In previous blogs we have talked about the nature and value of employee engagement in the workplace today. In this article, we’ll look at what organisations can practically do to build levels of engagement among employees.

A CIPD factsheet1 suggests that there are three main dimensions of employee engagement, and it is important to consider all three:

  • Intellectual engagement - thinking about the job or the organisation, and how to improve it
  • Affective engagement - feeling positive about the job or the organisation
  • Social engagement - the opportunity to interact with others at work, and to collaborate on improvements and changes

We’ll expand on what these mean and use the three categories to highlight some simple, cost-effective actions that any business can take to build engagement.

Intellectual engagement

Connecting with employees intellectually means they get proactively involved with their work. They become absorbed in it and have a laser focus on doing the job well. They become more curious about the work, and they want to be involved in problem solving, seeking out and developing opportunities. There are a few critical factors that enable this intellectual engagement to develop - and they sit on both sides of the employment contract.

Firstly, employers have to be open to allowing their employees to learn, be curious and get involved in things that might normally be outside their remit. To really optimise the learning experience, they have to allow calculated risks to be taken - new ideas adopted or new processes tested when the risk of failure is manageable. And they should allow people the opportunity to learn from their mistakes - coaching and reflecting to enable people to understand and develop.

Employees have to bring a growth mind-set to the table. They need to be open to learning, getting involved in other areas of the business, and willing to experiment and stretch their own capabilities - not restrict their own involvement or consider that the status quo is the best they can do or get.

So what can you do?

  1. Employees’ intellectual engagement will be stimulated by having the chance to contribute ideas and solve problems. During team meetings or briefings, add in a 10-minute brainstorm to discuss a current opportunity or issue. Ask team members to write some suggestions on post-its without lengthy discussion - and the person presenting the challenge can simply take them away.
  2. Help employees understand the flow of work in the organisation, and how their tasks fit into that. Talk to them about where their work is coming from, and where the outputs of their work are going to. Allow them to connect with people in those departments, and talk about how the workflow could be improved. Empower them to take collaborative action with other functions to make changes that might lead to better quality, cost efficiency or speed of process.
  3. Ask your team members to experience your service as the customer would, and report back on their findings and recommendations. This could be as a secret shopper or testing a product. By doing so, they may see things from a different perspective, identifying opportunities or issues that they can look to address.

Affective engagement

Affective engagement is strong when an employee reacts with positive emotions to a task, job or the business. The greater the emotional connectivity, the less the employee would experience negative reactions such as stress, anxiety or boredom. An employee who connects emotionally is likely to be more interested, absorbed in their work and display a positive attitude. They will generally have a positive outlook about their work, environment and colleagues, and have desire to perform at their very best.

So what can you do?

  1. Help people understand purpose by finding simple, people-centred ways to share this with employees at every level. Don’t assume you’ve done this if you say it annually with a PowerPoint presentation. You need to keep talking about it and connect all of your programmes, initiatives and key messages to that purpose. Often, the most effective way to communicate this is leaders engaging in conversations with people on the ‘shop floor’. Getting out and about among teams will generate great conversations.
  2. People managers must help their team members connect day-to-day tasks, objectives and challenges to the purpose. Explain the rationale behind goals and tasks, and how they connect to the bigger picture. This will foster a feeling that they are contributing to something that matters.
  3. Getting involved in socially responsible activities will encourage employees to connect emotionally, seeing their employers as ‘good’ and with conscience. Encourage teams to organise and participate in charity events and activities, allow employees to take paid days for voluntary work, or implement recycling or plastic reduction programmes at work.

Social engagement

Providing the opportunity to interact with others at work, build meaningful relationships and collaborate with others will help build social engagement. Setting up professional and social communities and encouraging participation of all employees will help establish relationships, common interests and improve interactions. For social engagement to be effective it should include doing something, interaction with others, social exchange and should be voluntary, not forced.

So what can you do?

  1. Set up Lunch and Learn sessions, so employees across functions, locations and hierarchies can get together for informal learning events over lunch breaks - include some social topics as well as professional ones to encourage participation and involvement. Use the session as an opportunity to build relationships across your organisation, so allow time for informal networking.
  2. Empower people to set up special interest groups, who meet regularly to share their interests and experiences. They might be hobby based, professional interest based, or focussed on wellbeing activities, such as a running club or a fitness class. Show leadership support by allowing them time, enabling publicity and celebrating their successes.
  3. Mentoring programmes can help to connect senior or more experienced employees with those newer to the world of work or your business. Traditionally, more experienced managers would mentor junior team members, but many organisations are now considering ‘upward mentoring’ or ‘two-way’ mentoring, where the process is reversed, or considered as mutual learning. Whichever way you choose to adopt it, mentoring can create partnerships and meaningful relationships that cross generations and seniority levels, and can break down silos while enabling development and learning.

Hopefully these simple, cost-effective suggestions have provided you with some food for thought. They can work regardless of the size of your team, business and budget - so they could make it easier to boost employee engagement in your organisation.

Next time, we’ll be talking about the challenges of engaging remote employees and teams, and how to overcome them.


1CIPD factsheet on Employee Engagement (2016)

Debbie Mitchell

Debbie Mitchell

Debbie Mitchell is an organisational development consultant at Mitchell Palmer Ltd specialising in employee engagement, coaching, talent management and people centred change.

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