In 1999, a company called Pet Sitters International held the inaugural Take Your Dog to Work Day, to celebrate dogs as wonderful companions and encourage adoptions. After a slightly chequered past, the event is now held on Friday June 23rd in numerous countries around the world, including Canada, NZ, the UK, and Australia. And while the concept of having our furry friends with us at work is no doubt extremely appealing to some (myself included!), do these kinds of initiatives actually enhance employee engagement?
The ongoing challenge of employee engagement
Every organisation aspires to have an engaged workforce. Engaged employees are likely to be ambassadors of your brand and your culture; to commit to your organisation and its purpose, and to go above and beyond. However, a Gallup study of employee engagement, released in 2013, found that only 24 per cent of Australians are engaged with their job compared to 60 per cent who are not engaged and another 16 per cent who are actively disengaged (The Australian).
Employee engagement continues to be a challenge for organisations. The cost of a disengaged workforce is significant – in fact, in 2013, it was costing the economy about $54.8 billion a year (The Australian) and has negative and serious implications for:
- Organisational culture and teams
- Customers and clients (and your prospective customers and clients)
- Productivity and company performance
- Everyone’s wellbeing.
Companies now compete to win ‘best places to work’ awards and Deloitte (2016) have suggested ‘there is an escalating war to create great corporate cultures to drive higher engagement’. Improving employee engagement is an increasing focus for organisations, but it is no easy feat.
Organisations are making significant financial and material investments in employee engagement programs and initiatives – and some may describe some of these programs and initiatives as ‘crazy’. For example, Bring Your Dog to Work Day, unlimited annual leave, a ‘no email once a month’ policy…
But are these programs and initiatives worthwhile? Do they drive employee engagement?
You can’t improve what you don’t measure
I believe that the answer is yes, they absolutely can. But it should be said, first and foremost, that the organisations that nail employee engagement understand that driving engagement means aligning talent with your business strategy.
These organisations use data to inform the ways they will best ‘capture the hearts and minds’ of their employees, their talent pool, and future talent. They use survey diagnostics that allow them to not only understand employee perceptions, but also to identify the drivers of engagement that are most meaningful to driving employee engagement in their organisation. And they implement programs and initiatives that go beyond stocking the fruit bowl.
Specifically, they align employee engagement programs and initiatives with:
- The organisation’s purpose – they understand their reason for being and recognise that employees want to contribute to something meaningful at work.
- The workforce profile – they understand the profile of their workforce and recognise that the workforce is more diverse than ever (e.g. contingent workforces).
- The profile of their talent pool, and future talent – they understand the talent they need to attract to deliver their strategy, and target accordingly. And they recognise that their brand is transparent, so job candidates can easily see if a company is a ‘best place to work’.
- Their data – they use comprehensive survey diagnostics that provide insight into the employee experience, and employ rigorous analyses that support them to identify what’s driving employee engagement in their organisation.
The pros and cons of engagement initiatives
So, when organisations nail engagement, employee engagement programs and initiatives, albeit crazy, can have the following advantages (and disadvantages):
|They build trust; they demonstrate to your employees that you know them, you understand them, you’ve listened, and you are committed to improving their experience at work||If not sustained, there is a risk of losing momentum and subsequently, employee trust post an ‘event’|
|They are fun and engaging, and promote collaboration and interaction across the organisation (and break down silos)||If it doesn’t reflect the organisations / workforce profile, it’s not fun for all|
|They attract key talent, prospective job candidates and passive job seekers||If they are not targeted, they run the risk of deterring, rather than attracting talent|
|They support recruitment efforts; they supported a clearly defined employee value proposition||If they are not communicated in your employee value proposition, you are losing the opportunity to showcase your organisation in the recruitment process (which by the way, starts well before the application process)|
|They support employee retention; people want to stay with organisations that invest in their engagement||If it doesn’t reflect the organisations / workforce profile, people won’t feel like they ‘fit’ with your organisation, and may start wondering why they’re even there|
Leading companies work proactively on measuring and improving employee engagement. Organisational programs and initiatives designed to drive engagement can be effective if there is a strong focus on understanding the organisation, the workforce and talent profile and using extensive data to inform programs and initiatives.
So, it’s a good idea to think first before you implement Bring Your Dog to Work Day, unlimited annual leave, a ‘no email once a month’ policy, and so on. Does this really fit with your organisation?
About the Author
Kirsten Forgione joined the Revelian team in Melbourne in 2014 on a one-year contract. She’s a registered psychologist with a Master of Psychology (Industrial and Organisational), who is deeply interested in the study of human behaviour at work. She’s also committed to supporting organisations improve business performance and effectiveness through the assessment and development of organisations, individuals and teams.
We were thrilled when, in 2017, Kirsten returned to Revelian’s Melbourne team as a Consulting Psychologist, bringing her exceptional experience and commitment with her and helping our clients achieve excellent business outcomes.
Deloitte (2016), Global Human Capital Trends 2016 – The New Organization: Different by Design. Deloitte University Press