EMPLOYEE engagement is a key factor when it comes to staff retention, and is a major lever of productivity. However, in the Asia-Pacific, employee engagement levels remain low and according to Gallup Consulting’s 2013 State Of The Global Workplace survey are as low as 6 to 10 per cent.

So what more can organisations in Singapore do to improve employee engagement and achieve higher levels of staff retention, productivity and ultimately profitability?

First of all, senior management must understand what engagement is and why it is important.

At its core, employee engagement is the sense of ownership and commitment employees feel towards their organisation and the motivation derived from it.

An employee who is engaged is eager to do whatever it takes to make a meaningful contribution to the organisation’s success. This discretionary energy can be measured in terms of productivity, which results in strong individual and business performance.

Providing a constructive environment for employees to feel involved, committed and absorbed in their work is vital in fostering employee engagement. If employees feel involved, committed and absorbed, they will most likely go above and beyond what is expected of them.

In its 2013 Trends In Global Employee Engagement study, Aon Hewitt quantifies the incremental impact of engagement on profitability: a 1 per cent engagement improvement for an organisation with a $750 million baseline operating income can result in a $20 million increase to the bottom line and a 10 per cent increase brought in an additional $240 million.

In terms of profitability, effective employee engagement can have a significantly positive impact.

But how do organisations achieve greater workforce engagement, particularly when employees are not accustomed to speaking out and don’t expect to be engaged with?

Effective employee engagement is not just an annual employee satisfaction survey, company event or an activity that is delegated to the human resource department.

It is a conscious effort to increase involvement that is contributed to by all business areas, is supported by senior leadership and relies on three fundamental processes:

  • Establishing a strong and positive climate;
  • Building trust; and
  • Addressing employee engagement needs.

Climate

Climate refers to the perception attached to a work environment, what it feels like to work there and, according to Robert Stringer, “drives performance because it is tied directly to motivation — that is, to the energy people put into their work”.

This goes back to an employee’s willingness to put in the extra mile, resulting in increased productivity and business performance.

Global learning and development firm Forum recently undertook an online poll that showed that “what leaders do” has the greatest impact on an organisation’s climate.

Seventy per cent of respondents believed that how it feels to work in a company results from what managers do in their business units, with their teams and with their individual employees. This indicates that the way managers operate is key to whether or not employees are engaged and motivated.

Trust

Trust is another important factor in improving employee engagement and also relies on managers leading the way. To establish a climate of trust, managers should focus on three areas:

  • Listening;
  • Actioning commitments; and
  • Encouraging employee contribution.

Building trust in the workforce relies on two-way communication. Managers have to actively listen to employees’ concerns, follow through with their commitments and open up opportunities for feedback, or face a workforce that feels distanced and unaccomplished.

This can be difficult in Singapore, as there has traditionally been little consideration for contribution in the workplace. However, it is possible to build trust when leaders see the link between trust, engagement employee needs and productivity and then infuse it into their everyday work.

Acknowledge needs

Acknowledging the personal and professional needs of employees is also important when it comes to effective engagement. Forum has identified five key needs that contribute to a highly engaged employee:

•  Accomplishment;

•  Recognition;

•  Enjoyment;

•  Belonging; and

•  Advancement.

These factors don’t hold the same value for everyone — what is important for one employee may not matter to another. This means that, while employee engagement efforts should be implemented across an organisation, they should also be individual; it also again highlights the importance of a manager’s role in team and individual employee engagement.

Managers need to recognise their employees’ needs and understand how to manage them in the right way to motivate and get the best out of their team.

Keep in mind that while some engagement activities may be formally rolled out across a company, often the most effective occur every day, on an individual level, as a natural process.

Improving employee engagement will take time, but once understood and established as an everyday practice, it will bring lasting improvements to business operations.

Article by Cynthia Stuckey, managing director of The Forum Corporation (Asia-Pacific). Forum is a recognised global leader in linking learning to strategic business objectives. For more information, visit www.forumasiapacific.com.sg