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Employees Pop The Question: Will You Engage Me?

Posted by Elaine Varelas  July 6, 2010 08:00 AM

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Wedding season is in full swing. Whether you are elbow-deep in puffy dresses, flowers, and invitations, or leisurely browsing the online registry at Crate and Barrel—most us are involved in someone’s nuptials this summer. While weddings launch the beginning of a couple’s married life, they also mark the end of another special point: the engagement.

Whether long or short, the engagement is an exciting time for a couple. Most couples are completely focused on their relationships and their lives together. They are closely connected to each other, and talk often about their plans for the future. They make a big deal out of introducing each other to family and friends. Most of them try not to miss an opportunity to extol the virtues of the other to anyone—college roommates, golf buddies, even strangers on the T.

It is this “honeymoon” experience, this deep connection within a relationship that HR professionals are trying to emulate through employee engagement initiatives. Even though there is an absence of romantic love, they want their employees to feel supported by and invested in the company for which they work, and to be excited about their jobs and work environment (without the PDA, please!). Ideally, they are hoping employees will become champions for the organization. They want their employees to advocate for the organization internally with co-workers, vendors, and clients. They also want employees to promote the organization outside of company walls to family, friends, and yes, even strangers.

It is proven that engaged employees are more satisfied and productive in their jobs, which can bolster morale, increase retention, and impact the bottom line. Yet, leaders within individual organizations are often left wondering if their own employee engagement programs are effective. Are employees happy? Are they as productive as possible? Do they feel a connection to their colleagues and the organization? Are we doing all we can to maximize engagement?

To find the answers to these questions, many HR professionals are turning to pricey engagement surveys and research. Many of these surveys are lengthy and involved and leave leadership teams with boatloads of data—and often more questions than answers (What do we do with all of this information?).

While engagement surveys can be effective tools for gauging employee engagement, many organizations make the mistake of jumping into them too quickly, without doing any prep work. They also try to measure too much or the wrong things. Some initiatives are too ambitious—they ask employees hundreds of questions which result in a book of data longer than any classic novel. Yet, the organization’s core issues and challenges are buried within the document. Other times, the surveys are too generic. They can’t pinpoint the issues facing a specific company because most surveys are designed to serve as umbrellas to cover any type of company in any industry. It is difficult to analyze data if you don’t know what you’re hoping to find. The first question HR managers should ask is, “What are we measuring?” The second question should be, “How do we measure for it?”

HR professionals may want to consider tailoring a survey to address the specific needs of the organization or altering an existing survey so the results more closely mirror the organization’s own needs.

For example, if there is high dissatisfaction and turnover under middle managers across all areas of the company, HR managers may want to focus on manager engagement. Unfortunately, manager engagement in surveys is most often measured by the manager’s own productivity, satisfaction, and investment in the company. While this information is good to know, it doesn’t get to the root of the issue of employee turnover and morale. HR managers can better determine this information by taking the focus off the individual managers and putting it on the groups. The alternative manager engagement survey should examine productivity, succession, and advancement within manager’s teams. It may also help to survey those who have left to ask them why, as well as candidates who were interviewing for jobs within departments, but went elsewhere.

By coming up with specific areas to measure and crafting the research to determine answers to these challenges, the engagement survey process becomes more manageable, and better able to determine results that can actually be addressed. The survey becomes a hands-on tool for improving engagement, instead of a lofty goal that will only exist in theory. This in itself can help engagement, as employees see that the organization is creating an action plan to improve work life for employees, not just proselytizing.

Engagement surveys are effective tools for determining employees’ connection to the organization. But before implementing them, HR professionals must first determine what they want to measure and then create a survey that will get results. By focusing on the core issues facing the organization, company leaders can make sure that their Mr. and Mrs. Rights stay perpetually engaged to the organization.

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.