Companies show a strong and growing interest in the engagement of their employees, since having engaged employees is crucial for competitive advantage. However, several studies indicate that the average level of employee engagement is not so satisfying.
For this reason, the Centre for Employee Relations & Communication (CERC) at IULM University carried out a research between 2016 and 2018 in order to understand which are the sources of engagement and disengagement. This research showcases the results of a broad set of empirical data, including a survey of 173 managers responsible for employee engagement in large Italian companies, a survey of 147 employees, 13 case studies, and 10 interviews with people engagement experts. From this broad set of empirical data, researchers highlighted 5 valuable insights on employee engagement that every CEO must know.
- Employee engagement consist in behavior
What does it really mean to have engaged employees? From the survey on managers, it emerges that in large Italian companies the vision of engagement that prevails is the one of a psychological and emotional connection with the corporate mission and values. But the engaged employee is actually the one who acts in a strategic way and is oriented towards objectives that are relevant to the organization. The most relevant engagement is the behavioral one.
- Engagement is at the origin of employee voice
Engaged employees tend to express their voice, that is to share ideas, suggestions and opinions, including constructive dissent, with the management, in order to improve the organization. Encouraging engagement is therefore equivalent to building an organizational climate of voice in which employees feel free to express themselves.
The benefits of a climate of voice are many. Both managers of large Italian companies and employees emphasized that a climate of voice facilitates the emergence of suggestions and new ideas (average 4.38 on a scale of 1 to 5 for managers; 4.42 for employees) and the reporting of problems that can be solved in time (4.35 for managers and 4.37 for employees).
- Employee engagement is the result of managerial choices
Several factors favour employee engagement: some are linked to the personal dispositions of individuals, others to the macro-context in which the company operates, others are in the hands of managers. In fact, managers can actually actively build an engaging work environment by handling three levers: relationship with employees, organizational justice and human resource management.
Through the survey on large Italian companies, IULM research investigated the managerial approaches adopted by companies to encourage (or discourage) engagement. Only 13% of the companies in the sample adopt an inclusive approach to relationships with employees, a fair approach to organizational justice and a developmental approach to human resources management, setting up a fully engaging organizational context.
- Internal communication: taking care of inclusion
The management of the relationship with employees is one of the three levers that managers can handle to favour an engaging organizational context. Specifically, management can foster engagement if managerial practices and internal communication style and tools contribute to nurturing relationships devoted to the inclusion and participation of employees to corporate life.
Numerous studies found that internal communication has a significant impact on employee engagement and IULM research confirmed it too. From the survey of large Italian companies, it emerged that companies with a formal internal communication function build organizational contexts that favour engagement much more than companies that do not have a formal function. The presence of an institutionalized internal communication function is associated with the existence of more inclusive relationships with the employees, and also with the adoption of more developmental human resource management practices and with a fairer organizational justice.
- Being tuned with employees: key engagement strategy
Managers’ efforts to increase employee engagement should focus on the levers deemed most relevant by the employees themselves.
Instead, IULM research showed that there is often a misalignment between companies and employees. For example, managers consider mediated internal communication tools such as blogs, newsletters, e-mails, intranets and corporate TVs more relevant, whereas for employees these tools are the least relevant, since they prefer initiatives that allow direct interaction with management. It even emerges that the most relevant communication tool for employees, that is informal meetings with top managers, is among the least relevant ones for managers.
Misalignment is dangerous: managers are not forgiven for their short-sightedness, when they focus on the levers that they prefer or which are considered more functional to corporate interests.
Alessandra Mazzei is Director of the Centre for Employee Relations and Communication at IULM University of Milan where she is also Coordinator of the Bachelor Program in Corporate Communication and Public Relations; Vice Director of the Department of Business BLECB “Carlo A. Ricciardi”; and Director of the Master program in Intercultural Communication. She is the Chair of the Geert Hofstede Consortium.