If ever there was a buzzword for the 21st century, it has to be engagement. You see it everywhere, from SEO experts telling you to create engaging content for your website to customer relationship experts advising on the importance of engaging your clients. The phrase “employee engagement” is one that is often thrown around a lot and so has a lot of different meanings attached to it.

In this article, I want to focus on what the phrase really means, why it is important and how you can start building it right from the first interaction of your recruitment process.

What is employee engagement?

An engaged employee is more than just someone who enjoys coming in to work and doing his or her job. It is someone who cares at a fundamental level about the company through a feeling of emotional investment and common goals. To be engaged, employees need to really believe in the company’s vision, and for that to happen, they must have a clear understanding of what the company is trying to achieve in the short and long term.

And, if you are a manager, you need to understand that there are two focuses concerning employee engagement. Not only do people need to feel engaged with the company as a whole, but also with you as an individual manager and then the wider leadership team you are part of. The latter aspect will have a big impact on how employees feel about those who are running the company and directing their everyday activities.

Why is it important?

For some, the basic principle of everyone being in the same boat and working towards common goals is reason enough to want an engaged workforce, but there are more tangible reasons too. When employees are engaged, the atmosphere in the workplace becomes more vibrant and positive, employee actions become more reliable and teamwork is far more likely to lead to successful outcomes with less in-fighting or disputes.

A whole host of studies have examined the benefits of employee engagement and have found that it can bring benefits that go far beyond increased productivity, a better working environment and reduced staff turnover. Here are a few examples:

  • A survey by Towers Watson in 2009 revealed that companies with higher employee engagement realised a 9% higher shareholder return.
  • A Gallup poll in 2011 showed that those who are more engaged are absent an average of 3.5 fewer days per year than those who are not. Gallup also went on in 2017 to demonstrate that engaged teams show 21% greater profitability.
  • The Conference Board study in 2006 concluded that engaged employees outperform disengaged by some 28%.

Building engagement in your recruitment process

Studies have shown when employees are well-suited to their position, there is a positive impact on employee engagement levels. According to Engage for Success, 59% of engaged employees say that their job brings out their most creative ideas, while only 3% of disengaged employees say the same. Getting this right means not only being able to accurately convey the reality of working for your organisation but also then being able to select against that description the people who will get the most out of working with you.

An assessment approach supporting this, coupled with an employer brand that focuses on the right things, lays a solid foundation for employee engagement throughout a new hire’s time at your company. It may sound simple, but here are a few ways to drive engagement from the start:

  • Use plain English, say what you mean and mean what you say. Internal jargon is a barrier to success in this.
  • Think carefully about any questions you ask during the interview process and any assessments that you use. Are they aimed at measurable characteristics that predict success and engagement in role? If not, think about why you are asking them and look to take them out where you can.
  • People join organisations for the future, not just the present. Talking through your future strategy and aims with new hires and checking that they want to part of that journey is vital. Some roles can be hired with a shorter horizon, no problem with that at all and most fixed term contracts, Contractors or Freelancers will join you for slightly different reasons. But if you are looking for an employee in a key position, you likely want to hang on to them for a while.
  • Determine if the candidate is going to be motivated by your company’s culture. After all, if they’re not going to happy and engaged by working within it hiring them isn’t going to do you or them any favours.

It’s never been easier for prospective candidates to research the culture of an organisation they are looking to join and to form an opinion from that. Look at sites like Glassdoor, RateMyEmployer or JobAdvisor.com. It is through routes like this and the experience that you provide to them throughout your recruitment process that prospective candidates can start their research on you as an employer. Taking hold of that narrative and then living up to that in the way you interact is essential to realising the productivity gains that come from hiring the right people.