What does Employee Engagement really mean? I see it all day, every day, across LinkedIn and social media channels and highlighted in various reports. I have been invited to numerous breakfast seminars, conference sessions and even conferences – some hosted on cruise ships that don’t really go anywhere, where I am promised to learn more about the best-kept secrets of Employee Engagement. But what does it mean and how will I be able to know when my employees are ‘engaged’?

What do I think it is? I think it’s actually pretty simple. I think it is all about believing in the company that you work for, its products, services and the opportunities presented. At the same time, it is about feeling appreciated by all levels in the company but being appreciated does not mean winning awards or having huge praise lavished upon you – it is that you are recognised as a person (not just a body) and also what your capabilities are. In plain English, it is about enjoying what you do and about other people actually knowing what you do. If these are true, it’s probably fair to say you are ‘engaged’.

Steve Ingram

Retail Industry Director

Is it not just about the outcome of the annual survey?

Certainly not! An annual employee survey tends to be massive, covers too many questions (so is seen as time-consuming and therefore usually completed in a rush on the deadline), and is taken as an opportunity for seeds of disgruntlement to fully flourish with responses used as an opportunity for employees to vent their views. These answers get crunched to produce an engagement figure that has little or no meaning – other than to compare to the previous survey. But management can quickly assess how engaged their employees are by looking at peripheral data such as absence rates, productivity, use levels of employee discounts and even the time staff spend together socially are all useful indicators.

Your customers will be quick to tell you how engaged your store staff or contact centre staff are, thanks to sites such as Trustpilot and Reviews. We have all seen the “waited 15 minutes and nobody came to help me” messages, not to mention the instant complaints listed on social media. But how many companies spend time fixing individual complaints and issues, rather than seeking to identify the source of the problem – the disengaged employee?

What does it take to get employees engaged?

It is probably easier to look at a couple of examples of really engaged employees to see what works. To do that, let’s look at two UK retailers: Richer Sounds and Iceland. One is a specialist retailer of audiovisual products, whilst the other is a frozen food retailer.

Richer Sounds, who employ in the region of 500 staff, are enthusiasts for the products that they sell and have a deep knowledge of the technology and of the relative merits of the brands they sell. This excitement about the products they sell, and desire to use their expertise to help customers is infectious. But that doesn’t keep them engaged with the company they work for – that comes from the inspirational leadership from Julian Richer, and the way that he has created a culture that puts the staff at the centre of the business. He has now taken it to the next level and put the company into employee ownership, with everyone owning a stake, creating the feeling of being ‘all in this together’ which is what leads to their enviable level of engagement.

At Iceland, however, there is certainly not the same level excitement about products (unless you really do get excited over frozen pizzas and chips – amongst many other things), but it is how each employee is appreciated that drives engagement throughout its 22,000 employees. Recognition across all levels in the organisation (including store and team prizes for performance), a commitment to always paying salaries above the national living wage, personal training budgets, and a strong wellbeing programme are among the many factors that create strong engagement.

Both these companies also share a core fundamental when it comes to creating engagement. There is no barrier to communication across levels within the businesses, making everyone accessible to everyone else. Coupled with a management culture that encourages staff to say “thank you” and ask “how are you doing today?” – it creates a family feel and a very high level of engagement.

Anybody can do it

It’s true – anybody can create engaged employees, as the recipe to do it is in your own hands. Begin by encouraging a culture where saying “thank you” is the norm and not an exception, and where staff genuinely care about how each other are. This starts from the top, with the Exec Board exhibiting the behaviours that they want to see, on a daily basis, and by making sure that the teams receive fair pay, benefits, and development for what they do now and what they may want to do in the future.

See employees as assets that you want to invest in, rather than costs that can be reduced, and engagement will soar. And don’t wait for an annual rant-fest at survey time. Take the pulse regularly, with a few key questions. Remember that a question that asks: “Are you satisfied with what you get paid?” will nine times out of ten be answered negatively, and will almost always negatively impact engagement.

To find out more about how employee behaviour and attitude act as the essential drivers that underpin customer satisfaction, tune in to the Keytree & SAP webinar: The Foundation of Customer Experience – Employer Engagement, which takes place at 1pm on Tuesday 19 November. To sign up, simply visit the SAP events page.