With today’s turbulent working environment, businesses must be proactive with organisational and people challenges in order to keep pace with competitors. While there’s no doubt that employee engagement remains a top priority, it is just one, albeit important, piece of the puzzle.
As well as engagement, many of our clients are facing challenges such as high rates of attrition (especially with their top performers), perceived poor work-life balance, inability to deliver change effectively and low performance.
“At a glance, this might appear a set of quite distinct issues. The reality though, is these are all component parts of the broader employee experience.”
Understanding employee engagement
According to one commonly-referenced model, there’s only one scenario (high job demands and resources) whereby true workplace engagement can be achieved. It suggests that, to be engaged at work, employees need to be challenged and stretched but only if they are equipped with the appropriate resources to manage the demands.
There are two key building blocks then – job demands, which encompasses time-pressure, workload and responsibility, and job resources, which covers pay and benefits, physical resources, training and trust in management. Where both of these areas score highly, this should translate to higher engagement, which typically predicts higher performance. But what if that doesn’t happen?
The case for a joined-up approach
Where engagement is low, it can be tricky to know where to start. There’s so much that seems to need fixing. But even if your organisation has moderate or high engagement, you’ll probably have challenges too.
Perhaps you can’t see a path for further improvement or there’s a ‘disconnect’ between high engagement survey scores and the business performance, leading to the feeling that you’re missing something. Or maybe you’re seeing higher rates of attrition or rising stress levels.
“These are trends we’ve spotted first hand, particularly in organisations with a more established engagement survey and where there are higher engagement scores. This naturally begs the question for such organisations – is measuring engagement alone enough?”
An engaged employee will get frustrated by a lack of enablement as they’re putting in lots of discretionary effort, but without having the resources or knowledge they need. Similarly, an engaged employee will feel disempowered if they don’t feel heard or are unreasonably restricted by managers. Either scenario here, if sustained, will ultimately erode engagement and lead to a state of exhaustion and cynicism (collectively known as burnout).
“We recommend a more joined-up to employee research. One that combines engagement, enablement and empowerment promises to give a deeper insight into how different employees experience working at your organisation. This, in turn, can help to predict future employee performance and tailor talent management strategies.”
Moving from engagement to experience
We think ‘job resources’ can be grouped into three broad categories. How employees perceive the quantity and quality of these resources then drives different workplace outcomes (including engagement), as shown below.
1. Employee engagement
Employee engagement remains an outcome where job demands and job resources are high. The job resources however are more specific, such as the need to see oneself developing within a company that is managed by trusted leaders and being fairly recognised and rewarded.
2. Employee enablement
Employee enablement is one of two additional outcomes, both very much distinct from engagement. It is defined as:
“The extent to which employees feel that they are provided with what they need to do their jobs well, while working in an environment that allows them to perform to their greatest ability.”
3. Employee empowerment
And the second – employee empowerment – is defined as:
“The extent to which employees feel they are provided with problem-solving and decision-making authority to do their job, while working in an environment that allows them to speak-up and suggest better ways of doing things.”
Managers to the fore
As is so often the case, line managers have a pivotal role to play with this approach. Firstly, they need to act as the agents of change, to listen and act when issues with either engagement, enablement or empowerment come up. And secondly, on a more day to day level, managers must ensure that they lay the foundations for employees to be engaged through enabling and empowering them. This starts with fostering an environment that promotes, rather than prohibits, workplace engagement.
A snapshot of our employee research
What we’ve found out from admittedly limited research is pretty striking. Using survey questions to make up indices, we can see that while engagement and empowerment indices are rather congruent, enablement scores far lower (68%). It seems that, for these organisations at least, employees are missing some of the more basic work environment resources. This does beg the question as to whether, more generally, enablement is being overlooked or taken for granted in lots of organisations.
Based on our early research in this area, what we can say with confidence is that employee surveys that focus solely on measuring and optimising engagement are unlikely to be providing organisations with the full picture. Instead it can be beneficial to gain a more holistic view, measured through engagement, enablement and empowerment.
“Adopting this approach will allow managers and senior leaders to gain a far better understanding of what is really going on with employees at both an organisational and team level. Armed with this information, interventions and initiatives can be better tailored to provide a work environment that allows every employee to perform, develop and flourish.”