Article: How to create an engaging workplace

Employee Relations

How to create an engaging workplace

A Towers Watson and People Matters roundtable on Employee Engagement showcased nine ways to create an engaged workforce
How to create an engaging workplace

Organizations should take care to ensure that Employee Engagement initiatives don’t become a monthly/annual exercise, but part of a larger and ongoing conversation


Employee Engagement surveys should not be about numbers. Companies should ensure that they get qualitative feedback on which they should act upon


We know that employee engagement and business outcomes are correlated. In an increasingly globally competitive world – where talent becomes the differentiator between being in the black and the red – it becomes critical to have a rock solid employee engagement initiative, which is not only aligned to the business strategy but also to the employee value proposition and other HR strategies.

For long, employee engagement activities have been a monthly or annual exercise, which once implemented loses its steam. The challenge is not just in terms of how to correctly measure employee engagement, but also to be able to sustain the same. This is where creating the correct engagement survey tool is fundamental to the business strategy. A lot of the times, employees are asked to measure the wrong metrics. It is critical for an employee engagement initiative to be successful that you ask the right questions. Another thing to keep in mind is that if the metric does not change moment by moment, then there is no need to measure the same. Such metrics need to be measured only after you’ve had the chance to act on them. They can also be a pre-indicator of what’s wrong with the organization; then it ends up becoming not just a measuring strategy, but a listening strategy.

It is a great opportunity to hear the views and the opinions of the people who matter the most to the business -the critical talent- and it is not just about being productive but also innovative. The business needs to own employee engagement initiatives. HR has a major and important role in driving the direction and setting the strategy, but if the business leaders don’t own the process and don’t get involved, you are not going to win.

Also, for the business to be efficient it needs to have a certain type of culture to help support the engagement strategy. The company’s culture should be integrated into the employee engagement strategy as cultural change influences people’s actions and behaviors. Hence, it is very much essential that such initiatives are not just a monthly/annual exercise, but part of an ongoing conversation.

It is in this context that Towers Watson, a leading global professional services firm, and People Matters joined hands to set up a series of roundtables in New Delhi and Mumbai on March 20-21, 2014, on “Employee Engagement 2.0 – Creating an Engaged and Effective 21st Century Workplace” to tackle some of the most pressing questions that CHROs, Senior HR Leaders and HR managers had about employee engagement. The roundtable tackled three major points: How are we measuring engagement today and does it have any relevance, how those metrics are related to other business metrics and how are we segmenting the employee engagement programs and can we get a better RoI out of it?

Lesley Brown, Asia Pacific Leader, Organisational Survey’s & Insights, Towers Watson, said the way a measurement tool is designed is going to be fundamental in the way results will impact the organization. It is necessary to figure out the outcome of what you are trying to achieve through the employee engagement initiative before you get it to the front end.

Ajith Nair, Practice Leader, Organisational Survey’s & Insights, Towers Watson India, said the big question that organizations are tackling today are how to link the employee engagement programmes to the business and making it relevant and seamless.

“Towers Watson basis research with high performing global organizations realized that mere traditional engagement is not enough to sustain employee discretionary effort. We focused on the sustainability of these initiatives,” Brown said adding that organizations that had not just strong engagement, but also enablement and energized employees had three times more operating margin than those who didn’t. Well-being of employees and work-life balance have now become part of employee engagement. Creating an environment that bring out the right level of energy, interpersonal and social support for the employee as well as lead to achieving something that is meaningful for the individual has become a major part of sustainable engagement. This would not only aid the companies in their business performance but also prevent absenteeism and presenteeism.

Some of the questions that were raised during the roundtable were: RoI of employee engagement, key drivers of engagement, how to measure engagement, converting non-engaged employees to engaged, effectiveness of employee engagement surveys, link between employee engagement and productivity etc.

Here are 9 key learnings from the roundtable:

