Rethinking and Reinventing Employee Engagement

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Our new guest contributor series is being kicked off by Cecile Alper-Leroux, VP of Innovation at Ultimate Software.  While a major player in the HR Technology marketplace, Ultimate Software also regularly ranks at the top of numerous “Best Places to Work” lists and has the 2nd highest rated CEO’s on Glassdoor.   


The time has come to move beyond our traditional thinking about employee engagement and view engagement for what it is or, rather, what it should be: the outcome of a holistic, carefully crafted employee experience. In the past, employee engagement has often been viewed as simply another annual workplace task or initiative to be completed by HR, or worse, as something to throw money at in order to appease a workforce. This is not how a truly motivated workforce is forged—and a motivated workforce is more vital than ever.

Research shows that in the areas of profitability, productivity, and—especially retention, organizations with the highest number of engaged employees dramatically outperform those in the same industry with the fewest.

As a result, employee engagement is on every HR and business leader’s mind, in one form or another. The value of having a highly engaged workforce for an organization’s success is undeniable, but the ways of getting there remain elusive. As much as 51% of the global workforce feels disengaged at work, according to Gallup, outnumbering actively engaged employees by 2:1. These numbers have remained largely unchanged for 30 years, despite all the dialogue about and programs for employee engagement.

Clearly, something is missing.

Perhaps engagement itself isn’t the problem. Perhaps engagement is merely an outcome—a measure of the overall employee experience. Affecting engagement is about bringing out the best in people, tapping into their full potential on a day-to-day basis. For that to happen, we must focus on the employee experience as much as we do our customers’ experience: something requiring continual, courageous, and honest communication.

Achieving an optimal employee experience requires three critical ingredients

  1. A culture of openness, honesty, and trust
  2. Strong leaders who inspire, challenge, and encourage employees to discover, unlock, and fulfill their potential in the workplace
  3. Technology that truly serves people, that proactively provides meaningful information and is a delight to use.

The question then becomes two-fold: what do we do to create the best possible employee experience, and how do we know when we’ve got it? I believe technology can help, but it takes more than great HR technology to create a great employee experience. The answer lies in creating an atmosphere in which your employees feel free to voice their true thoughts and feelings about their work and the workplace—creating a culture that respects the voice of the employee. Once you hear that voice, genuinely listen to it, and act on it, the transformation in employee experience becomes possible.

Employee voice is not the same as feedback, which often takes the form of traditional employee engagement surveys and newer pulse surveys. For your employees’ voice to truly emerge, your employees first have to believe it is safe to be honest, to reveal themselves. The voice of the employee, in essence, is a reflection or recounting of your employees’ actual experience at work.

Keep in mind that until your people trust you’ll listen to their honest voice, your engagement data may be skewed. People might self-edit, say what they believe they need to say, or, even worse, remain silent.

Only when an organization has demonstrated, through policy and action, that it’s safe for each person to be one’s self at work, as in life, is that person able to be open and honest. And here, technology can help by collecting and analyzing data, then making that data readily available and actionable. In such a climate, efforts to hear the employee voice will actually bear fruit. Only then can engagement be measured. Only then can your employee experience become a true differentiator for your organization.

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