All your Questions about Employee Engagement Answered – Part 2


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Nearly 2,000 people registered for our global series of Employee Engagement webinars. If you missed these lively sessions, I encourage you to watch one of the on-demand webinar replays. This blog post answers the remaining audience questions from the sessions that we didn’t have time to address in the live sessions.

1. How is climate different from culture?

Great question, and an important distinction that should be made clear.  Litwin and Stringer’s research found that culture and climate both exist in organizations, but they operate at different levels.  Culture is made up of foundational elements like shared beliefs, values, and norms of behavior.  Culture is deeply embedded in the organization and is slow to change.

In contrast, climate operates at the level of the day-to-day workplace, and the factors that influence climate – clarity, commitment, standards, responsibility, recognition, and teamwork – are more accessible and manageable by leaders.  This makes climate easier to change in the workplace

2. I work for a company with international presence, what similarities and differences are there when it comes to employee engagement across cultures?

Our research found that our definition of high engagement – a deep sense of ownership for the organization and strong feelings of involvement, commitment, and absorption in one’s work, which is motivating.  It looks like a strong contribution of discretionary energy, which translates into productivity, and it results in improved personal and business performance – holds true for employees and organizations around the globe.

Where we see variation is in employees’ behaviours or the expression of their engagement or non-engagement, which might be more discrete than explicit.  For example, an employee with low engagement or satisfaction in Singapore might never voice those concerns to his manager because of cultural norms, and thus he appears on the surface to be more engaged than he really is.  But in this situation, he may not be as productive or stay with the organization as long as an engaged employee.

The culture of a country or region is deeply embedded in employees, and they bring those patterns of behaviour and expectations into the workplace.  For example, in Asia cultures, employees tend to be deferential to authority and may not even expect to have a voice in how work gets done; therefore, they may not equate being able to speak up as a factor in being engaged.  Contrast that with North American or Australian cultures where employees tend not to defer to authority, are often quick to speak up and expect to have a voice – for these employees having a voice would be a factor in being engaged. Bottom line, the best way to understand how to employees is to focus on the individual employee and understand what engages them.

3. Any differences in engagement factors for an aging group of employees vs. younger generations?

Our research found the five employee engagement needs – accomplishment, recognition, enjoyment, belonging, and advancement – were represented though all generations.  That said, as the Millennials (born 1982-2000) take their place in the workplace, there is a growing body of research and opinions on how to engage them.  Some of these findings show Millennials respond to personalised work experiences, regular (more than twice/year) feedback on performance, and want to be able to contribute to society through their work, to name just a few. There are many resources/books/etc dedicated to helping people understanding generational differences and you can apply this information to addressing engagement needs within your organisation.

4. Do you have data on how to “engage” part time employees and volunteers

This is an interesting question.  Although we do not have specific data regarding how to engage part-time or contingent workers, we do have an opinion.  We believe, despite the boundaries that can separate these workers that from your full-time workforce, to be highly engaged, a part-time or variable worker needs the same things a full-time worker needs.  In a nutshell that is, they need understand the connection their work has to the strategy of the company, to the success of the team, and to their success as an individual.  And they to be understood and appealed to as individuals in terms of their own engagement needs.

It’s easy, and dangerous, to make assumptions about contingent workers engagement needs, or lack thereof.  The best leaders treat their contingent workers as they do their full-timers.  That is, by their actions the leader builds a strong positive climate, shows they are trustworthy, and they take the time to get to know the worker and their specific engagement needs, and treat them according to those needs.  It can take more time and effort to understand contingent workers’ engagement needs because they are not always in the flow of work every day; however, it will pay off in the long run.

5. Is there any data to support holocracy organisational structure with engagement scores?

Holacracy is a relatively recent model for organisational structure and governance that purports to empower employees – which can be related to engagement for some people – through its structures and operating principles.  At this point, relatively few organisations have adopted the model and we are not aware of any information about its impact on employee engagement scores.

6. Is there still value in conducting Employee Engagement Survey since engagement is employee-specific and the main driver of Engagement is Leaders’ Actions?

Absolutely!  An employee engagement survey is still an important pulse check for the organisation as a whole and can provide information about macro organisational factors such as salary, benefits, career paths and work-life balance, all of which, although not the primary drivers, do have an impact on engagement.  We recommend paying attention at both levels – the organisation level through an employee engagement survey, and the manager level through a Climate Survey and ongoing leadership development and coaching.

7. My company does an annual engagement survey but how can I measure employee engagement all year long?

You are absolutely right that true engagement won’t happen if you’re only measuring it once a year.  We recommend a balanced approach to measurement which includes regularly focusing on the upstream drivers of engagement – leader behaviours – as well as the downstream results – the annual engagement survey.  Here are a few best practices we recommend:

  • Include leadership best practices/actions for building climate and trust into your management KPI’s (e.g., monthly scorecards, performance management templates, etc.)
  • Periodically (more regularly than once a year) capture direct employee feedback on application of leadership best practices/actions, whether through surveys, skip-level interviews or other methods
  • Track and report downstream results measures, such as employee turnover, at least quarterly, in management KPI’s

8. How do you asses “truthfulness” expressed in employee engagement surveys; particularly if an organization has undergone multiple RIFs? (Possible lack of trust or fear based responses).

Good question and difficult to answer.  In an ideal world an engagement survey would be constructed to eliminate the “lack of truthfulness” bias.  Maybe there is one out there that is; you’d need to research that with companies that construct engagement surveys.

That said, on a tactical level, our advice for assessing the honesty of the survey responses is to look at the downstream results in the organization.  If you see a mismatch, for example, if employees say they are engaged or satisfied, but turnover is high, then they may not be telling the truth.

But most importantly, we recommend staying ahead of lack of trust/fear issues by focusing upstream on the leadership behaviours.  In organizations that have been challenged by RIF’s it is especially important that leaders use best practices to build strong positive climates and trust in their parts of the organization – empathize with concerns and speak authentically about the company and the future – and that they spend time with the employees who remain to ensure they truly understand how to keep each of them engaged and committed.

9. Can you recommend good questions for an employee satisfaction survey, or a good survey for a small company?

For an organisation-level survey we recommend you reach out to your local HR community through our LinkedIn group or local associations to find the right survey for you.  For a manager-level survey, we would be happy to discuss our Climate Survey with you.

Thanks, again, to all of the webinar participants who asked questions and contributed their comments during the live session. Many participants wanted to continue the discussions online and we invite you to join Forum’s LinkedIn Group as a platform for those conversations. To view the webinars on-demand, please click here.

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Janine Carlson
Based in Singapore, Janine Carlson is a key member of the Asia Pacific leadership team. She sets the overall marketing strategy for Forum's Asia Pacific operations and ensures its effective implementation, including brand building, lead generation, thought leadership, public relations, online marketing, and events.


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