Article: Structural employee engagement for SMEs

Employee Engagement

Structural employee engagement for SMEs

Although the concept of employee engagement has grown in popularity, it has undergone significant development in terms of definition, measurement and conceptualisation.
Structural employee engagement for SMEs

Employee engagement is about making changes and improvements in the workplace so that employees can be their best.  We know that in any size or type of organisation, it’s good for our employees as individuals and for the business itself if our workforce is engaged.  It’s often the case though that employee engagement is not talked about within small companies. It might be seen as purely common sense and therefore to focus on specific initiatives, perhaps seen as a distraction or something that is more of an issue for larger corporates. No matter how large or small our organisation, if employees feel connected to their job, to their team or to the business, they will go the extra mile and excel at what they do which in turn means that the business will perform better.  

In a smaller organisation, it’s easier for leaders to show their support for engagement initiatives and to be involved in driving forward and measuring planned actions. Employee engagement initiatives don’t need the resources of a huge HR department or communications strategy, it is more about the reality of how things are done, how people are managed, and whether they feel listened to and rewarded in a fair way. It is also easier in an SME to look at talent across the organisation and identify where opportunities might be given to individuals to match their interests and talent to the needs of the organisation, so that the business benefits from putting skills and knowledge to good use while the individual experiences job satisfaction. Another key aspect of engagement comes from employees being able to see the end product and how their efforts have contributed to helping the business to succeed.  Because in a smaller business they may be involved in a number of aspects of a project, process or service, they often get the satisfaction of seeing a task through to its end, something that binds the individual and the business together. 

While there are many research studies that point to the percentage of engaged and disengaged employees, few studies have looked at what really drives employee engagement. Dale Carnegie teamed with MSW Research to study the functional and emotional elements that affect employee engagement. A national representative sample of 1,500 employees was surveyed, which revealed that although there are many factors that impact employee engagement, there are few key drivers: 

  • Relationship with immediate supervisor.
  • Belief in senior leadership.
  • Pride in working for the company.
  • Among the 1,500 employees, only 29% are fully engaged and 26% are disengaged. Almost half (45%) are partially engaged.
  • More engaged workers tend to be, Senior management (Senior VP+ level).


The attitude and actions of the immediate supervisor can enhance employee engagement or can create an atmosphere where an employee becomes disengaged. In addition, employees said that believing in the ability of senior leadership to take their input, lead the company in the right direction and openly communicate the state of the organization is key in driving engagement. Given that 99.9% of organisations in the UK are defined as small or medium sized (SMEs), they employ about 60% of the UK workforce and are responsible for about 50% of GDP, they’re a critical part of the economy.  According to the Department of Economic Development, SMEs account for 92%  of the economic contribution

According to the Department of Economic Development, SMEs account for 92%  of the economic contribution in the non-oil sector and employs up to 86% of the workforce in the UAE. The Workforce Institute at Kronos has presented some interesting research on SME  work-life balance and employee engagement as tools for a competitive advantage. The research, which included input from HR managers, CEOs and employees themselves,  found that 76% of respondents agreed that “employees need to feel more engaged at work” as a way to increase productivity. While they may not have the deep pockets of their enterprise counterparts, SMBs can capitalise on their innate agility, together with less complicated structures and processes, to focus on boosting productivity, innovation, and growth through better employee engagement,” said Neil Pickering, industry and customer insight manager at Kronos. 

A 30-year study of the United States workforce by Gallup organisation found that, on average, the ratio of actively engaged to disengaged employees in organisations was 1:83 to 1. This sounds like a small disparity, but it is one that is estimated to cost more than US$ 300 billion in lost productivity per year. A recent study by a global consulting firm found that four employees out of ten are not engaged worldwide (AON Hewitt Report 2012). Among the four regions studied, Latin America was found to have highly engaged workforces in comparison to Asia Pacific, Europe and North America. With respect to the Asia Pacific region, people from the Baby Boomers generation (born 1946–1964) seemed to be highly engaged in comparison to Generation X (born 1965–1978) and the Millennials (born 1979– present). These findings are significant in at least two respects. First, the conditions of the engaged workforce in the Asia Pacific region remain somewhat bleak. Second, the fact that the new generations of employees seem not to be as highly engaged as the earlier generations poses serious threats to the development of the workforce, particularly in developing countries.

Although the concept of employee engagement has grown in popularity, it has undergone significant development in terms of definition, measurement and conceptualisation. In the case of SMEs, they not only encounter a dynamic and highly competitive environment but they also face issues of their own such as financial difficulty, shortage of experts, marketing of products, competition, and increasing cost factors In spite of these challenges, SMEs play a significant role in the country’s economic development and also as a source for creating employment opportunities and providing support to big companies. Thus, SMEs are considered to be the backbone of national economy. 

Employees are the biggest investment and should bring the greatest reward. Yet even today, in too many organizations, employees are viewed as an asset to be managed rather than as individuals who can create the next innovation for success. Long-term engagement starts with good communication between employer and employees as well as among co-workers, fostering a positive working environment. By working with employees to create a clear career path and set goals with a potential for growth, a manager can create positive esteem within each team member. By showing them that they are valued and have responsibility, and then to recognize and reward them for a job well done, a manager can create an “involved employee.” It is then much easier to turn that sense of involvement into enthusiasm and a sense of pride in ownership that creates the highest levels of engagement with employees.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #SMETalent

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