Moving from information-spreading to true community: The next phase of employee engagement
How to improve employee engagement as an Internal Communications practitioner
How to improve employee engagement as an Internal Communications practitioner
July 1, 2021
This guide is for anyone who is trying to better understand the role of employee engagement at your company, and how to best integrate methods to measure or boost it. This guide will cover everything from what employee engagement looks like in the context of your company, what drives it, how it can be measured, and how it can be improved. Let this article act as your guide to greater heights. In this article, we’re concentrating on the best practices of employee engagement to help elevate the majority of businesses into the mid-level summit. In future pieces, we’ll aim higher and delve deeper into those new phases of employee empowerment – of next generation Internal Communications.
What is employee engagement? The definition of employee engagement was first established by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke as “a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give their best each day.” Essentially employee engagement is a way of work and collaboration that emphasizes bottom-up interaction that benefits the business. By committing to prioritizing goals and values employees feel motivated to contribute to the success of the business while also enhancing their own sense of well-being.
The objective of employee engagement is to create a space where employees increase the capacity and potential they offer the company. Engaged employees increase the productivity of the organization and drive innovation, productivity, and bottom-line performance in an economic way while maintaining high retention in a competitive talent market.
An engaged workforce with high performance benefits growth and survival of any organization, but requires tools and strategies to ensure that the culture is both sustainable and effective to achieve the bottom line.
Engaged employees can be nurtured to become advocates for the organization and help you to attract and retain the best talent in your industry. They lead by example, and can be truly transformative.
The benefits of engaged employees are that they
With employee loyalty is decreasing – 43 percent of workers would be willing to leave their company for a 10 percent salary increase, found TINYpulse – and the rising costs of hiring new talent (including the time taken for your current employees to conduct the search and do the interviews) investing in an employee engagement program can make good business sense.
Consider as well that one employee leaving a company costs it between $15,000 and $25,000, while the average cost per hire in the US is $4,129 and the average onboarding cost per employee is $3,000.
When the drivers behind employee engagement and the real-world impact engaged employees can have and understood, then you’ll have a better chance to make your business case for Internal Communications, to build your strategy on best practices, and to create measurement tactics that help to prove the ROI of engagement.
Through this you’ll be able to build an employee community that helps to disseminate your messages, that is in a good position to start moving even further down that Internal Communications funnel.
Exceptional leadership leads to engaged employees leads to customer satisfaction leads to business results. Engagement is not some fluffy nice to have for a business; it’s a real and important metric that can and should be measured.
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found organizations with higher employee engagement saw 17 percent greater productivity, while actively disengaged employees cost the US $483 to $604 billion per year in lost productivity. They also found that 53 percent of employees give only the minimum effort required, and will quickly leave their current company for even a slightly better offer – and none of that is particularly conducive to long-term profitable business growth.
The point most Internal Communications managers try to reach is that of a truly engaged workforce that is highly productive and collaborates with ease – in other words, the Holy junction where Internal Comms and business strategy intersect.
And that pinnacle is worth reaching for: in its report on the Financial Impact of a Positive Employee Experience, IBM found those organizations that score in the top 25 percent for employee experience report nearly three times the return on assets and double the return on sales when compared to organizations in the bottom quarter.
Today’s employees are looking for more than the 9-5, a job to pay the bills. They are searching for a job that offers a great employee experience. We’re spending an increasing amount of time working as the line between work and life gets blurred, so it’s natural that people would seek something with meaning, something they enjoyed. Unlike job satisfaction, employee engagement is not transactional. Engaged employees are intrinsically motivated - they care about their work, not just the paycheck.
Engaged employees are those that get up in the morning absolutely excited to get to work, see their colleagues and make a difference by working hard. They’re the model employees that every company wants to attract and retain. An engaged employee cares so much about the organization, that they want it to succeed, and they’re not afraid to speak up on which changes are necessary to make that happen. But they do so constructively.
But to get them, you need to understand what drives them. How can you create the right environment to turn your average employee into a highly engaged and super-focused star employee? We'll tell you this much: it’s more than just salary, benefits and compensation.
Going back to Engage for Success, they believe positive employee engagement is based on trust, integrity, a two-way commitment and communication between an organization and its members. It’s about understanding one’s role in an organization, and knowing where you fit into the organization's purpose and objectives. If we must all start with why, the engaged employee starts with “why should I care?”
