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The Bottom Line of Employee Engagement

Rachel Serwetz
Rachel Serwetz
May 9, 2018
The Bottom Line of Engagement

Employees want to feel a sense of purpose at work. But there are certain ways that you, the employer, can tap into and leverage employees’ innate sense of purpose. Interestingly enough, it’d be in your best interest to do so.

Let’s start with your goals. We can all agree that every business aspires to the below goals, right?

  • A strong culture: the firm’s values are clear and they stand by them
  • Leaders who walk the talk of those values and employees want to act as their followers
  • Innovation at the industry level: staying ahead of (disrupting) the industry
  • Innovation at the firm level: enhancing the internal processes of the firm
  • Employees who help drive that innovation in an organic way; they do not have to be forced
  • Employees who are empowered to solve the issues of their firm; they are owners and take action
  • Employees who thrive; they are productive and give their best effort
  • Positive outcomes for teams, departments and the firm due to strong employee performance
  • Employees who are constantly learning
  • The firm taps employees’ strengths, encouraging internal mobility, and reduces hiring costs.
  • Employees who speak positively about their employer, leading to an attractive company brand
  • Employees who love their work and employer so much that they actually stay.

Yes, you guessed it; I’ve described a business with strong employee engagement. What if I could tell you there is one concept that could lead to ALL of the outcomes mentioned above? I promise I’m going to provide you with this concept, but first I’m going to tell you the drastic impacts you’ll endure if the above goals are not achieved.

When there is employee disengagement:

We all know engagement is a hot topic. While it’s not an easy thing to achieve, it’s critical not to ignore. If a business ignores employee engagement, it can have major repercussions, and on the flip side, if strong employee engagement is achieved, it can indeed lead to positive business outcomes. HBR’s Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance report reminds us that “71% of respondents rank employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success.”

Aon’s 2017 Engagement Trends report concludes that “just 24 percent of all employees fall into the Highly Engaged category,” reminding us of the poor current state of engagement that many organizations fall into. In order to fix this, one certain area of focus has a particular high bang for its buck when it comes to engaging employees: empowering them with career opportunities (Aon found that the fourth largest opportunity for businesses (globally) to improve engagement is career opportunities). By focusing on this factor alone, and by putting the employee at the center of your engagement model, you’ll be paving your way toward the many benefits mentioned above. Help your employees help you.

Here’s the concept:

One of millennial's top four most desired rewards is development opportunities. — Aon

Let me explain how purpose drives employee engagement. Aon’s 2017 Engagement Trends report describes engagement as “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization” or “the outcome of an employee’s work experience.” To invest in one’s organization, one must feel invested in their role. To feel invested in one’s role, one must care about the work it entails (“purpose” at work). Hence, an employee’s “purpose” must align with the purpose of their role for them to be engaged. “Role fit” then, can be seen not only an employees’ ability to do their job but their desire to do it. HBR’s study on Facebook revealed that employees of all ages, genders, and locations wanted three things at work: career, community, and cause. They described career as “having a job that provides autonomy, allows you to use your strengths, and promotes your learning and development. It’s at the heart of intrinsic motivation.” Adam Smith said it best when he said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from regard to their own interest.”

67% of respondents rated “individual staff goals aligned with corporate goals” as a top driver of employee engagement. — HBR

While an employee should seek a role that aligns with their interests, an employer can also empower employees to find and lead projects that inspire them. Let’s break down what it could look like for an employer to leverage “career opportunities” to drive employee engagement, and why it’s so important. Engagement surveys are simply a doctor checkup. They check how engaged employees are at a certain point in time. Rather than reactively tackle the results of your surveys, employers should proactively, consistently create a culture of engagement. To do this, bring each employee to the center of your engagement strategy. This means: invest in, listen to, empower, and leverage the strengths and interests of your employees.

While it may seem daunting or costly for an organization to understand and invest in each employee’s personal motivations, realize that each manager is likely already sitting down with each employee on some regular basis as it is. The concept I’m describing is just about how to better utilize those conversations, how to listen more astutely, and then how to tap the energy and motivations of your employees to your benefit. Each and every “manager catchup” could be considered an engagement pulse check.

This, my friends, is what will drive engagement (and a strong brand, retention, business outcomes, and all the other benefits we mentioned). So, if you want to be selfish at the employer level (drive innovation and business results), be selfless at the employee level (think about their purpose and what they care to be doing): This is the business case for empowering employees with career opportunities. Enabling employees to explore ideas, projects, and work that they have an interest in, and you’ll reap the benefits of their natural drive.

Here’s What You Can Do:

Cap off this process with employee recognition. HBR’s “Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance” report shows that “72% of respondents ranked recognition given for high performers as having a significant impact on employee engagement.” Interestingly, Aon’s report on recognition found that when employees were not paid fairly and recognized, they were 71% engaged, whereas those who were indeed paid fairly but not recognized were only 61% engaged.

If the above process is followed, you’ll see engaged employees who thrive, who are productive, who are continuously learning, and who actually want to tout the firm’s brand because of all this. As employees work to solve issues they care about, they will also drive business innovation. What’s more, one of the top three reasons people quit is being in the same job for long periods of time (Fast Company), so, with consistently interesting work, your employees might just stay. (The Corporate Leadership Council also found that “the most engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their organization.”) So, empower employees and you’ll reap: reputation, retention, results.

Employees want purpose. If they don’t find it with you, they’ll find it elsewhere. Ensure that you pulse and listen to employees — individually and not just as a group, consistently and not just annually. By doing this, you will pave an employee’s career path within your organization before they even think about leaving. By focusing on them, you’re focusing on you. They reap the reward of engagement (caring about their work and realizing new career opportunities), and you’ll benefit as well, improving your retention, reputation, and results. Indeed, my manager tasked me with thinking about a blog post, and by way of this, my short-term experience working at Aon has already improved, and now here you are, reading work that I’ve produced, during my time at Aon. This article wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

The Bottom Line of Employee Engagement

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Rachel Serwetz’ early professional experience was at Goldman Sachs in Operations and at Bridgewater Associates in HR. From there, she was trained as a coach at NYU and became a certified coach through the International Coach Federation. After this, she worked in HR Research at Aon Hewitt and attained her Technology MBA at NYU Stern. Throughout her career, she has helped hundreds of professionals with career exploration and for the past 4.5+ years she has been building her company, WOKEN, which is an online career exploration platform to coach professionals through the process of clarifying their ideal job and career path. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Binghamton University and has served as a Career Coach through the Flatiron School, Columbia University, WeWork, and Project Activate.

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