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How to Build and Foster a Culture of Employee Engagement

 

According to a report by Aon Hewitt on the trends in global employee engagement in 2017, Europe has the lowest engagement rate - at 58 per cent. [1] Low employee engagement is not a new phenomenon but it has become more visible than ever. Favouritism at work, lack of transparency, feedback and strategic goals, unclear communication – these and other aspects contribute to lost motivation, lack of commitment among employees and toxic corporate environment where employees are “struggling to survive”. Although communication departments do have internal communication strategies and tactics, employee communications practices are at risk of becoming irrelevant. [2] In most of the cases, employees are being flooded with initiatives, inspirational messages and alike but, in fact, tangible results are rarely achieved. It is obvious that in the 21st century where transparency, trust, honesty and integrity are key drivers of communication, employee engagement must be one of the top priorities. To achieve these goals, novel methods and tools, including social media networks, should be brought into play.

 

In the beginning, social media was just a fun tool that made it possible to connect with friends and acquaintances online but over the years it has changed and developed into a powerful platform that has gained importance in many organisations, especially among employees. When used wisely, social media can boost employee engagement and improve internal communication. In the past, internal communication focused on what organisations do. Today it is important to explain why organisations are doing what they are doing, and to allow communication within an organisation to be multidirectional instead of unidirectional or top-down. Communication departments should strive to persuade their leadership to replace cascading of information with infusion which allows all employees within an organisation to raise their voice, express their ideas and opinions, and contribute to the organisational values, mission and vision. So what contributes to the creation of a successful culture of employee engagement?

 

The Role of Social Media in Employee Engagement

 

The era of Internet has changed the traditional landscape of communication by adding to it a digital dimension. Such a change has brought many challenges and opportunities, especially for the internal communication best practices within organisations and companies. In an ever-changing work environment, organisations can access various communication tools to reach and engage their employees. These tools range from traditional print publications, such as magazines, posters or newsletters, to face-to-face communication, intranets, emails and digital tools, such as blogs, e-zines, podcasting, social media and instant messengers. Although traditional print media (reports, memos, newsletters, brochures and posters) are still being used to transmit key messages to the employees, they show a rather negligible effect on employee engagement. [3] Internal communication practitioners are advocating for the use of social media networks because they help to reach employees in a faster and more effective way. Besides, social media brings about positive results that occur through employee engagement, such as the creation of brand advocates or a higher retention rate of staff. [4]

 

There are still many organisations that do not use any of the social media networks as part of their efforts to engage employees. However, some take efficient features of social media networks, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and add them to their internal communication plans and learning platforms. [5] These companies have realised the power of social media and turned to some of its tools. For example, Novartis, a renowned Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company, uses gamification tools to boost employee engagement, performance and motivation. [6] Simon Brown, Global Head of Learning Centre of Excellence and Novartis Universities, says:

 

“We made a mobile device game to engage our people in our values and behaviours, we have developed games to reinforce and scale up learning, and we have used gaming for developing product knowledge across our salesforce globally.” [7]

 

The programme ran for three years and Novartis reported that employee satisfaction increased by 12 per cent. When it comes to gamification and other means, it is also important to carry out segmentation of the internal publics and consider company’s culture to understand whether this tactic can be successfully implemented.

 

Further, the use of social media as part of internal communication strategy leads to a better company culture and, as a result, to higher employee engagement. For example, L'Oréal, the world's largest cosmetics company, used social media to create a sense of community, to increase employee engagement and to create an attractive employer brand externally. Alexander Onish, L'Oréal’s Digital Employer Branding Manager, says that a company should have a proper social media policy in place. According to him,

 

“Social media policy is not about blocking Facebook at work. It’s about telling people what is important on social media, and why, and putting the tools and tactics in place to help them use it in the right way. Don’t just say what they can’t share. Instead, define the things you do want them to share and show them the official and safe way to do it.”[8]

 

This example shows that understanding the power and opportunities of social media in the workplace, and training employees how to use it properly can help internal communication practitioners design a comprehensive action plan that would help employees feel more engaged and motivate them to share their experiences and expectations with their peers.[9] Thus, it will not only improve external image of the company by making sure that appropriate content is shared but will also improve internal communication and make the employees more engaged.

 

Infusion versus Cascading

 

While cascading information was, until recently, key to successful communication management, today it is no longer the case. [10] David Cowan, an author and visiting scholar of the Communication Department at Boston College, argues that cascading, which means downward flow of information from the leadership, is no longer effective in the present-day communications space. The term refers to the cascading effect when information is passively provided by others, instead of relying on one’s own information, which results in individuals following orders and instructions like a herd. Besides, when cascading information, managers have to add certain value to it, otherwise the information is simply passed on to the employees, which does not mean that it is done properly and that it gives an impulse to employee engagement. Instead, Cowan proposes the notion and process of infusion that aims “at creating greater vitality in the communication work of the organisation.” [11]

 

 

According to the author, infusion stresses the importance of communication within an organisation being ‘up, down and across’ and encourages participation at all levels and in all directions. The main idea of infusion is to define key messages and put them into a comprehensive narrative, which means to support and encourage employees to actively participate in the organisation’s communication activities. What is more, employees should have a sense of story, a vision of a narrative where they see themselves as agents of change. Organisations are undergoing substantial changes because of an ever-advancing technological and digital landscape. These, in turn, create a threat in a form of too much information and too many messages, and an opportunity in a form of tailoring and targeting information and messages where they are needed and where they will be heard and understood. Infusion is a process that contributes to understanding these changes and offers a ground for coming up with comprehensive and practical solutions.

