The digital advances have changed the workplace, but managers are still unsure of how to handle it – and less still how to harness it for employee motivation and engagement.

Those issues of how technology affects employee engagement dominated CMI/Citrix webinar, hosted by business futurist Gihan Perera.

1. Fewer than one in five employees are actively engaged with their employer

Worse than that, according to a Gallup survey, more than a quarter of employees are actively disengaged. Some 26% of workers are effectively “working against” their own company, according to Perera. And with 57% neither in one camp nor the other, a lack of employee engagement is, he said, a “real concern”.

2. Staff who can bring their own devices to work are more engaged…

Three quarters of companies who run bring your own devices (BYOD) policies say they get better engagement and decision making from their employees because of it, according to Forrester research. The keys to introducing BYOD policies include using cloud computing as much as possible, so employees can share data, and licensing people rather than devices. “If someone upgrades their smartphone, they shouldn’t have to go through a whole re-authorisation process in order to be able to use it,” Perera stressed.

3. …but many managers feel they cannot implement BYOD because of cybersecurity or social media concerns

Many of the webinar’s delegates questioned Perera over his call for BYOD – saying it led to security risks, both technical and reputational. “Just because you have those issues doesn’t mean you should throw out BYOD altogether,” he responded. “Most social media policies are too strict … Employees have so many ways to trash their company’s reputation that restricting social media in the organisation is not the solution.” Instead, he urged, make employees more engaged and they will use social media and other platforms for good, not ill. “Then your reputation will be protected by your employees.”

4. A good way to engage employees is to avoid the term “engagement”

Perera’s colleague, the specialist employee engagement coach Philip Hutchinson, rarely talks about engagement because employees can interpret the term as “a little bit manipulative”. Instead, Perera said, follow Hutchinson’s lead by using the term “motivation”. Perera added that he never talks about engagement as a general goal – instead he breaks it down into a phased strategy…

5. Six golden rules to make employees more engaged

The Harvard Business Review outlines six key demands that make people want to work for employers. Perera cited those six factors as key to motivation and engagement:

  •  Let me be myself
  • Tell me what’s really going on
  • Discover and magnify my strengths
  • Make me proud I work here
  • Make my work meaningful
  • Don’t hinder me with stupid rules

management styles are key to driving employee engagement

According to CIPD research, management styles are key to driving employee engagement. When asked what management behaviours led to employees feeling positive about their role and behaving in a manner that shows they are committed to the organisation, its values and behaviours, employees most often said: reviewing and guiding; giving feedback and recognition; providing autonomy and empowerment; showing interest in them as an individual.

A study by the IES indicates the qualities that engaged employees share, if motivated by the correct leadership styles:

  • Belief in the organisation… in what is trying to achieve and the way in which they are working to achieve this. And understanding of business context and the ‘bigger picture’.
  • Desire to work to make things better… the employee engages in the concept of continuous improvement for the benefit of the organisation, for colleagues, for customers or maybe for the community on behalf of the organisation – corporate social responsibility.
  • Respectful of, and helpful to, colleagues… often known as organisational citizenship, though we could more commonly see this as teamwork.
  • Willingness to ‘go the extra mile’… to give some extra effort for the benefit of the organisation, colleagues or the community.
  • Keeping up to date with developments in the field… through continuing professional development, product knowledge or knowledge of competitors.

Employees undertake their roles with a state of mindfulness about the organisation as well as about colleagues and self.

According to Julie Gordon heads at cHRysos HR Solutions, employee engagement is a two-way thing; like the psychological contract, effort is required on behalf of two parties, the organisation and the employee.

The organisation must set the scene for these behaviours and partake in activities that will engage, whilst the employee has to make a decision about the extent to which they are engaged.

The UK Training Foundation’s research on employee engagement finds that the key driver in an employee’s engagement is their relationship with their line manager, reflected in the ‘atmosphere’ of the workplace, for example, whether the manager places trust in others.

Achieving employee engagement should begin with an attitude survey to identify how employees feel about aspects of the organisation.

How can we maintain employee engagement?

  • Give managers guidance and coaching to support their competence in those actions and behaviours that drive employee engagement
  • Avoid using a ‘one size fits all’ approach to employee engagement; the drivers of engagement will be different for those in a management or professional role, for example, when compared with those in support roles
  • Ensure that performance appraisal is effectively implemented across the organisation and that all employees have a personal development plan
  • Use strategies such as talent planning to identify and harness potential
  • Ensure that employees are heard and that their contributions are valued
  • Put strategies in place to care for the health and wellbeing of employees
  • Monitor levels of employee engagement at regular intervals

The IES study suggests that these efforts and initiatives will be wasted unless they are maintained and supported by an organisational infrastructure of:

  • Good line management
  • Effective two-way communication
  • Internal co-operation
  • A focus on development
  • A commitment to employee wellbeing
  • Well defined jobs
  • Clear and accessible HR policies and procedures to which all managers are committed and which are linked to wider business objectives.

Organisations who display a sense of shared purpose, showing mutual respect and care for the wellbeing of employees are on the right path to creating a caring workplace where employee engagement can flourish.