Why is employee engagement so important?

Author - Thomas Vestergaard. Chief Executive Officer

I had the opportunity recently to discuss employee engagement with a number of Scandinavian executives. It was really uplifting to note the focus and attention this area is now receiving. This is clearly an acknowledgment of the payoff gained from working in a targeted fashion with employee engagement. Everyone has their own stories where a division, department or manager succeeded in raising their standards - and where one can subsequently see how this has affected the actual performance.

Engagement rubs off on customer experience

When we ask Scandinavian executives, they all indicate that the challenge of motivating employees and managers is top of their list of factors that would advance their organization and create results. But why? Because a high level of engagement is an expression of a healthy and well-functioning organization, where the employees buy into the company's direction and objectives.

But also because the high level of engagement among employees goes hand in hand with a focus on the customer experience. Try to think yourself of the best customer experience that you have had over the past week. Is your immediate recollection one of a motivated employee, who went that extra mile in terms of service? I believe that the answer is yes. My own best experience recently was with an employee who was smiling, proactive and very interested in me as a guest. I needed assistance in 'saving' a critical travel situation, and the engagement of the employee really shined through in the treatment I received - and my experience as a customer was, quite simply, fantastic!

The difficult art

Despite being in agreement that this is an important area, the work of creating increased engagement is currently harder than ever.

Firstly, the bar has been raised in general. Quite simply there are more organizations working in a structured fashion in this area, and expectations from employees have also increased accordingly. Those factors which were previously a powerful tool in increasing motivation among employees are now an expected quality. I experience for example that regular feedback on performance is an expected quality, especially among younger generations.

Secondly, we are constantly being challenged by the changes, which rain down upon companies.

  • There is limited time for actual management (on average, a manager in Scandinavia spends approx. 25% of his or her time on management)
  • The employees have heightened demands for more meaningful work tasks (cf. Daniel Pink)
  • In general it is required that the company (often via the manager) shows great flexibility toward the employee, both at work and in the gray area between job and free time. 

Managers can easily find themselves in a bottleneck throughout this entire process. And note as well that employees today start looking for their next job much more quickly than previously. We should take care of our managers, support them and develop them for the new role.

Learn from the best

Regardless of whether one is working with annual engagement surveys, pulse surveys, ongoing surveys, smiley surveys or a combination of these, the challenge is to create an understanding of the importance of employee engagement as one of the cornerstones of an organization. That engagement is 'Always on', as Josh Bersin (Deloitte) says, and is now an integrated part of working lives - for both managers and employees.

My experience is that when it comes to working with employee engagement, organizations are very different.

It is not a case of "one size fits all".

The way I see it, there are a number of common factors shared by those companies that succeed best with this agenda: 

  • Firstly, they are able to link employee engagement to the company's actual line of business. They do not measure or work with employee satisfaction as something independent and freestanding, but with what makes most sense for the individual employee. These companies have a clear sense of why they are in existence and what purpose each employee serves. They work with feedback at the lowest level of the organization, that is in the individual teams, whether this refers to a project group or an organizational department. In this way, dialog makes sense both for the individual employee and for the team. 
  • It also makes things much clearer when the focus on and responsibility for improving engagement is placed with both managers and employees. Those companies that succeed are able to delegate responsibility, including to their employees, so that they become co-responsible for their own engagement. Naturally, managers are central - and this can of course be an issue in itself, if they are not comfortable with their leadership role - but there are ways to facilitate and coach them in this.
  • And finally, what these companies have in common is that the work with employee engagement is fused with the other activities which the employee, the team and the manager works with.

Employee engagement is more important than ever. It can be hard work, but the rewards are substantial. Let's get inspired by the best in this area and get started!

Thomas Vestergaard. Chief Executive Officer

Thomas Vestergaard. Chief Executive Officer

Thomas’ blog posts are based on his 20 years’ experience as a consultant for some of the largest companies in Scandinavia. He often consults at top-management level at the crossroads between organizational strategy, surveys and behavior among customers, managers and employees. On a daily basis, Thomas is Chief Executive Officer of Ennova.