Opinion: Is employee engagement really HR’s most pressing challenge in 2017?

by Contributor17 Feb 2017

What can organisations, supported by HR teams, do to influence positive changes in employee engagement? Sarah Rodgers provides her tips

At the beginning of the year, there was a lot of talk about what the biggest challenge for HR teams is likely to be this year. Seems, no matter what you read or who you talk to, employee engagement has won out as the most pressing challenge. My question is really? Is it really the biggest HR challenge? I think it would be easy to suggest that it’s an HR issue; in reality, I think it’s much more than that. I think it’s an organisation-wide challenge, a challenge for every manager or leader in your organisation and a challenge for each and every employee. 

I got to thinking that no matter how robust or creative the HR strategy nor the resulting employee engagement initiatives, perhaps we are looking too far afield? Many HR teams, at times, are criticised for not thinking strategically enough, but when it comes to employee engagement, perhaps we need to start a bit closer to home? 

Since agreeing to write this piece, I’ve asked a lot of people what the key driver of their satisfaction or engagement at work is; not surprisingly, none of them have suggested it relates to their organisation’s HR strategies! Mostly they have talked about whether or not they feel valued, whether or not they are treated well by their manager. Almost none of them have said they didn’t like the work they do. None of them have said they don’t feel they are paid fairly (although I have no doubt, some people do feel this way). Nope, without exception, they have talked about how they are treated by and valued by their immediate manager. It’s been said, not by me, but I agree with the sentiment, that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. 

So, with that in mind, what can organisations, supported by HR teams, do to influence positive changes in employee engagement?

  1. Acknowledge that engagement means different things to different people; a one size fits all strategy is unlikely to work
  2. Recognise that engagement strategies that work today, may not work as your organisation develops and grows; a set and forget strategy will leave your employees disengaged
  3. Invest in the managerial and leadership capability of those people in your organisation who manage others; this is where you will get the best return
  4. Ask all employees to take accountability for the environment of your organisation; a set of values/behaviours can be a great start in setting the tone; and
  5. Importantly, ensure that your leadership team are committed both in theory and in practice; there is no greater way of changing culture than having living breathing role models in your organisation.

So next time you are thinking about how to improve engagement, perhaps you will think about your own role in employee engagement.  Perhaps you will start a little closer to home!

Sarah Rodgers is the Principal of iolite consulting. For further information visit www.ioliteconsulting.com.au