Most importantly, engaged employees are a member of an organization with strong and authentic values, and clear evidence of trust and fairness based on mutual respect.
Anyone can have an audience, whether they’re engaged or not. If someone is passing you by in the street and you start singing, they are technically an audience. The fact they keep walking and don’t put a coin in your hat just means you didn’t grab them, you didn’t engage them in what you’re doing.
Engagement that involves creation from employees – articles, posts and comments, if we’re speaking digital, whereas passive groups simply read, like and in the case of more static content: involves time spent on page
Through working with the drivers of employee engagement, you can build that captive audience into an engaged audience. You can get them contributing to the messaging so that it becomes a two-way system rather than a series of push communications. That does not, however, make them a community – they are just a series of individuals who happen to be receiving the same message and engaging with it.
Mark’s advice for building a community centres around six principles:
The focus should be to start small, and build out. Work on creating a flow of communication and content to the people in your audience (that is, your workforce), and, once you have some engagement, slowly evolve your offering to encourage further involvement from those same people. Encourage independent engagement - that is, engagement without your prompts - and let go, trusting that your community will build and further develop their own relationships with each other.
So how do we get there, to this place where the community begins to run without your direction and you have more time to focus on driving the Internal Comms strategy? You guessed it: it’s about running that top-notch employee engagement program and considering the key drivers of employee engagement.
HR.com’s State of the Industry research found engagement pacesetters leverage leadership and culture to maximize engagement. Their respondents rated factors in terms of importance to engagement, with results showing the biggest drivers are:
They also found the less important factors included:
• Physical environment of the workplace (37%)
• Sense of psychological safety (35%)
For employees to have trust in their leaders there needs to be transparency from all of your C-Suite. Employees feel most engaged when leadership regularly updates them on company strategy.
When this employee/supervisor relationship is strong, it is because each manager/leader is both able to feel comfortable in their own leadership style while also being able to adjust to better interact with the needs of each of their individual employees. When supervisors are more empathetic and flexible in their relationships, employees are more likely to lessen their stress levels and work more efficiently and comfortably.
When employees have a strong sense of purpose at work that aligns with the organization’s core values, they feel more engaged. Companies need to have clear core values, objectives, and cultural codes for employees to feel like they are joining a well defined mission they can be enthusiastic and excited about.
The organizational culture of a company is created by understanding both the differences and common interests of the employees in the organization. When this unique blend of interests is created, the company culture grows stronger and more distinct from other workplaces.
When employees believe in the organization it is usually because they are given meaningful responsibilities by leadership, and also are able to find meaning in their role. They are likely to invest more effort into their work if they believe that what they are doing makes a difference.
It is important to take employees who are engaged fully in their work and recognize and appreciate their efforts to go above and beyond. Reward them by being transparent about career growth opportunities. By taking initiative and pursuing passion projects, employees gain confidence in their own work and become more engaged in leading.
Enjoyment of work goes beyond just having the right person hired for the right job, but also expands into the perks and benefits of working at your company too. The right combination will depend on the unique combination of employees at your organization, but can increase engagement by creating the ideal work environment and work life balance.
Most employees consider having a strong relationship with their colleagues a critical condition for engagement. When employees feel like they have friends at work, they are more likely to stay with the company rather than seek out new employment opportunities.
So it’s less about the physical environment in which people work – it’s less about the ping pong tables and free snacks – and more about the interpersonal relationships with those that surround them. More than that, though, it’s that sense of purpose we’ve spoken about previously: the belief in the organization, the sense of working together to achieve something great.
(Incidentally, that “purpose” doesn’t have to change the world; it can be as simple as knowing your product or service will improve something in some way.)
When we say “measurement” in the context of employee engagement, we mean finding those ways to prove the success (or otherwise) of your work. If the boss came to you and said “how engaged are our employees?”, you need something more than “pretty good, they leave the odd comment on the intranet”. Hence, it is an important step to know how to measure engagement.
By measuring employee engagement, you can
But, says Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist of employee engagement and wellbeing: “Measurement is one thing, what you measure is another. You can measure a lot of things that have nothing to do with performance and that don’t help a company implement a system that allows managers to create change.”
