings, it remains a key challenge for HR professionals who are often charged with improving employee engagement levels.
Who is responsible for employee engagement?
Engagement is fundamental to business performance, both regarding productivity and profits, and as a result of numerous studies, we know the implications it can have on improving customer service, morale, product quality, creativity and innovation – the list goes on. The level of engagement impacts every area of the business; in fact, you could say it’s the lifeblood of the business.
So you could argue that the Board should be responsible for engagement and yet improving engagement levels often forms part of HR team targets for the year. So is it fair to make HR accountable for targets if they are only able to implement initiatives that have come down from the Board?
The role of the Board
There’s no doubt in my mind that employee engagement needs to start at the top and filter down through the organisation. It involves a culture shift that must be fully embraced by the senior team.
Leadership directly impacts employee engagement, if the leaders of an organisation aren’t communicating a strong sense of purpose and giving their employees a mission, then they won’t attract passionate, committed people to the organisation.
Transparent leadership also matters, with studies showing that among Millennials, transparency from leadership rates as one of the most important drivers of company loyalty.
And finally, senior leaders need to inspire everyone in the organisation through their words and actions, sharing the vision and translating the business strategy into what it means to individuals. Senior leaders need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
The role of HR
But HR does have an important role to play in addressing employee engagement. According to the Conference Board’s Engagement Institute, while 90% of executives understand the importance of employee engagement, fewer than 50% understand how to address this issue.
HR professionals need to help their Board address key issues that stand in the way of achieving higher levels of engagement and set measurable performance indicators. By talking to teams, conducting surveys, and seeking feedback on employee concerns they can help the Board understand how all the elements are interrelated.
HR can then follow through to make those meaningful changes to the working environment. This may mean the Board abdicating some of their responsibility to HR, for example, HR professionals may need to take on the responsibility for coaching middle managers or developing training for team leaders to inspire them to create more engaged employees.
Employee engagement needs to be a core business strategy rather than just an HR programme, but that doesn’t mean that it rests solely with the Board. Senior leaders and HR professionals need to work together to ensure that the elements that drive employee engagement such as, meaningful work, hands-on management, positive work environment, opportunities for development, and trust in leadership, exist throughout the organisation. Only then can organisations really grasp the opportunity that high levels of employee engagement offer.