What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee productivity, efficiency, and satisfaction are the talk of the corporate town – supposedly setting the bar for success, with the concept of engagement being left to char on the back burner. This is surprising when looking at exactly what an engaged workforce means; Forbes defines employee engagement as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” The key word here being “emotional”: employees are intrinsically motivated, driven by the sheer fact that they truly care about the company and are happy to go that extra mile.
When engagement is present, employees tend to showcase efforts beyond what is expected of them, with the best interests of the company being at the forefront of their actions. For example, an engaged sales associate doesn’t stop selling for the week once they hit their goals – instead, they keep striving for more work, more sales, more success. Why? Because their engagement translates into discretionary effort.
A for Discretionary Effort
Discretionary effort is said to be given when employees go above and beyond in the workplace – making for an engaged and motivated workforce that only betters the company. To put in effort beyond what’s asked of them is something that employees don’t have to do; in fact, all that’s really required of them is to fulfil their job roles, which they could do in a transactional and bare-minimum way. This reminds companies that discretionary effort is something that should not be taken for granted, and they must put in the effort to both promote and maintain it.
What Discretionary Effort Looks Like in the Workplace
Now that we know discretionary effort is going that extra mile, let’s take a look at exactly how that may show up in the workplace.
For example, an engineer in the IT department has been asked to fix a bug on the website, which is acting slow – nothing new. This engineer could go in and fix it, likely needing to do it again in a month or so, as is usually the case. What’s the problem? The job role is being fulfilled sufficiently. But that’s exactly where the problem lies. Discretionary effort is nonexistent here; if it was, the engineer would take it upon themselves to get to the very core of the problem, which could be the need for a software update or a content declutter.
Another example would be for a sales team member to have a monthly target, which they regularly hit. They are capable of surpassing it, but they decide to stop as soon as they meet what’s expected of them. With discretionary effort, this employee would keep going even after they hit their targets, because they are committed to the company and are intrinsically driven to only give their very best.
An employee truly embedding themselves into the company, showing second-to-none commitment and having the desire to resolve any issues as though they were their own, is only possible with discretionary effort. Without it, employees are merely compliant – meaning just doing what is asked of them – with little if any trace of wanting continual improvement for the company they serve.
Discretionary Effort, Emotional Commitment, and Employee Engagement
Although discretionary effort, as the term suggests, is at the individual’s discretion, there are ways to promote it. To understand these we must take a step back and consider employee engagement – the driving force behind that extra mile. The Corporate Leadership Council (CEB) conducted a study on over 50,000 companies to investigate employee engagement and its drivers. The findings showed that engagement, and thus discretionary effort, has two key determinants: rational commitment and emotional commitment, with emotional commitment being the more significant factor.
Emotional commitment in the workplace relates to the extent to which employees value, find joy, and believe in work-related aspects, including their jobs, managers, teams, or organisations.
Ways To Promote Employee Engagement
Now that we’ve established the interconnectedness of employee engagement with discretionary effort and emotional commitment, it has become clear that the fostering of the latter is needed to encourage engagement. There are many ways that engagement can be promoted, including but not limited to the following:
Investing in employees by providing training is definitely worthwhile. Brad Schuck, an assistant professor at the university of Louisville specialising in organisational development stated that “the more an employee feels the company is investing in their future, the higher the level of engagement”. Empowering employees with the development of further skills, such as training in new technologies or different departments, shows that you not only believe in the potential of your employees, but that you are willing to do something to help them realise it. This wards away any fears of feeling undervalued or “stuck” in a company, which can be a culprit for poor performance or even turnover.
“Work hard, play hard” didn’t become a popular saying for no good reason. Social events bring a host of benefits for the company. Encouraging employees to come out of their shells and socialise strengthens the bond between colleagues, improves connections, and creates a playful atmosphere that oozes comfort. All of the right ingredients for greater engagement! Examples on how to do this include company dinners, team building days, or even an afternoon run!
Stay True to Your Values
What your company stands for, its values, brand, and employer value proposition, are one of the most important initial attractors for prospective employees. Once they join your company, they expect for you to stay true to what you stand for. What promises do you make to your employees? A fun work environment, regular training, quarterly perks? Whatever it may be, ensure that your employees know what to expect, and receive it.
Recognizing hard work is crucial to make employees and their efforts feel seen. Perhaps the sales employee hit or even exceeded their target, or the marketing department developed an innovative campaign. Regardless of the exact nature of the hard work in question, it should always be positively recognised, which will only encourage more of it. This can be done through many monetary and non-monetary ways, such as a simple shoutout in the company newsletter, a bonus, or sending out a care package.
Check In Regularly
It’s all good and well to delegate a chunk of work to your employees and just leave them to it. In fact, this may even be the environment that they thrive best in: when they’re left to their own devices, and only reach out when the job is done. But work styles are not a one-size-fits-all and having regular check-ins or open sessions where employees can drop by with updates or any issues can go a long way in making them feel supported and valued, thereby fostering engagement.
Engaged employees are a product of their work environment, which they will then give back to – a win/win! Discretionary effort is an effect that employers want to see come to fruition amongst their employees as it can translate into greater productivity, innovation, and the likes. The good news is that this can be promoted in employees with a little push through ways such as providing training, hosting social events, living out the company values, acknowledging effort, and checking in regularly. Giving employees the tools to become active and engaged will allow them to give back to you in immeasurable ways, furthering your success as both an employer and a company.