Measuring the effectiveness of Internal Communications is the first step to take before you can implement meaningful actions to enhance employee engagement.
Some ways that Internal Communications teams can either measure on their own, or work with other teams such as HR to get access to metrics, include:
A full set of questions distributed to the organization’s employees used to stay up to date on any changing employee attitudes. Employee surveys and Engagement surveys are a great way of gaining insight into employee perceptions that management can then use to increase retention rates, improve productivity and lower absenteeism
Intranet analytics is crucial to ascertaining how involved your employees are. With Happeo, we help provide you with an easy interface to analyze your data via understandable graphs and charts that anyone at your company can read
In order to continue to lower employee turnover and increase retention, exit interviews are crucial in understanding how your employees feel about their responsibilities for the role, their relationship with their supervisor and generally works as an opportunity to receive constrictive feedback on job satisfaction, policy and direction
This is often a simple calculation done periodically, often quarterly, to see the percentage of employees that the company has retained over time
Regular check ins between your employees and their supervisor in order to ensure they still feel motivated and excited about coming into work. It can also work to understand if there are any challenges the employee may be facing and how management might be able to help keep them engaged through more difficult times
Performance management systems
This entails a systematic approach for an organization to align their mission and objectives with the resources available in order to prioritize and achieve specific goals
These are quick short surveys sent out more regularly than the annual surveys that are mostly used as a check in to test the pulse of the company’s culture. These are our preferred method as they help us avoid survey fatigue
These require bringing in a small sample size of your employees and asking them to provide feedback about the company and it’s culture. These offer more in depth information as the conversation is more free flowing rather than dictated by a certain set of questions
Employer Promoter Scores (EPS), also known as eNPS, or Employee Net Promoter Scores
This is a method of determining the net amount of how loyal your employees are and how willing they are to be a company ambassador by advocating for others to be employed there
Customer satisfaction rates
These are rates determined by a short calculation based on surveys that allow customers to rate their experience working with your company
Product and service quality ratings
These quality ratings of a product or service are based on the metrics established by the company in their customer surveys on whether or not their product or service meets the customer’s expectations
Factors such as profitability, productivity and customer ratings are also key indicators in determining a company’s health and its potential for growth. You should aim for a mix of qualitative and quantitative measurement tactics so that you can get both the data and the story behind the data. Also keep in mind which metrics are directly impacted by increasing engagement (eNPS, Happiness ratings) and which have a lagging effect (turnover)
“In order to effectively implement those measures, employers must first conduct due diligence to uncover pain points – and areas of promise – within their organization,” writes Quartz. “Just as data can be crucial in helping to establish revenue streams, defining metrics and analytics are key for monitoring and tweaking engagement strategies.”
One of the most effective ways to measure employee engagement is through surveys, both annual and pulse - but don’t rely on just a survey, even if you have amazing participation rates. Like in any scientific testing, you need multiple sources of data in order to get an accurate picture of the overall status.
Jim Harter tells HBR: “Many organizations measure either the wrong things, or too many things, or don’t make the data intuitively actionable. Many don’t make engagement a part of their overall strategy, or clarify why employee engagement is important, or provide quality education to help managers know what to do with the results, and in what order.”
That said, a survey is a good starting point to measuring employee engagement – with one caveat: avoid rote surveys. Ask pointed, clear questions that go beyond measuring “satisfaction”, and use this information to inform strategy and policies. Use that same survey to find out what employees actually want to hear and care about, so you have a starting point. Oh, and one last tip: we know we said “annual survey”, but if you work in a large company, you probably have survey fatigue. There’s nothing wrong with breaking up that big survey into smaller chunks that can be distributed quarterly.
To measure tactical efficiency, we recommend at minimum the follow two metrics:
Engagement that involves creation from employees – articles, posts and comments, if we’re speaking digital.
These are reads, likes and in case of more static content: time spent on page. Naturally, you should always make an effort to cross-reference this with the volume of content you produce and the time it takes for you to produce this.
