Employee engagement function which traditionally centered around staff welfare activities in most organisations has been transformed over the years with its scope and impact on business having been redefined. It is no longer a token activity aimed to facilitate connects with employees through gift hampers and annual day functions with their families; it is expected to win over the minds of employees by connecting with their aspirations and getting them to actively participate in creating a positive environment in the organisation.
According to a Forrester report, employee engagement is now, more than ever, a top corporate priority, with the goal of increasing employee happiness, well-being, and commitment to the company’s culture and business objectives. Employee engagement initiative has to move away from being a human resources programme to a core business strategy. It is now feasible to overcome the challenges of geographical distances and large size of employees and enhance employee engagement through a variety of initiatives, thanks largely to digital technologies.
Consumerisation of IT is enabling a fundamental shift from organisation oriented offerings where the principle of engagement with employees was command and control to employee centric and participative approach. Enhanced employee engagement is being facilitated on account of democratisation of technology with powerful yet inexpensive tools and devices being accessible to employees as much in work space as at personal space. Software tools allow employees to weigh in with their feedback and suggestions for new workplace initiatives and it is feasible not only to get feedback on a frequent basis but also quantify and track progress with respect to the change management processes. Employees are being encouraged to help team members share ideas and work together on specific projects thus bringing them closer despite the distances. It has been feasible to measure workplace wellness and make it actionable and fun with simple gadgets like pedometers.
Learning and development aimed at career enhancement and growth are central to the employee engagement process. Organisations curate learning opportunities for their employees however due to several reasons such as lack of time, disinterest in the assigned training areas or lack of alignment with personal and business goals, quite often the initiatives do not create motivation with employees. Smart devices digital tools supported mentoring and coaching could help managers navigate conversations with their employees regarding their career aspirations and encourage them to actively partake in activities that contribute to their self development. Many young people are also keen to be associated with community development initiatives and look for avenues to contribute in different ways based on their personal interests and skills. Some organisations have created digital platforms to share details of such initiatives and provide outlets for their employees to have a holistic experience and inspiration at workplace and through the volunteering process.
While digital technologies certainly have the potential to support HR function in enhancing employee engagement as evidenced by several organisations, one of the pitfalls we should be aware of is the danger in focussing on technologies and losing focus on the organisation goals. The glitzy technologies and the potential for enhanced employee intimacy at times overshadow the purpose for building employee centric applications and the alignment with the business objectives. Many companies have made substantial investments in collaborative platforms for employees to come together to share or seek information but employees are not excited to participate or even if there is initial interest, sustaining engagement on a long term basis has not been easy. It has also been observed that the ‘always on’ nature of technology has also created aversion with some employees and they tend to view messages directed to them as mechanical and not personalised.
The focus needs to be on the message rather than the medium. It is not just about the look and feel of the applications but it is about gaining more attention of the employees and increasing the interest levels of the employees to engage with the organisation and other employees. It is also about having effective tools to gather better insights of the profiles of employees than what is available in the HR database currently such that with the help of analytics, these insights could be used to customise the services for the employees better.
It is important to understand the user profiles and their mindsets and design applications which would help address their workplace problems and get their buy in right at the start of the roll out of any new initiative. Use of short videos and gamification could be useful tools which could help create ease and excitement to try out the new approaches and encourage employees to break away from their traditional mindsets.
It must be recognised that although millennials easily take to digital technologies for enhanced engagement, most organisations have multi generational workforce. It takes time for people to adopt new methods of engagement. In addition, the HR function should view the adoption process as a change management initiative and follow the time tested principles of change management in order to create a long lasting impact on employee engagement through digital applications.
The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company