Employee Engagement in the Indian Context

Employee engagement is the buzz word in today’s corporate world, no doubt. Every organization is seen doing something or the other to get on-board with the concept. I was first exposed to a mega employee engagement study in the year 2012 where I was a part of the team conducting a global engagement survey for Jubilant Life Sciences Ltd. It was there that I comprehended the quantum and magnitude of background work that is required to truly measure the engagement level of employees. So, in a nutshell, employee engagement is not a small thing and it, of course, entails a big cost in administering such surveys and following it up with action plans.

Now, let’s peel off the surface and go a bit deeper into the term ’employee engagement’. Here, I would like to mention that there is a subtle difference between employee engagement and employee satisfaction. And today most of the ‘me – too’ type of organizations are trying to ascertain the satisfaction level of their employees rather than truly measuring the engagement level.

What is the difference between employee engagement and employee satisfaction?

Engaged employees are those who are committed to helping their organization achieve all of their goals. Engaged employees are motivated to show up to work every day and do everything within their power to help their company succeed. An example will be – an engaged employee is one who will complete his/her tasks of the day with total commitment and thereafter be willing to invest some more time in developing capabilities. Because these employees feel that they play an integral part in the growth and development of their organization.

Employee satisfaction, on the other hand, is the state of an employee enjoying his/her job — but not necessarily being engaged with it. Imagine the employee who gets up to show up to work early and leave late without contributing much or breaking a sweat. While engaged employees are satisfied with their jobs, satisfied employees are not necessarily engaged with theirs. I happen to come across many HR leaders who project that they are committed to creating a work environment where employees are engaged and feel like a part of the growth story. But in the end, it turns out to be a utopian dream. Probably this could be a reason why HR is constantly failing to make it big in the eyes of the business leaders.

So where is the root cause of the problem?

A few years back, I happened to assist an automotive parts manufacturer with administering a so-called employee engagement study (in reality, it was a combination of engagement and satisfaction survey). I was tasked with creating a questionnaire for the study which was to be administered to both blue-collar as well as white-collar employees. After a couple of rounds of discussion with the HR leadership, I proposed around six to seven broad areas where we would ask for feedback from employees. Each section was supposed to carry around three to four questions. All in all, we were looking at around thirty questions. I thought these will be adequate to get a pulse of the employees. But unfortunately, the HR leadership wanted to dive deeper and came back with fifteen broad areas which culminated around fifty-eight questions. The outcome of the study can be anybody’s guess. As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth, similarly, too many questions dilute the intention of the study. One important thing to keep in mind is that, when you ask for feedback on too many areas, there will be a lot many topics where you’ll not be able to do actionable justice. This is the point where you will stop getting genuine feedback. People provide feedback and expect that some action is taken to rectify the anomalies. But as HR professionals if we sit on the feedback and do nothing, then our credibility is bound to go for a toss. This is exactly the case with many organizations today. Not doing much to create an engaged workforce is bad but showing intention to create an environment and failing to recognize the fault lines is even worst.

Employee engagement surveys are dead:

The modern-day organization is nimble and ever ready to change with time and tide. That is why many of the fortune 500 companies today believe that the annual employee engagement survey is dead. This is an age of instant feedback and action. See what has happened to the bell curve and the performance management system. Tier I organizations are increasingly dumping the commonly practiced performance rating system and adopting a real-time feedback mechanism. Similar is the case with employee feedback. Organizations like Amazon collect daily feedback and with the help of analytics can draw patterns of employee behaviour. The Boss and the subordinate relationship has come a long way. If as a manager, you are not able to pick up the cues of your team members then brace yourself for some headwind. It is like, all of us have watched documentaries on climate change but very few of us are doing something to reverse the adverse effects.

So where do we start?

Employee engagement should not be seen as a KRA of the HR team. That is also a cause of failure. I know some HR folks who see it as a project that they want to pick up in a particular year and load it with high weightage on their KRA scores. Please for god’s sake! don’t take employee engagement as an annual activity that you want to showcase to the business leaders. On the contrary, the employee engagement agenda should be the basis of all HR activities. It starts right at the point where an organization decides to source candidates to fulfil a vacancy.

The recruitment process is vital for developing a highly engaged workforce. Let me elaborate with an example. I am sure you must have come across at least one interview process where you are made to sit for a long time at the reception area of your prospective employer before being interviewed. I am sure all of us hate those long agonizing waits before being interviewed. But there are organizations, which are very particular about the time of the interview. I happened to interview at the Hyderabad campus of Amazon India last year and believe me, all the four rounds that were scheduled for the day started on time. This gives a feeling to the candidate that his/her time is valued. Even though I did not make it to the position I applied for, but to date, I talk highly about the process. Just imagine a candidate who happens to cross a wow stage of the interview process; he/she will come on board with a high level of motivation which converts to greater engagement scores.

Taking a look at the recruitment process is going to help build engagement levels. Another important area to be kept in mind is the on-boarding process or what we call employee orientation. Most of the organizations have got a defined orientation program but the execution level is doubtful. Today technology can be leveraged to build onboarding programs. One such tool is Augmented Reality (AR). Remember the game Pokemon Go which took the world by storm in 2016. The players are supposed to collect Pokemon characters with the help of their mobile screens. Similar applications can be created for the employee onboarding process. Imagine, you as a new joiner getting assistance from your phone to locate departments and other utilities critical to your work in the office premises.

The possibilities are endless but what is important is the will to create an enabling environment. A word of caution! employees who feel lost during the first three months of joining are more likely to firm up exit plans within the first two years of joining. What organizations do is to ignore these tell-tale signs and then scuttle to create an engagement framework for its people which, unfortunately, is too little too late in the day.

It is about time we start focusing on the basics of the employee lifecycle to create a truly engaged workforce.