Secondly, to measure strategic efficiency, we recommend the follow two metrics:
The amount of people within your company that have hit enough activity (see tactical efficiency metrics) to be considered engaged. You should define what this threshold is based on a previously-established baseline. If you know the average total engagement is 10 active engagement actions and 20 passives, then you know that anyone above that average can be considered “engaged”. If your total active and passive engagement activity goes up, but you’re not seeing people peak above that average, you know what you need to do – stimulate more conversation.
It’s great to see that your engagement numbers are going up, but remember when we said engagement is not the same as happiness? That’s why it’s important to measure sentiment. A good result means an increase in engagement that is largely positive. It’s especially important to be able to segment this so you can see if the most-engaged are also the most-positively engaged.
If you’re feeling brave and are a little more established with your strategy, you might want to go one step further and work to tie engagement to company profit. It’s possible; the Predictive Index’s Employee Engagement report 2019 found that when employees are engaged, companies win financially.
To better understand the impact of engagement on company growth, look at things like productivity levels, collaboration rates, and – yes – how much inter-departmental communication is going on. If you can prove that your Internal Communications strategy is breaking down internal silos, teamwork improves and teams are collaborating to develop better products and services, then you could follow the trail and gauge how the output of those incredibly engaged employees is improving the bottom line.
In essence, tracing it backwards, profit follows growth, which arises from great customer service, which depends on your employees’ enthusiasm and engagement. As Michael Brenner explains the impact of the service-profit chain for the Marketing Insider Group:
Employee satisfaction is often the weakest link in the service profit chain. The theory goes that by improving employee satisfaction – that is, by building an engagement program that is well-measured and well-received – then you can follow up the chain and see the impact on profit. Measuring in this way, though, will require your own engagement program to get the right metrics from the right people.
If the link between Internal Communications efforts and commercial increase is a step too far, there is one business-crucial metric that’s heavily influenced by employee engagement, and everyone understands that: turnover. Meaning: the amount of employees that leave, who need to be replaced.
Now, here’s the kicker: Based on a Gallup study, the Huffington Post reported that one employee leaving a company costs it between $15,000 and $25,000. Now imagine if you’re a high-turnover company and you’ve invested significantly in employee engagement. Every year, 35 employees leave and they need to be replaced. Taking the median from Gallup’s research, that means your company is wasting 30 x $20,000 = $600.000. Calculate the percentage of turnover you’ve reduced, and you’ll have the costs - or people - that you just saved the company.
As with any metrics program, you can’t collect the data and say the job is done. However you choose to measure employee engagement and the effectiveness of your Internal Communications strategies..
The most important part is this: hitting engagement targets is frivolous. These numbers only talk about the success of your department, but not the success of your business. Before you start your internal campaign, measure a baseline happiness score in your company – and that can be as simple as sending a one-question survey to a large enough sample in your organization, asking them to rate their happiness from 0 to 10. Then ask HR for your current turnover percentage.
Now start looking at the metrics passive engagement, active engagement, percentage of engaged employees and sentiment. At the end of any given period of time (campaign end, quarter, whatever works) you should be able to relate increases in those numbers to increases in happiness and a reduction in turnover. If you can’t – survey, research what you could have done better and do it better next time with the same baseline. If you did? Then you just proved Internal Comms’ worth when it comes to one of the biggest problems of businesses today: talent retention.
Employee engagement is not just a warm and fuzzy thing. It’s about giving your people the tools they need to succeed, which in turn drives business outcomes. Sounds easy, but in practice it’s a whole load of testing stuff out and seeing what sticks. Read our employee engagement tactics and learn how to boost engagement among employees.
Tech startups are sometimes seen as the holy grail of employee engagement, with a “work hard, play hard” culture and snacks and games coming out of their ears. That might suit the younger male employees they tend to attract, but try that in an old school law firm and you’ll be looked at like you’ve gone crazy. As with all communications practices, it’s important to first understand your audience and their preferences before creating your Internal Communications and employee engagement strategies. After all, there’s no point in forcing a culture of instant messaging when people are more likely to walk over to a desk for a quick chat.
Google is often cited as having one of the most robust employee cultures of recent times. Their employee engagement practices were based on two early principles: creating a better way to find information on the internet, and making Google a great place to work. They started with making their people feel valued; here’s how:
That’s Google though – they have seemingly huge budgets and a strong employer brand already. What can you do if you’re just starting out, if resource is limited, or if you’re trying to build on the early stages of employee engagement strategies?
