MT Special: David MacLeod on employee engagement

We ask author David MacLeod whether there's anything new in the latest BIS engagement guidelines.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

MT: Why does employee engagement matter?
DM: There is a huge body of evidence showing that engaged employees are far more committed and productive than disengaged ones. Studies show that engaged employees are more productive, more innovative, have lower rates of sickness or absenteeism, are less likely to leave the organisation and have a positive impact on customer service.

To put it simply, if a business does employee engagement well, it’s a ‘win win’ for employer and employees. If enough businesses do employee engagement well, it will also be a boost for our economy.

But that’s hardly a new idea, is it?
The idea of employee engagement is not revolutionary. There have been a number of organisations, small and large, who have been doing it well for many years. However, there has been a growing interest in the area in recent years. And, as the country emerges from one of the toughest economic periods in recent history, it is now more important than ever that organisations realise the full potential of their people.

Among other things, ‘Engaging for Success’, the independent report that Nita Clarke and I wrote to Government, has helped to put employee engagement on the agenda of an increasing number of business leaders. The question we are hearing from more and more employers is how to make it a reality within their business. In response, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has just launched a range of easy to understand practical guidance, which is available to be downloaded for free at:

What’s the point of this new guidance?
One of the key recommendations that we made in ‘Engaging for Success’ was the need for practical guidance to help businesses make employee engagement a reality. The BIS guidance has been developed with input from business leaders, employers and employee engagement practitioners. It is designed to help employers identify and put into practice some key steps that could help them increase employee engagement in their businesses.

Who should be reading it?
It's designed to help leaders and senior managers across the private, public and third sector reap the benefits of effective engagement. And, in an era of constrained resources, where nearly every organisation is seeking ‘more for less’, there are few industries that can afford to ignore employee engagement. We hope that more employers and managers will take the simple steps that can make a difference.

What's actually in there?
As well as an introductory overview of employee engagement, there are four guides that respond to the four ‘enablers’ of effective engagement that Nita and I noted in ‘Engaging for Success’. They are:  

•    Create and communicate your strategic narrative
•    Become a more engaging manager
•    Establish employee voice in your business
•    Create and communicate business values with integrity

There are also written and video case studies on exemplars of good practice on each of these areas; downloadable templates that employers can use to put principles into practice; and video testimonies from business leaders on the benefits of engagement.

So what kind of tangible benefits can engagement bring?
Many and varied. When employees fully understand the business strategy, and where they fit in, they can focus their effort on achieving the organisation’s goals. When organisations invite views, feedback and ideas from their people, they can find new ways of improving the business and making more of their resources.  And when a business does what it says it will, and lives up to its values in practice, employees are more likely to deliver a compelling and consistent experience for customers. All of these help improve business performance. The new guidance we are launching today contains case studies of many organisations that have delivered tangible benefits like this.

How do you convince people it's not just a box-ticking exercise?
Engagement must be a cultural commitment, not a ‘one off’ event. Leaders need to show their people how keen they are to involve them in the business. Engagement isn’t about presentations or surveys: although these tactics have their place, they need to form part of a wider commitment to share information, seek feedback and encourage ideas from employees. Employees need to see that their views and opinions are wanted and that they are heard and responded to. Real engagement is underpinned by a belief in - and respect for - the role that employees play within the business.

How do you know when you've done it?

There is no single outcome from effective engagement. You may notice it in a number of ways, from improved productivity to lower absence rates, enhanced customer service to increased employee retention. You may see any or all of these benefits. But you’ll certainly notice the difference between a workforce that is engaged, committed and eager to help your goals, and one that is simply not at this level.

David MacLeod is the co-author of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) sponsored report, 'Engaging for Success'.


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MT Special: David MacLeod on employee engagement

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