 

Leadership is one of the values that lays foundation for the design of a successful strategy to improve internal communication. Thus, it is crucial to persuade leadership that replacing cascading with infusion is the right step towards more efficient internal communication practices and as a result successful employee engagement. Communications department can resort to the so-called persuasive strategy when trying to change and tune the knowledge, attitude and behaviour of the leadership through meetings and open discussions.[12] Although this strategy is usually used when dealing with stakeholders, it can also be deployed for the internal purposes, such as persuading leadership to change and adopt a different internal communication strategy by highlighting the benefits of employee engagement for the organisation and business in general.

 

Encouraging Feedback and Dialogue

 

When it comes to employee engagement, disengaged and dissatisfied employees can turn to anonymous review sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed or Kununu, where they can share their feedback about the current or former employer. Usually, this happens when the climate of silence prevails in an organisation, when an organisation has no culture of feedback and does not encourage open dialogue with and among employees. Not only a dissatisfied employee might affect company’s reputation but he or she will also underperform and most likely will leave the company.

 

The management scholars Morrison and Milliken argue that there are two factors that cause employees to feel reluctant in expressing their opinions about particular issues. [13] The first factor relates to the manager’s fear to receive negative feedback from his or her employees. In general, managers tend to avoid any sort of embarrassment and feelings of incompetence. The second factor relates to beliefs that suggest that managers know best about organisational aspects and are the ones who should have everything under control. In such an environment, employees assume the role of followers who do not dare to pose questions and raise concerns. Also, the use of employee surveys or 360-degree feedback in an organisation with the climate of silence will be unlikely because management will perceive the upward feedback from the employees as a threat to their authority. Organisational silence can do more damage and harm to an organisation because by blocking negative feedback, an organisation will not be able to detect, analyse and correct errors. [14] When managers do not encourage feedback, employees will be more motivated to express their negative opinions elsewhere, and will be less likely to identify themselves with the organisation. This should be a sufficient reason for the management to consider changing the management approach and engage employees in a better way. 

 

When internal communication experts read negative reviews on review sites, they should promptly institute a strategic response and plan corrective action. For example, Sonova Holding AG, an internationally active Swiss company specialising in hearing care solutions, responds to all reviews by current and former employees on Glassdoor by apologising for negative employee experience and by expressing their thanks for positive reviews.[15] Such anonymous feedback should be viewed as valuable information for corrective measures within internal communication practices of a company to improve work conditions and prevent other employees from being dissatisfied with the reported issue.

 

Most of the companies have their own set of values and they want that every single employee embraces these values. However, it is more important to pay attention to how these values are chosen and communicated because this will determine to what extent companies are able to connect with their employees.  Sometimes employees feel disconnected or uncomfortable with an imposed set of values. On the other hand, when values are being defined collaboratively, employees feel that these values are more meaningful. Companies have a choice to revise the values decided too top-down by consulting with the employees, by creating a connection and dialogue around the values. [16]

 

In 2003, Hindustan Petroleum Company Limited (HPCL), the third largest oil company in India, started a series of workshops called “Vision 2006”, which encouraged employees to discuss the strategic vision and direction of the company. Workshops lasted up to three days and involved professional coaches who managed and facilitated the discussions in small groups. The leadership observed convergence across opinions and ideas and received a constructive feedback from the employees. According to Arun Balakrishnan, the chairman and managing director (2007 - 2010), “it was amazing to see that irrespective of the level in the hierarchy, the vision statements that were coming out were almost the same, from the senior management down to unionised staff – especially from the unionised staff.”[17] The result of these workshop series was that the unionised staff helped to redefine what business the company was in, pushed the company to go global, and, most importantly, gave the employees a sense of ownership of the vision.

 

Many organisations are stressing the importance of employee engagement because it has a great impact on the success of the business. Some communication departments have realised this and are striving to improve their internal communication strategies and activities. Today’s organisational culture is about transparency, feedback, employee involvement into the decision-making processes and open dialogue, all of which contribute to the creation of a culture of employee engagement.

 

How to Create a Culture of Employee Engagement


 

Article written by Liudmila Kazak

 

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Bibliography:

 

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[17] Groysberg,B. and Slind, M., 2012. Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power their Organisations. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, p. 38.

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