Given that true engagement depends on building a community, we sought advice from outside the industry. Yes, these tips on Internal Communications best practices include the experiences of people who started from nothing to build strong communities and relationships in the outside world, and how they think their experience can help the Internal Communications manager looking for fresh ideas. This is what their advice boiled down to:
Community managers emphasized a human, personable engagement with individuals who are generous with their knowledge. here’s one industry professional’s advice on employee engagement tactics:
Dave Smyth, Founder of Work Notes
Freelance web designer – and Royal Academy of Music-trained jazz drummer! – Dave Smyth noticed that his fellow freelancers were discussing things like rates and contracts a lot, often asking for advice. He used his experience as a professional musician to write blogs on things like demanding payment terms, which soon grew into the Work Notes brand. In 2019, Dave set up the forum Independent Work using the open source forum software Discourse.
Dave recognizes forums are “a bit old school”, but they differ to the Slack and Facebook-led communities thanks to threaded conversations, control of notifications, easy search, and the fact that messages are kept forever. He wants to encourage and reward meaningful and considered discussions, believing bigger is not always better.
“I noticed that the bigger these groups got, the worse the quality of conversation,” he says. “The forum format is really nice as it encourages longer-form responses, even though they’re rarely essays, but people take a bit more time to write them. And because it’s not an app with push notifications and those red dots telling you that you’ve missed something, people make a choice to go on there. This means the overall level of engagement is lower but the quality of discussion is high.
“It’s been a slow burn, but that’s partly because I’ve not pushed it a lot. What’s really nice is that, even though I’ve neglected it on and off, people still come back to it. People feel they can dip in and out and still feel like part of the community.
“I think one of the attractions for people with this community is there’s an authenticity. Because it was a fairly organic growth, it helped to build integrity and engagement. Even if people had different experiences to mine, they still found something relatable. There’s maybe something in that: if content is engaging and interesting because it’s authentic rather than just ticking a box or instigating organized fun.
“The growth of the Work Notes community has been completely unintentional in a way. The key for me has been writing the content; that’s been the glue for everyone to collect around. It’s all come from the content first.”
Ainsleigh Walker, Corporate Communications Lead at Seamless Distribution Systems, found herself trying to engage employees after a merger. Internal Communications is only part of her remit, but she says she’s lucky that Seamless is “a great sponsor of IC” and gave her the backing to get it done.
As a result, Ainsleigh was able to secure the budget to roll-out the Happeo G Suite intranet across her workforce, which is spread across more than 10 countries. Ainsleigh’s advice for employee engagement strategies at times of great change is simple:
“The biggest challenge has been creating some form of community, to create a group of people who can actually talk to each other. Despite conflicts and changes, we all need to work towards the same goal,” she says. “The company doubled in size overnight, so we need to make sure people know who they can go to, where they sit in the organization – all those kinds of things that are really important during M&A.”
Happeo and the G Suite provide Seamless’s first “proper” digital workspace, and employees are excited to both use it and see how it gives them a voice.
“Comms is everybody’s job,” says Ainsleigh. “Once people are settled in, you don’t need to be a micromanager getting everybody to constantly post. It takes on a life of its own. I think we’re getting there now; people are posting and sharing voluntarily. Once you get to that point, you know there is a community building and you can take a back seat to facilitate it.”
Need some inspirations? Watch our video: 20 creative employee engagement ideas!
Listen to your team on their terms. Provide a safe environment that enables them to give insights and feedback confidentially and anonymously - hear honesty, not what they think you want to hear. Then be clear and intentional about your commitment to improving engagement and supporting the wellbeing of your employees; don’t let it be seen as jumping on a trend. And then take action, particularly on quick wins. Show that participation does create change. This will also give you the momentum – and leadership buy-in – to go after longer-term plans.
CIO.com’s Sharon Florentine suggests the following action items as a way into developing an employee engagement strategy:
Once you’ve got that straight, though, by all means jump in! The best way to perfect your employee engagement strategy is by testing, learning and adapting. This is one strategy that cannot stand still; it must be an organic, constantly-evolving beast.
Unfortunately, a lot of communication can sound very corporate, robotic, detached – especially when it’s been drafted by committee. To foster engagement and connection in your employees, remember to be human.
