According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report conducted in 142 countries, only 13 percent of employees say they feel engaged at their workplace. Engaged employees have a certain level of emotional investment and willingness to create value for their organizations. This, rather disheartening result means that actively disengaged workers (negative and potentially hostile to the organization they work for) outnumber engaged employees almost 2-1.
Nevertheless, senior executives understand the importance of employee engagement. A report by Harvard Business Review concludes that business leaders recognize the value of having a high-performing workforce for growth and survival. Employee engagement is being connected to innovation, productivity, and bottom-line performance. All this shows that engagement has developed into an important business topic and is being taken seriously – beyond the boundaries of the human resource department. So where in an organization should the responsibility for employee engagement lie? Should communication experts get (more) involved? To me, the answer seems clear – this is a perfect opportunity for internal communications (IC) to stake their claim. So, how do IC experts position themselves and their departments as the central point for improving engagement?
Even though I believe internal communications are a logical extension of public relations and can benefit from PR knowledge and theoretical framework, IC is definitely becoming a field of its own. This means internal communication experts need a specific skill set and a different approach to their key public – employees.
First, employees shouldn’t be treated as just another public. In order to engage them, their specific characteristics need to be recognized and taken into account. Employee engagement needs to be studied and understood by those who manage it. Defining engagement as a performance construct, observable behavior, psychological state, disposition or a combination of all of those concepts requires a certain level of psychological and methodological expertise. Therefore – internal communications professionals should brush up on this.
Closely connected is the problem of engagement (and all other) measurement. Measurement is already the Achilles’ heel of communication professionals. Measuring engagement is additionally difficult. Typically, a company uses an annual engagement survey in which employees gauge their own engagement. This approach brings honesty and self-assessment issues that challenge the objectivity of data. There are methods that are more accurate in measuring actual instead of self-perceived engagement and give a better level of understanding. Communication experts need to familiarize with them.
Third, finding the right channels for internal communications and using them in a truly two-way fashion is something that should be easy for communicators with a public relations background. If you want your employees to be engaged give them the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Allow dialog and find the necessary channels to do it. Channels inside the organization can be both formal and informal and both should always allow feedback. Use this feedback and make sure employees know it, since this is one of the greatest promotors of their engagement. Employee communication really is a two-way street and the best opportunity to apply symmetrical communication.
Finally, the problem of employee engagement is a fundamental problem of an organizational worldview. It can only be solved if organizations are willing to change and make it one of their priorities. This can’t happen unless there is a receptive foundation for all engagement initiatives. Even though in most companies management will state their dedication to increasing engagement, this commitment needs to be substantiated by actions. Helping companies apply those actions is a perfect job for internal communications.
Dr. Ana Tkalac is professor of economics and business, University of Zagreb.