HR’s Role in Fostering Employee Engagement


The term “engagement” gets hard to define considering the number of ways and contexts it is used in. Oftentimes its thought of as happiness or satisfaction. Engagement is not happiness. You can have a happy employee who is not productive. In reality, it’s a lot more than that and can have serious implications.

One of the earliest definitions of engagement comes from Boston University Professor William Kahn. He defined it as-

“The harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances.”

Engaged employees use discretionary effort to go above and beyond their normal job requirements without being asked to do so,as per research by Gallup. The employees do this because they genuinely care about the company. There are many employees who are unhappy and unproductive because of which they do not bring their full value to the organization. Organizations which prioritize employee engagement end up creating a huge competitive advantage for themselves.

According to Gallup, work units in the top quartile in employee engagement out performed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity. Work units in the top quartile also saw significantly lower turnover (25% in high-turnover organizations, 65% in low-turnover organizations), shrinkage (28%), and absenteeism (37%) and fewer safety incidents (48%), patient safety incidents (41%), and quality defects (41%).Certainly, all this leads to happier customers, better business results, and a stronger employer brand.

On the other side, research by McLean & Company, a research and advisory firm found that disengaged employees cost an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. Studies from the Society of Human Resources Management indicate that it can cost between six and nine months’ salary (on average) to replace a position.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that Human Resources Function (HR) has 2 big objectives to fulfil–

  • To promote productivity.
  • To promote happiness in the workforce.

While there are ways in which productivity can be enhanced, our focus here is on happiness. Happy workers are busy workers. Researchers have found that happy employees are 12% more productive. As a leader, you want to be doing everything you can do make your employees happier.

One of the biggest indicators of happiness is the engagement level of the workforce. There are validated instruments to measure the engagement levels. HR has an integral role to play in fostering engagement of the workforce and cannot be left as a natural process.

HR can facilitate the process in the following ways:

1- Demonstrate Commitment to Personal Growth of Employees:

This can be done by focused investment in employees’ learning and development, giving them the space to operate independently and provide clarity on goals and deliverables.

2- Ensure the Mission of the Company Calls for Action:

Employees feel engaged and charged up when they understand why they are doing what they are doing and how they contribute to the bigger picture.

3- Work assiduously to create Alignment within the organization:

Consistent communication exercises across the organization by senior leaders through Townhalls, Meet Up sessions and the like need to be done with the focus on updating employees on the happenings inside the organization. Apart from this, it’s important to continuously promote values and brand of the organization. Constant reinforcement of this is critical to build alignment.

4- Strengthen People Management Capabilities in Managers:

HR needs to focus fervently on building people managers to become top class in terms of having conversations with team members on career development and performance feedback, become open to take feedback about themselves and work on their own development thru manager feedback program, 360 degree feedback,etc. They also need to create an environment of collaboration and accountability. Essentially, a growth mindset hasto be developed in the managers.Unfortunately, not many managers possess all the talents required to lead effectively. Good leaders motivate their employees, give them autonomy, build relationships, and help employees achieve their goals.

5- Create Platforms for Recognition:

Fair and value-based platforms for recognition instill a sense of motivation and healthy competitiveness among employees. Recognition can happen instantaneously for a job well done and can extend to ensure fair pay, total rewards, rewards in kind, public recognition in front of family end. These need to be monitored at frequent periodicity to not dilute focus.

“Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone. Don’t keep it a secret.” – Mary Kay Ash

6- Ensure Transparency in Policies and Processes:

Employees have a right to fair practices and this really helps to build ambassadorship among them which in turn helps the brand. It’s well researched now that employee satisfaction impacts customer satisfaction as well as the Net Promoter Score of the company.

7- Facilitate A Diverse and Inclusive Work Environment:

Diverse and inclusive work environments promote innovation as proven in various research studies.Innovation is the sole differentiator for most enterprises today. All employees need to be heard and all views need to be respected. This certainly makes them feel highly engaged and develop a strong problem-solving mindset which is a great asset to any organization.

8- Demonstrate Caring Towards Employees:

Ensuring a comfortable workplace, availability of the requisite tools of trade, clarity of work, beneficial family related policies like annual health check-ups,medical insurance, accident insurance, flexible working options,etc makes employees feel valued and cared for and prompts them to put in discretionary and many times extra ordinary efforts on the job.

9- Nurture Fun@Work:

With multiple generational workforce’s becoming more the order of the day, HR faces the challenge on how to keep all its constituencies motivated and engaged. A well laid fun@work agenda helps to address the latent and expressed needs of employees in terms of what keeps them going at work. Building learning communities where the relatively older employees take on facilitator roles and share their vast knowledge and experience is both knowledge sharing and fun. Similarly, creating communities of interest outside of work like fitness groups, hiking groups, book review clubs,etc are also a great way of learning and fun.

10- Incorporate Volunteering into the Engagement Plan:

Many employees today seek meaning to work and purpose of being. Working with social communities around, helping to make their life better and contribution to nation building is considered to provide meaning to life. These activities also help create bonding and cohesiveness in a big way among employees. A natural corollary is that it instils a sense of pride among them and they are more likely to propagate the organization thru these means which only adds to the organization’s brand value.

11- Continuously Measure Engagement:

As they say what is not measured does not get done. Measurement also motivates teams and managers to keep raising the bar and doing better. There are multiple tools available to measure, compare and act upon.

Conclusion, in the words of Doug Conant “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace“.


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