The Importance of Employee Engagement During Change
by Yasmine Moulin
In our ever-changing global business world today, change and change management are a way of life. Moving through change is difficult and stressful. According to Mint (2013), “people are productive for 5.7 hours in an eight-hour business day, but any time a change in control takes place, productivity falls to less than an hour”. For change management to be successful, a high degree of employee engagement is crucial (PR News, 2009; Shaw, 2005, p. 1). What is employee engagement? How can leaders ensure a high degree of engagement that in turn results in successful change management?
Defining Employee Engagement
Upon reviewing the literature on employee engagement, it is clear that there is a lack of a universal definition and “[t]he meaning of employee engagement is ambiguous among both academic researches and among practitioners” (Macey & Schneider, 2008, p. 3). According to Welch (2011), there is “considerable confusion about the meaning of employee engagement” (Welch, 2011, p. 329) and “[t]his leads to muddled understandings” (p. 329) and what can exactly be defined as engagement.
Kahn (1990) first coined the term and defined employee engagement as the “harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances” (Kahn, 1990, p. 694). According to Shuck, Rocco, and Albornoz (2011), employee engagement is “an individual’s emotional and behavioral state directed toward desired organizational outcomes” (Shuck & Wollard, 2010, p. 103). Towers Perrin (2003) reported on engagement and categorized employees according to their level of engagement, that is, people were divided in highly engaged, moderately engaged, and disengaged (Towers Perrin, 2003, p. 5). According to Towers Perrin (2003), moderately engaged employees demonstrated signs of disengagement, providing from neutral to negative points of view about their organization, however in some areas, they seemed quite positive. The study also stated that engaged employees have a “willingness and ability to help their company succeed, largely by providing discretionary effort on a sustainable basis” (Towers Perrin, 2003, p. 5). Seijts and Crim (2006) stated, “[a]n engaged employee is a person who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work” (Seijts & Crim, 2006, p. 1). Employees that have an emotional and intellectual commitment to their organization, go above and beyond what is called of them, and have a real passion for the job (Welch, 2006, as cited in Kular et al., 2008; Robinson et al., 2004; Truss et al., 2006). Engaged employees display a higher involvement and attachment to their organization (Shaw, 2005). When an organization is going through change, the above-mentioned definitions of employee engagement are exactly what are needed to successfully move through change.
Symptoms of Disengagement During Change
As I mentioned previously, organizational change is difficult on everyone, and navigating through uncertainty is extremely difficult. According to Insightlink Communications, symptoms of employee disengagement included: “Increased absenteeism, coming in late and leaving early, taking longer lunches and breaks, showing little initiative or interest in work, lack of creativity and innovation, lack of trust” (InsiteLink Communications, 2012, p. 1). Towers Perrin (2003) stated disengaged employees “check-out” (Towers Perrin, 2003, p. 1). According to Business Wire, “a sense of control over one’s environment, a sense of shared destiny, and opportunities for development and advancement” (Business Wire, 2003, p. 1) are direct contributors to employee engagement. With any change, including change management during M&A’s, it involves loss of some kind and for many employees it can lead to feelings of sadness and grief (Jefferys. J., 2005, pp. 23-25).
Drivers of employee engagement
There are many drivers for employee engagement including: Communication; leaders having an interest in employees’ well being; having challenging work and opportunity for career advancement; having a collaborative work environment; positive culture; and having a clear vision regarding the organization’s present and future goals (Towers Perrin, 2003).
Upon reviewing the literature on employee engagement, communication truly is at the core of effective relationship and trust building, having a collaborative work environment, and having a clear understanding of an organization’s goals and vision. Effective communication will have a clear implication on the success of a merger in any organization. As leaders leading change, we need to ensure there is clear, open, honest, consistent, and frequent communication. In the absence of relevant information, employees will make things up, and start relying on the grapevine for their information. As leaders, we need to stop encouraging employees in feeding the grapevine or as Bushe (2009) called office gossip, “interpersonal mush” (p. 28). Leaders can encourage and set the example by sharing relevant and truthful information in a timely manner. Communication via email, blogs, website, memorandums etc. are effective, however, as Muller (2006) stated, in “times of extreme change, more than 55% of communication should be face-to-face” (Muller, 2006, p. 205). Argenti and Forman stated we could enhance communication by, “informal discussions” (p. 46) and “face to face” communication (p. 47). Welch (2011) stated, “[i]nternal communication has been posited as an important factor in the development of employment engagement” (Welch, 2011, p. 329). Open and honest two-way communication has “a crucial role in the development of positive employee engagement” (Welch, 2011, p. 339 as cited in Bakker et al., 2011) and will encourage employee engagement, lasting relationships and trust.
Employees who are engaged during times of change are key to a successful merger. Employee engagement is not a quick fix and does not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process that needs to be encouraged and nurtured (Cropanzano, R. & Mitchell, M.S., 2005; Saks, 2006).
There is no “Employee Engagement 101” handbook. Each organization moving through change needs to take a close look and address their employee’s needs and customize their strategies to move successfully through change.
As we discussed, a high level of employee engagement is needed for change management to be successful. Employee engagement is a fundamental key of operational effectiveness, profitability, and strategic planning. Employee engagement is an on-going process and must be addressed seriously. In this short paper, we have only scratched the surface of employee engagement, and further research is needed to drill down on this topic. Further questions such as the following need to be researched: How do leaders distinguish sharing of information and effective communication? How can a leader identify, at the start, symptoms of disengagement? What further elements are needed to drive engagement? What gets in the way of engagement? How do we measure and improve engagement? How do we build sustainable engagement?
When it comes to motivating employees and increasing employee engagement, what you say and do makes all the difference. Continuing this discussion will help leaders harness in on a higher level of employee engagement and in turn ensure their organization has a competitive advantage and is successful in today’s every-changing global business world.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yasmine Moulin is owner of Yasmine Moulin Consulting, providing professional development, executive leadership programs, social media branding and marketing, and business management consulting services. Yasmine has been in the continuing professional education field for financial professionals and business leaders for many years. She has successfully planned and developed executive education and professional development programs for VPs, CEOs, CFOs, and senior leaders. Yasmine was an early adopter of social media & saw the power it has to build relationships, brand awareness & authentic engagement with clients & potential new clients. This lead her to being a social media consultant and strategist. Previously, Yasmine was in the English as a Second Language (ESL) industry including being an ESL teacher and English & French tutor. Yasmine holds a Master of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University. Combining executive, management, business & leadership experience along with education & professional development, her focus & passion is in helping clients & their teams obtain their professional & personal goals. Yasmine currently lives in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.