  1. Segmenting Employees: It is important that the company understands the needs of particular employee groups and find out what’s engaging and motivating them. This can later be used to build the Employee Value Proposition to help them achieve their goals and aspirations. The organization has to be very diligent and specific about its Employee Engagement roadmap and it has to be part of an integrated approach to be able to implement it successfully.
  2. Leadership Buy in: Any initiative in the organization should have the buy-in of the top leadership. In fact, getting the buy-in has been stated as one of the critical factors that impeded such engagement initiatives before. Before rolling out the employee engagement survey, HR should proactively seek the thoughts of the senior leadership team. This will ensure that the survey is not just about hard numbers, but more about qualitative feedback.
  3. Sentiment Tracking: can be a great tool to check the mood of the organization. Even though there is no research to prove that there is a connection between mood and business performance, sentiment tracking can give a good indication of the prevalent emotion in the company and what might be coming your way, thus helping you to react to it appropriately. However, the one thing that organizations should look out for is that the mood can always fluctuate and so should not be taken on face value.
  4. Social Media Scanning: Personal devices have become crucial tools for engaging employees, especially millennials. Organizations have embraced the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement to harness an employees’ continued connectivity and now source updates from various social media sites such as Yammer and Glassdoor to get an idea about their employees’ engagement levels. Again, companies have to double-check these social updates and do their own sanity checks before jumping to any conclusions.
  5. Getting the timing right: Organizations have to ensure that the employee engagement survey is rolled out in time and does not clash with other business initiatives. HR needs to have a good sense of what’s going on in the organization and plan activities accordingly.
  6. Customized EVP: It is not just enough to segment the workers, but also to use the right value proposition for the right population group. That is what will make a huge difference fundamentally for the organization. The organization can make customized propositions for pivotal roles, talent groups or roles that are business critical. The important thing is that all of this has to be done keeping in mind the business context, organizational needand employee perspective.
  7. Accessing Data: Information comes from both within and outside the organization. Information of a certain nature can be very helpful while devising the employee engagement strategy such as people in pivotal roles, what life stages they are in and their demography. Such information can help influence the kind of benefits that will be available to them and can be customized around their career growth and aspirations more so for strategies like talent management, total rewards, health & wellness and retirement benefits.
  8. Individual responsibility: It is not just the organization that needs to engage the employee, but it is also the responsibility of the employee to get involved and be accountable for his/her actions.
  9. Business context: Last but not the least, always put a layer of business context/interpretation over the results of the employee engagement survey and do not jump to conclusions. You need to have the right tools for the right data. This will help in creating the big picture where the benchmark on what is normal is made.

Measure the unique aspects of organizations

Lesley Brown, Asia Pacific Leader, Organisational Survey’s & Insights, Towers Watson, talks about why she took up employee engagement and how that has evolved over time

What is the definition of employee engagement and how has that evolved over time?

We are definitely seeing the concept of engagement evolve. Clients and organizations are asking different questions now than they were 10 years ago. Earlier, they were thinking about people being satisfied. Now that has changed to whether they were committed and if they could be retained. More recently, they have started to think about whether they are aligned to the strategy and are they putting in discretionary efforts. Over a period of 20 years, we saw a lot of change. More recently, we are seeing organizations trying to sustain the engagement, particularly those who have been doing well and who may have seen the signs of stress and burnout of the employees by turnover. Through our research, we started to identify such factors. We think employee engagement is fundamental to the growth of the company. Companies are also thinking about if the people are enabled in their local work environments and supported to be able to get things done. You want that great sense of passion, but you don’t want people to burn out.

How do you measure engagement in organizations?

I think measuring engagement in organizations is an interesting challenge. Are you getting a true picture of what is really going on? I think it is about having the right strategy in place and not just about looking things at one angle but about using a number of different lenses to review information, to collect information, create a different dialogue or conversations. This way you learn the true story of engagement. Each organization is truly unique. If they weren’t, then it would be a lost opportunity for them. You need to design a survey that is measuring the unique aspects they are trying to achieve and aligning it to business strategy is a really important way to that. If an organization is striving to be efficient, then do they have the right culture to support that strategy? Then it would be measuring those things and understanding how you perform against those will ensure that you got the right outcomes in mind for that.

Why did you choose employee engagement as your area of expertise?

I started off my career doing organizational psychology, thinking about psychology in teams. I actually started working in a sports psychology environment and wanted to specialize in it. Then when I started my career, it was more interesting to think about teams in organizations. It’s really dynamic and that area of psychology was really growing very fast. I felt like I could make a big difference and help organizations understand their employees, make them feel like that I could make a change to their experience of work and feel more supported then that was really helping.

You made an interesting point about the psychology of the individuals in the team. How do companies scale that culture?

I think organizations need to align the culture they are trying to create with their strategy. So, this has to be driven from what’s happening at the leadership level. What makes it interesting is that it is multi-dimensional. What works for one individual may not work for another. But it doesn’t mean that you have to do something that is completely different either.

What is your message to managers and leaders to keep their teams engaged, enabled and energized?

Being a manager and being able to create avenues that the people feel empowered and that they can deal with change – as change is the ongoing scenario – that you craft jobs for people that are interesting that gives them the sense of doing something important and connected to the overall business. The best managers create a conversation that is as much about hearing from their employees as it is the other way around.

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Topics: Employee Relations, Employee Engagement, #HRInsights

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