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Employee Engagement

Employee engagement hmmm, I hear this word quite often and many use this word without actually knowing the real meaning of it. In my two decades of experience in HR, I have come across many individuals, managers, leaders who really did not quite understand what employee engagement is.

Where or whom do we go to when we need the employees to be engaged, and the answer is HR. The minute I used to hear this, I used to ask the respective Managers one question, if HR takes care of training and development, hiring, firing, grievance management, disciplining employees, and also employee engagement, then, what are you doing? Employee Engagement is no longer just the responsibility of HR, it’s everyone’s baby, including the employees.

When is an employee engaged?

When one goes ABOVE and BEYOND their roles and responsibilities, they are engaged.

I simply love employee engagement and it comes to me naturally. In my previous role when I was given the opportunity to head engagement I jumped at the opportunity. In a single year along with a team that I formed across the company, the engagement score grew by 27 points. And it continued to increase steadily for the next two years. Now don’t ask me what I did, I am not giving away free advice J.

During this tenure, I learned that the employees can be classified into three categories

a) Actively Disengaged Employees
b) Engaged Employees
c) Not Engaged Employees.

Now tell me which category is not healthy for any organization, obviously skip b i.e., engaged employees.

If you picked Actively Disengaged Employees, you are correct; this is the scary lot. They are not only disengaged and unhappy about the work and organization, but spread negativity to others and bring down the overall engagement levels, the scary part is that they despite being unhappy stick around the longest, with this the potential employees slowly start moving out making way for the actively disengaged employees.

The vast majority come under the not engaged employees, they simply come to work, put in their time and leave, one cannot expect them to go ABOVE and BEYOND their role and responsibilities. Here is where we as individuals, leaders, managers, peers, and colleagues step up and are the catalyst.
Employee Engagement is not only the responsibility of HR or the Manager, it’s everyone’s onus.

March 2020 the beginning of COVID – 19 in India

Last year was tough on all of us. No one was prepared for what was going to hit us, and when it did it hit us like a ton of bricks.

The employees were all of a sudden cut off from the office surroundings, colleagues, water cooler gossip, sutta (cigarette) breaks, team lunches etc.

This is when I started speaking with industry leaders, my ex-colleagues on what’s next, how do we manage this situation and all they were worried about was productivity, how do I meet my targets, and what will my client say? In the months to come the managers were happy that the targets are being met, production is high and attrition is low.

Now, why was that, was it engagement or was it fear of losing one’s job in these tough times? And attrition being in control as jobs simply dried up in the market.

Employees started putting in extra hours at work, one of the leaders I spoke with also mentioned that he had a great idea, which helped him improve productivity and my obvious question was what was it? Any guesses here?

The statement was “Now that the individuals are saving time on travel, this saved time will be put into production”. What happened to employee engagement that was too struck by COVID?

Now don’t get me wrong there were a few good leaders as well, who kept employees first. Looked at their mental wellbeing, stress levels, challenges they faced and addressed them.

Coming back to my example of the saving on travel time, if this happens what is the employee going to learn from his leader, that this is an acceptable practice.

In my previous role, I used to conduct a lot of IJP’s (internal job postings) and was at times amazed by the answers we (the jury) used to get during role-plays, there was simply no empathy and how did this thought process come, was it because the managers showed lack of empathy towards their team members.

Once again, I reiterate that Employee Engagement is not only an HR issue it’s a business one and everyone should take notice.

WFH (Work from home the most widely used acronym in the corporate world now)

Companies, in order to maintain BAU, provided the following a) Internet Data Card b) VOIP (International calling) c) Personal Laptops / Desktops d) Internet Reimbursement.

Did we actually check with our teams the challenges they face daily while WFH?

From time to time, I had to call customer service teams for my internet issues, banking queries, insurance updates, looptop issues, etc, on reaching the customer service advisor, they did mention that they are working from home due to the pandemic situation, and many times the call dropped or I could hear a pressure cooker whistle, or a kid crying in the background, on one call I even heard a train pass by seriously.

Employees in India typically face space constraints, not everyone has a separate study area or a dedicated space to work from home, poor infrastructure (internet connectivity), joint families, the Indian woman still had to continue to do everything she did and also now had to take care of the kids who are at home attending school.

During my calls to the customer service teams, some were extremely happy taking the call and were engaged, while some of them were merely doing their jobs.

Here comes the Leader

I know I have mentioned the challenges we face and the types of leaders as well some of us have faced during these testing times.

In the digital age where the touchpoints are limited and through audio / video only, we as leaders need to step up and take charge of engagement quickly, yes yes, I know I have mentioned it that it’s everyone’s onus, but the buck must stop somewhere!

If some teams are engaged it’s because of touchpoints created by the leader, I still remember my previous bosses; there were times I used to connect with them on calls only but post the call felt energized, more focused and happier and ready to take on more challenges and this then rubbed off on my teams as well.

Why and how did it work, because they cared! You could simply feel it in their tone, the voice modulation, pitch and they heard me out most importantly. There are many such things a leader can do, but this one was most impactful for me because there was empathy. Many times when we are asked what is “empathy”? Our answer is putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and understanding their pain. Why is it only always about pain and not about joy / happiness / pride/surprise?

I leave you to ponder about how you can engage your teams from here on.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – Spider-Man.

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