I reprise an old note from 2009, while I was employed as an HR Professional in a big corporate in Delhi. The thoughts remain relevant even after a decade of writing these.
“I am tempted to present a few thoughts on the subject of employee engagement. I am now working with a company which builds, operates and maintains telecom towers in the northern, North Western and Eastern parts of the country. We have around 700 employees, growing by the week and structured into hierarchies of corporate office and circle offices. One of the key activities and challenges of our HR team is to have employees who contribute to the system wholeheartedly and have a sense of belonging towards the organization. We need them to feel engaged. Simply put, an engaged employee is one who feels that the organization is his own and willingly puts in efforts to the best of his ability and sometimes ore than his ability for the achievement of the organizations targets and goals.
I have experienced the feeling of being engaged in varying degrees in my limited experience. Reflecting back, I sense that employee engagement may not only be an HR responsibility. The direct managers of employees are as much responsible for their team members being engaged to the business of the organization. In my first organization HR was a department that came into being after the company had been operating for a year and half. So the HR was pretty nascent and yet the organization had extremely strong induction and training processes. A lot of opportunities to learn were provided to the new joiners with the ones with potential, put into client facing roles and given responsibilities of account and people management. Ideas were heard and encouraged. The reporting managers would spend time teaching, mentoring and listening to their team members. Saturday lunches became quarterly movies and picnics and friendships were encouraged. As the HR formalised, these activities became more and more planned and organised; as new employees came in the organization started to lose its flexibilities, but the old school employees still stuck to the pillars of mentoring and friendship. My evolution as an individual and a professional has been the result of 4.5 years in an environment like this.
In my next second organization, which is an IT services company, I observed engagement to originate from the free flow of information, communication and easy available data. Employees liked being a part of the organization since they had a say in deciding policies and food and activity clubs. They did not have to go anywhere to pursue hobbies, they had clubs and activity groups available in office. They did not have to be scared of the hierarchy, they could walk into any of the office bearers cabins and talk about any thing – controversial or otherwise. The organization communicates its plans freely and sets a deadline to them. Those deadlines are adhered to and if there is a lag then the management freely communicates its inability to meet the same and sets a new one. The employees at all steps knew what and how was the organization planning to grow and what would be there roles in it.
So some thoughts that come to the fore from the above thoughts are –
1. Employee engagement, at best, is an activity that the HR can facilitate, but cannot champion. HR can at best be a great change agent, but driving engagement is anytime more of a functional KRA. Until and unless a reporting manager does not make a serious attempt to keep his team members involved in the functioning of his department, the essence of engagement will be reduced.
2. The management involvement and commitment to engagement activities has to be complete. Engagement is at its strongest when the employees know what are they supposed to do and how are they supposed to do it. Engagement is also strong when the employees know what is the organization planning to do and in the timelines in which this would be done. How will they get affected by it? And what is the role that employees can play in this evolution. This is achieved by an environment of openness and communication – seamless…where an employee has the forums and the courage to ask a question. For this the top management needs to communicate – freely, fairly, regularly and needs to practice motivation and encouragement on a daily basis.
3. Engagement needs to be propagated by constituting forums. activity clubs and events. An employee is engaged if whatever he wants to pursue, but does not have the time for it, is given to him in the workplace where he spends most of his time. He will feel engaged if his opinion is sought on the kind of food that he got in the lunchroom and gets to tell everyone about the movie that he saw last week and can talk freely about they way in which a policy affected him and more importantly benefitted him. Friendship at work develops when he is put into a room to learn guitar with his colleagues who he does not know for 30 minutes a week. When he exchanges DVD’s with fellow workers and enjoys having movie discussion sessions with them.
4. HR has a relentless role in being the change agent when it comes to employee engagement. Its a lot of hard work – communication, endorsement, practising, listening, speaking, training. Listening is critical – employees have so much to say and tell, so much to comment on and appreciate – and they need a person or a group of persons to talk to. An HR function must understand that it cannot champion engagement. That’s the USP. When you don’t champion something, you are away from the pressure and evaluation of appraisals and performance. The friendship that HR then creates with employees is not natural…its has the flavor of selfishness to it. Engagement can never be just professional, its personal. Engagement cannot be a one person role, its the role of all the people who work in an HR department.
5. Engagement will be an activity that will show results in long term – may be a couple of years after a series of activities are initiated as a part of the engagement calendar. Annual surveys may not be the best indicators of the same, no matter, how expert an organization is in measuring such activities.
6. Engagement needs to collaborate – with functions, with technology, with training, with recruiting, with vendors and most importantly with employees. Engagement activities need to be planned meticulously, organised to the T and be grand in terms of their scale and treatment. Any employee who is feels special is engaged for the moment and its a collection of such moments that constitute employee engagement.”