The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Terms of Employee Engagement

The face of human resources is changing. Gone are the days when lower-level employees would mentally hum the “Darth Vader theme" when a HR associate entered the room, or imagined HR as a group of axe-wielding ogres who were drooling over the thought of terminating employees. Today we work as liaisons between employees and management; delicately balancing the needs of the organization with the needs of its employees. As a profession, we have our own buzzwords to keep up with the times; we “select” candidates instead of hire, our duties are “transitional” rather than transactional, we must now “brand” our recruitment activities to gain a “competitive advantage,” and we firmly believe that “employee engagement” is the key to a successful organization. As a student, I find myself frequently using Google to discover the true definition of these terms, and I have observed many of my classmates using the term “employee engagement” synonymously with employee happiness and satisfaction; which lead me to ask, “What exactly is employee engagement?” and “How does an organization achieve this?”

Google led me to an issue of Forbes on the subject where I discovered that employee happiness and satisfaction are not synonymous with employee engagement; in fact, Forbes  defined it as, “... the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and goals.” Reading the article led me to another interesting conclusion; employee happiness and satisfaction can lead to employee engagement, and employee engagement can lead to employee happiness and satisfaction... I know that when I felt pride in the work I did and the organization I was employed by, I was happy and satisfied; also, when I felt happy and satisfied about the work I performed, I felt pride in my work and the organization I worked for. Why did I feel this way? I understood my place in the organization, I was confident in leadership’s decisions, I liked my co-workers, I was recognized and rewarded for my efforts, and I had the tools I needed to succeed. 

A report published by PeopleMetrics confirmed my experiences by listing the eight drivers of employee engagement as purpose, trust, growth, fun, customer focus, recognition, resources, and rewards.

With an understanding of what employee engagement is and what drives it, the question of, “How do we achieve it?” remains. Assuming that an organization’s culture supports the aforementioned drivers and is selecting candidates who are willing to be engaged, I turned for suggestions to my findings from a human resources information systems course I recently attended and my colleagues on a HR forum I frequent.  

When this question was posed in the HRIS class, my first instinct was to look to the social media technology that makes many organizations and HR personnel cringe because of the ethical, security, and time theft issues surrounding this technology.  Why? Because we have a new generation of individuals entering the boardroom and the workforce that uses this technology to interact with the world around them, and they have wants and needs that must be met. 

To overcome objections regarding ethics, security, and time theft, I turned once again to Google and found several HRIS vendors that offer "social HRIS." The software has the same features as traditional HR systems, but also helps track employee goal achievement, recognizes employees, encourages and tracks career development, enables employees to communicate and collaborate, and provides the resources that employees need all in one place. Along this train of thought, one of my colleagues suggested free online collaboration tools which enable employees to communicate in real-time and post status updates.

A second method several colleagues suggested was holding a talent show. A talent show allows employees to meet and interact, it recognizes that employees have abilities that may not normally be used in the workplace, it recognizes that employees have lives outside of work, and it gives all employees a chance to participate; whether they are on the committee that organizes the event, a performer, or a member of the audience.

A third method is to use the organization’s performance appraisal process. One of my favorite call center employers used their weekly quality monitoring meetings to encourage employees to discuss their career objectives, set goals to achieve those objectives, receive feedback from supervisors, be recognized for goal achievement, give supervisors feedback about what they could do to help employees achieve goals, and supervisors would often call upon employees’ co-workers with expertise in certain areas to provide support to employees who were struggling with certain concepts. Sometimes a high-five from a supervisor or co-worker is more meaningful than a material reward.

The bottom line is this: While social networking on the company’s intranet, online collaboration tools, talent shows, or performance appraisal processes all contribute to employee engagement, these things alone do not support employee engagement. If an organization selects candidates who are unwilling to be engaged or if the organizational culture restricts any of these drivers, all of the talent shows and technology in the world will not help to improve employee engagement.  


Anonymous said...

You mention use of an HRIS. Is that the same as an ATS?

I'm also wondering whether the HRIS has other functions it's useful to track or for which it can be used.

CharityR said...

Hello Anonymous,

Just to clarify, HRIS in the blog's context is the software that is used to help store, retrieve, track, and analyze employee data. As such, an ATS can be a component of an organization's human resources information system.

To answer your second question, it depends upon the HRIS software. Vendors offer HRIS software that can include some or all of the following capabilities: timekeeping, payroll, absence tracking, turnover analysis, performance tracking, PTO/leave tracking, company document storage, employee self-service, and benefits administration.

I would rather not mention specific vendors since I do not wish to inadvertently promote specific vendors. However, when I was performing research on the subject for a college assignment, I used as a means to discover what options were available.

Anonymous said...

What does it mean to say a position is "transitional" compared with "transactional"? Transition usually means it's going from one point to another, either increasing or decreasing in some aspect. A transaction means short term and sometimes on a one-time basis.

CharityR said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thank you for asking this question! When using the word "transactional" when discussing the duties of HR, I am referencing the bookkeeping tasks that used to be HR's focus before automation and employee self-service. Examples of these tasks include: changing employee's addresses, benefits enrollment, or payroll.

"Transitional" duties on the other hand means the duties that HR now performs to help organizations and employees evolve or develop. Examples of these duties might include: creating or improving an employee development program, making the employee appraisal process more goal-oriented, or making changes to the selection process.

So you are correct. Transactional duties benefit the employees and organization in the short term while transitional duties are focused on helping the organization and its employees to evolve and develop.

CharityR said...

I realized that I made a differentiation between two terms that are used synonymously; "hire" and "select."

Hire means that the employer did not test/assess or fully consider a candidate's knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) before extending an offer of employment. Hiring is usually done when an organization needs employees quickly, or when the position doesn't require candidates to possess specific KSAs. On the other hand, select means that the employer did consider a candidate's KSAs, and tested/assessed for specific KSAs before extending an offer of employment.

Yvonne LaRose, CAC said...

Kenexa just announced the release of a study they've done on employee engagement as it affects many aspects of business. You may be interested in the findings which are at 2012 Kenexa WorkTrends Report – The Many Contexts of Employee Engagement - Kenexa High Performance I.

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Eshan said...

Nice post!!! Engagement is characterized as employees’ readiness and capacity to help organization achievement.