Empathy goes a long way to engagement. A study of US workplaces found that only 49 percent of US employees rate their organizations as empathetic, with 85 percent believing empathy is undervalued by business. That same study found that empathy can foster retention and drive productivity, while 77 percent of employees say they’d work longer hours for an empathetic employer and 60 percent would take a lower salary for them.
Scarily, only 26 percent of employees feel highly valued at work, while 33 percent feel undervalued.
While your employee engagement strategy will be unique, remember to keep transparency, openness, culture and purpose at its heart.
If engaged employees are those who show up and are involved – not only because they’re paid to be but because they’re invested emotionally or otherwise – then you need to provide a home for their activity. In the modern digital workplace, that home or hub is often an intranet.
Intranets provide a go-to place where people can connect, while also enabling the use of storytelling to strengthen company culture and connection to the purpose. They also help to stem the flow of email traffic, allowing employees to engage with company news on their terms and in their own time instead of interrupting their flow and productivity.
Importantly, though, intranets provide a place for employees to both be visible and be heard. They help to drive personal connections and a sense of community, while also providing flexibility, transparency and accountability.
Take the G Suite intranet, for example. By using the Google suite of productivity and collaboration tools to power your business, and adding Happeo’s intranet as the hub for the business, Randstad Sourceright increased business alignment by 16 percent in the first six months, measured through a bi-annual employee engagement survey over the entire company. High adoption rates (+80 percent in the overall business) and quick time-to-launch (6-8 weeks) were key to their success.
Happeo acts as the launchpad for the digital workspace, and can integrate with other applications such as Slack, calendars, contact directories, social media feeds, and Google Analytics, to help power an employee engagement program. Watch our G Suite intranet in action and learn about how our features will benefit your company.
Technology must be deployed appropriately or companies can run the risk of disengagement. Technical issues with software, interruptions and disruptions from instant messaging and email, and disorganized systems and processes were among the biggest pain points reported by employees when surveyed by TINYpulse for their Secret of Employee Engagement report.
We can understand why. So often we see companies that have deployed digital solutions to the employee engagement question, but haven’t thought about how that will be used in practice. That can be dangerous: 89 percent of employees said disjointed digital communication tanks employee morale, lowers productivity and impacts customer satisfaction and the bottom line.
However, let us throw another statistic your way: Those who use collaborative work management software are 85 percent more likely to identify as being happy in the workplace. Isn’t that worth the attention to detail?
It may seem counterintuitive, but building your collaboration and productivity centers around an intranet can actually help to eliminate the dreaded distractions in the workplace. Distraction, of course, is the criticism levelled at Internal Communications channels such as instant messaging and intranets – they’re just another thing to help drive procrastination rather than productivity.
Research by Udemy found that 69 percent of full-time employees report being distracted at work, with 54 percent of employees attributing underperformance to workplace distractions. This is an important challenge to address for future productivity.
In addition, Atlassian researched the elements that lead to time-wasting and distraction at work, finding three major culprits: excessive email, pointless meetings and constant interruptions. Coincidentally, these are all things that a digital workspace can help to mitigate.
Atlassian’s findings included:
If you’re ready to consider technological solutions to this distraction epidemic today, we have the solution of tomorrow ready for you:
Welcome. This is what the future looks like: Happeo’s new framework for Internal Communications empowers the industry to move from mere employee engagement towards employee empowerment. That’s what this series of articles is all about: introducing the model, and helping you to move from top-down through to bottom-up communications, and then into the new world of peer-to-peer communications – becoming one of those organizations that has not only built a community for employees, but has empowered them to take Internal Comms into their own hands.
It looks something like this:
Employee engagement is more than a vague aura of warm and fuzzies in the workplace. It helps to:
Engaged employees feel their work matters. They feel valued. And employees who are succeeding and feeling good about their contributions are naturally more likely to be proud to work for your company and to be happy to come to work each day.
Ensure clarity of purpose, of roles, and of process. Connect your employees with the company’s purpose and mission. Encourage employees to be a part of the strategy, and focus on building a community, not an audience.
And, of course, remember to leverage technology to make it all happen. Head here for more on how Happeo can help boost your employee engagement.