Article: Rethink the “trait” approach of engagement

Employee Engagement

Rethink the “trait” approach of engagement

To view engagement from the trait angle would imply that organizations need to train recruiters and managers to select employees with a predisposition towards being engaged
Rethink the “trait” approach of engagement

With Gallup and CEB publishing reports of active employee engagement constituting 20-30 percent of the employees, and over 20 percent being actively disengaged, “Employee Engagement” remains a perennial thorn in the side of HR practitioners. Employee engagement rests on the fundamental fulcrum that if staff feels that their needs are recognized and accommodated, they are more likely develop organizational affinity and demonstrate increased loyalty. The linkage between employee engagement and organizational productivity, employee retention, customer satisfaction and developing competitive advantage ensures that organizations and HR practitioners continue to think of new ways to “engage” their employees.

There is an ongoing debate if engagement is a stable trait, a temporal state or a stable state of individual employees? Many of us are familiar with the perpetually optimistic, energizer bunnies, who always see the glass as more than half-full and exemplify the engaged employee. Thus, to view “engagement” from the “trait” angle would imply that organizations need to train recruiters and managers to select employees with a predisposition towards being engaged. Therefore, trait engagement would present a dispositional antecedent to the state of engagement, while behavioral or state engagement is considered the outcome of the transient psychological frame of mind. Kahn defined engagement as the “psychological presence” of individuals who behave out of momentary attachments and detachments during role performance. The state theory aligns with Kahn’s original theory of engagement which postulates that engagement is a dynamic condition influenced by the environment and could fluctuate frequently.

Employee engagement rests on the fundamental fulcrum that if staff feels that their needs are recognized and accommodated, they are more likely to develop organizational affinity and demonstrate increased loyalty

This leads to the question: Is engagement a continuum starting with active engagement, demonstrating discretionary effort to themes and active forms of disengagement, alienation or even radical forms of disengagement (including sabotage)? The positive psychological states of “energy, vigor, dedication, enthusiasm, pride, involvement and efficacy” would thus contrast with “burnout, apathy, exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness”.  Most HR functions have aligned with the “state” paradigm of employee engagement. Thus, the popular assumption that all HR functions work on is that engagement is something that can be changed, by modifying conditions. To achieve the goal of engaged and productive workforce, HR functions look to develop an integrated strategy around employee working experiences and integrate these with the normal routine of business.

The domain of employee engagement ranges from initiatives for employee wellbeing, to innovate methods of enabling day-to-day work. The investment in employee wellbeing has been found to pay back manifold, with one direct result being the billions of dollars in savings due to absence of cost reduction. Effectiveness and efficiency measures for these need to be reported to ensure strong adoption, effective ROI and ergo, higher engagement. 

In the domain of wellbeing, amenities offer a range from campus dry cleaning services, bowling alleys, onsite doctors, crèches, masseuses, free food canteens etc. Simply offering ergonomic seating, gym facilities and for many, transportation services does not suffice anymore, as these are becoming the new hygiene levels. Increased focus on health has seen an increase in organizations providing wearable devises such as Fitbits and pedometers, increasing trend of standing desks, juice bars, standing meetings and “walk-the-talk” meetings, cycle-to-work schemes, subsidized gym members, periodic health checkups, on-site group classes ( Yoga, Zumba, aerobics, meditation, mindfulness classes etc.). The focus on health makes immediate business sense, since exercising is known to produce endorphins (the “feel happy” hormone) and fitter, happier employees are more productive, reduce absenteeism costs and shrink insurance premiums for medical coverage. Initiatives to support work-life balance are accommodating preferences of the young staff, and include work-from-home, flexible leave schemes, on-site day care centers, hobby clubs, to name a few.

Annual engagement surveys are losing their perceived value & new technology solutions are capturing employee pulse dynamically and on a more frequent basis

The intense consumerizing of technology and exponential adoption of mobile and smart devices has transformed the ways of working. The shift towards digital platforms for HR processes and functions has been largely driven by the increased value placed by employees on enablement, as office is no longer just at the office and boundaries of work timing are getting blurred. According to an engagement survey conducted to measure engagement initiatives and their perceived value, 75 percent of managers among the respondents reported that allowing usage of smartphone, tablets an BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) resulted in the organization being perceived as flexible and an attractive employer, and these initiatives were believed to increase employee productivity. Combining the power of the cloud with mobile devices, organizations are increasingly adopting the mobile-ready-intranets. With the mobile-ready intranet, HR is providing more updated information for distributed workforces, thereby reducing geographical and cultural distances between their employees. With most popular HRIS systems being on-the-cloud and mobile enabled, all HR processes from recruitment, performance management, reward systems and even learning has moved onto mobile and cloud systems.

Increasingly, annual engagement surveys are losing their perceived value. New technology solutions allow for capturing employee moods dynamically, thereby assessing employee pulse on a more frequent basis. A large IT organization was reported to include 3 smiley emoticons onto the log-in screen to assess happiness quotient on a daily basis. Mobile-based quizzing gamification challenge run on an LMS platform was used as a surrogate measure of engagement and a training need analysis was developed dynamically. Big data is allowing organizations to link individual-level responses, integrated with seemingly unrelated data points such as screen saver time, to build robust predictive models to indicate potential attrition. These technology solutions are also enabling HR to assess adoption of wellbeing and other engagement initiatives, take quick feedback and link to tangible organization outcomes such as productivity and profitability.

All of these initiatives to “manage” employee engagement is slowly resembling the 10 headed Hydra that needs to be tamed by the HR practitioners. So, as investments and efforts are made to improve wellbeing, reduce stress, improve work-life balance, all these new initiatives are becoming the new norm and basic hygiene – much like a new head of the Hydra which has to be kept well in line of sight and tamed. Is it therefore time that we re-think and adopt the “trait” approach of engagement? 

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #EmployeeEngagementIdeas

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