Understanding Employee Engagement
In the Beginning…
When I became a Certified Dental Assistant just before my 19th birthday, I never wondered what employee engagement was. I never questioned whether or not I was treated well or paid enough. My boss was a 36-year old guy, a dentist who employed two hygienists, two assistants, and one office manager. As a 19-year old who had just finished an intensive three-semester program, I thought life and work were pretty sweet. And I guess they were.
Until my needs were no longer met and a poor working condition appeared. I made the decision to leave after three years. I loved my job, but another employee had made my life miserable. She was fired less than a year after I left. There had been no mechanism in place for me to properly report incidents and I had no recourse. My former boss re-hired me for a short time, while another assistant was on maternity leave. He expressed that he wished he had better listened to me and my needs – not my complaints, but my needs.
The knowledge I have gained since then has changed my perspective somewhat. Several jobs and career iterations have molded my thoughts and shaped each next step. Each employee takes with him the experiences they have had – not all are great as seen by the recent disclosures of work life at Amazon – a company known for an incredible product: their service. Other companies have shouldered their own bad reviews and there are those of us out there who have had experiences similar to those in each exposé. Very few can say they have always had excellent work experiences with awesome bosses and perfect colleagues.
Each New Job
Each new work experience is built upon the last. Employees come to the workplace with baggage. For some, their baggage is a lengthy job search, for others it’s layoff or poor previous working condition filled with stress or prejudice. Each experience is unique and, thus, no one really has a shared experience – we respond and recover differently, as well.
Why Employee Engagement?
What does employee engagement have to do with employee experience? When communication is open and accepted, both side, employer and employee, have the opportunity to share honestly about expectations, outcomes, and eventually – the overall experience. Engagement means opportunity, it means a certain vulnerability. Sadly, the truth – which should provide strength – is often seen as weakness. With all this talk about employee engagement, there is the temptation to cover up the squeaky wheel or simply change it – to hide the truth. Why? Because the truth is uncomfortable and because it is a driver of change. And no one likes change.
Is HR Responsible?
Employee engagement is a lot like employer branding. In order for it to work over the long haul, as a long-term strategy, it needs to be based in truth.
- What is it really like to work for an organization?
- Is there good communication pre-hire? During on-boarding? Once hired and after probationary period? Annual review?
- Are expectations shared and allowed to change over time?
- Are desired outcomes feasible? Can an employee be truly successful?
- And what does success look like?
We call the time when a couple decides to get married until they do get married an “engagement.” It is a promise to wed, a time of commitment, a time to understand the needs of both partners. This is how it should be for the employee. Has the employer created a false front? Are they fulfilling promises or making sure employee needs are met? How is this happening? How is it documented?
But the onus doesn’t only fall upon the employer. That would be too easy. A promise to marry is reliant on each partner contributing, this is not a one-sided affair. Is the employee fulfilling his end of the bargain? Does he really know what he needs to do, what is expected? Is he given the information and assistance necessary for success?
We Care, I Care
I’ve spent the last ten years writing about job search, candidate experience, employee experience, employee engagement, recruiter experience, HR experience, employer experiences and have worked for tech companies who want to make the HR world a better place for both the employer and the employee. It really does matter if you try to make a difference.
We want to know…
As a tech company consistently searching for answers, it makes sense to actually listen. If you have an experience, good or bad, employer or employee, we’d love to hear about it. We cannot improve processes if we don’t look for glitches or even recognize they exist. We cannot improve processes if we don’t actually hear what you say, listen to what you need, and develop a way to do it better. That is what we do, it is what we want.
A couple years ago…
I answered some questions about employer branding — sounds a lot like employee engagement.