Dr. Alex Gapud is a Cultural Anthropologist at scarlettabbott, an employee engagement company in the UK. His personal mission statement is “to make work not suck for people.” His passion is to encourage people to be excited about going to work every morning and he does this through the use of organizational anthropology. Work is such an important part of life. Most people spend the majority of their time and effort on developing their careers. Dr. Alex knows that work won’t always be fun, but it shouldn’t be miserable either.
Work is integral to our identities, for better or for worse. It is possible to make work better — through the use of employee engagement.
What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is the commitment and emotional connection employees have to the organization in which they work. It should come as no surprise, then, that a more engaged employee is a happier employee — and happier employees are more productive. How then to measure employee engagement? Cultural anthropologists study this engagement through ethnography.
Ethnography is a major facet of organizational anthropology. While an employee survey can provide percentages and other important statistics, it tends to give a one-dimensional point of view of what’s really happening within an organization. Numbers have faces and statistics have stories, but there’s a lived human experience on the other side.
Anthropologists use ethnography to go beyond numbers and stats to get to the root of whether team members are actually satisfied and happy at work. It’s a qualitative research method that allows anthropologists to immerse themselves in the world of their subjects.
Studying the employee experience can involve many methods including shadowing, in-person or online journals and sitting in on meetings. The anthropologists may also include an employee focus group and work to build trust between employees and their teams, organizational leaders, managers and employers.
No matter which way you look at it, employee engagement is essential if you want your new hires to feel a sense of belonging, increase employee retention and generally create a better work environment for everyone.
The Benefits of Working With Happy People
Knowing the definition of employee engagement and how organizational anthropology measures it, can help better understand the benefits of employee engagement. A disengaged employee doesn’t have the same job satisfaction as an engaged employee. This has a direct impact on the quality of work they produce, as well as employee turnover. A satisfied employee is likely to stick around for longer and do their best work.
When your team members are satisfied with their jobs, they have no reason to look for work elsewhere. This is huge in terms of employee retention, which is a hot topic post-pandemic. A positive work environment with a focus on recognition, opportunity and transparency will nurture employee engagement and result in positive attitudes and job satisfaction.
High employee satisfaction is therefore directly correlated to high employee engagement. And, as mentioned, high employee engagement can have a positive impact on productivity. While this is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of a highly engaged workforce, there are some other key advantages to employee satisfaction.
You may even benefit from increased customer satisfaction. Engaged employees care about their work and it’s only natural then to want to provide excellent service to their customers. If you’re a human resources (HR) professional and are struggling to get your higher-ups on board to create a more positive work environment, recent research suggests that customer satisfaction can actually increase with employee satisfaction.
Employee engagement can also result in fewer safety incidents, lower absenteeism and healthier team members. The benefits clearly outweigh any challenges.
The Top Drivers of Employee Engagement
When you’re able to increase company trust and create a culture of belonging (major pillars of engagement), everyone wins.
There are a few important core values that drive employee happiness and engagement. They include:
Better work culture
Trust in executives
Cultural anthropologists like Dr. Alex note that one of the most important factors in increasing employee satisfaction is making sure that executives, C‑suite leaders and general managers are willing to listen to their people. Carving out more time with their team members to do that listening firsthand can be truly beneficial. It goes back to those core values: trust in executives, transparency and effective communication.
HR professionals also have a large role to play, especially when it comes to creating employee engagement strategies and action plans. That said, everyone in the organization has an important role. The first and crucial step to success is to be intentional and come up with a plan.
Creating an Employee Engagement Action Plan
An employee engagement action plan is a good starting point for ensuring employee satisfaction within an organization. It shows that you’re committed to moving your culture forward and can contribute much toward creating a positive work environment.
These action plans aid in identifying and developing engagement drivers. They also show your people that you’re committed to making real change where it’s needed and can serve as a blueprint for when and how those changes will be made. A quality employee engagement plan is a powerful tool that can help HR professionals create the best possible working conditions for employees.
Here are some basic steps to follow when creating your employee engagement action plan:
Distribute employee engagement surveys to your team
Study the survey results
Choose your area of focus
Come up with actionable solutions
Make a commitment to take action
Update your team on your progress
No matter what area you choose to focus on, there are some general best practices that you can implement. These include regular all-hands meetings, one-on-one check-ins with everyone on your team to gauge how they’re feeling at work and where improvements can be made. Team-building activities are also beneficial, such as company happy hour (with or without alcohol, online or in-person) or retreats.
At first glance, some of these strategies may seem a bit ostentatious, but they shouldn’t be. The first stage of the journey toward creating employee engagement is the intent to listen and understand. Start talking to your people, be present, ask questions, spend time with different teams and different people. To be able to put a face to a name, in terms of people knowing who you are and you knowing who they are, is so helpful — this is especially important in the face of remote work or hybrid solutions.
Moving Forward in the Face of Hybrid Work Environments
Post-pandemic, many organizations have chosen to remain fully remote, while others have decided to implement hybrid work environments in which coming into the office is optional. This has had a direct impact on employee engagement and work culture, but it doesn’t have to be a negative one. Instead of looking at it as a major hurdle or challenge, embrace these new working conditions and build a brag-worthy culture nonetheless.
While the way we look at employee engagement may have to change, that doesn’t mean it has to disappear. You will always have a workplace culture as long as people are interlinked, no matter where they are in the world. Experts like Dr. Alex say that hybrid solutions are preferable, as they also offer the opportunity to connect in person while remaining flexible. From an anthropological perspective, there is something powerful in being in the same place and experiencing things collectively.
Whether you’re in a traditional office setting, fully remote, or a combination of the two, employee engagement is as important as ever. Don’t underestimate it — make it your top priority, and your employees and customers will thank you for it.
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