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Engagement is a Journey, Not a Destination

Lisa Wojtkowiak

While a dedicated, committed workforce is supremely productive, it can be challenging to achieve. There are two main strategies, however, that employers can use to help boost their employees’ engagement. The first is to communicate openly and regularly through all available channels, such as meetings, e-mail and memos. The second is to survey employees to gauge their level of engagement and identify key drivers of engagement. Taken together, these strategies can significantly boost employee engagement and help an organization reach its bottom-line business objectives.

Let’s start with the important role of communications. Corporate leadership teams are making difficult decisions on a daily and weekly basis. And regardless of whether the news is positive or negative, taking a back-to-basics approach – communicating the message numerous times and through multiple channels – is essential.

A recent Ouch Point survey by Opinion Research Corporation found that employees are twice as likely to go the extra mile for the organization (and almost four times as likely to recommend their company) if they’re satisfied with how their company communicates difficult decisions. The study also showed that employees respond positively to proactive communications. Not surprisingly, poor communication is one of the most significant contributors to disengagement. The kinds of communication most likely to receive a positive response from employees included:

  • thorough explanations of actions taken and the reasons behind them (28%)
  • being kept informed of ongoing decisions and their rationale (13%)
  • receiving early indications of impending difficult decisions so they’re not caught off-guard (11%).

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Created, Not Recruited

While communication is a critical component, it’s equally important to understand – and act upon – employees’ engagement levels. Consider this: Disengaged employees aren’t recruited, they’re created over time. That’s why it’s critical to take a lifecycle approach to employee research that solicits communication from the workforce at different intervals, allowing for ongoing monitoring, rather than just communicating to them.

This is necessary because current satisfaction and commitment to an organization is not, by itself, an indicator of how engaged an employee will be in the future. An employee might be satisfied or committed to a company simply because there’s no immediate opportunity to move on.

To be most effective, employee engagement surveys should include an overall measure of engagement, the dimensions of engagement and the effect of that engagement on your human capital. Employees who are highly engaged with an organization are emotionally and cognitively committed to the organization.

An employee engagement survey should be designed with the organization’s needs in mind and used to create an “engagement index” that is outcome-focused. In other words, the survey seeks to measure the current level of employees’ engagement or disengagement, including engagement that may be considered high but is actually unhealthy in the current organizational climate. Employee engagement research aids in the communication process and in analyzing where you’ve been, where you want to be and how you’ll get there.

Once the current level of engagement is understood based on the strategic needs of the organization, the organization can then focus on improving engagement where it will matter the most. Acting on these areas will not only boost employee engagement within the organization, it will also have a positive impact on overall organizational effectiveness and the bottom line.

As the economic turmoil continues, it’s essential that organizations take steps to engage their employees now and ensure retention of their “star performers” when the climate improves. Using robust communications and accurate and ongoing employee engagement surveys, companies can strengthen relationships with their employees to successfully weather the recession and better position themselves for the future.

Lisa Wojtkowiak, SPHR, is with the Employee Engagement Practice of Opinion Research Corporation. Contact her at (419) 725-6152 or

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Summer 2009

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