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Employee Engagement – Taking Care of the Basics
By: Eric Spell, President of AgCareers.com

Employee engagement, also called work engagement or worker engagement, is a business management concept. An "engaged employee" is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization's interests. According to Scarlett Surveys, "Employee engagement is a measureable degree of an employee's positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization which profoundly influences their willingness to learn & perform at work.” Thus, engagement is distinctively different from satisfaction, motivation, culture, climate and opinion and very difficult to measure.

AgCareers.com recently hosted a small networking session with a few clients in Omaha, NE. The group consisted of six different businesses within the agribusiness and food industries. Sizes of the businesses represented ranged from 50-2,000 employees. Positions held by those present during the meeting ranged from CFO, Director of HR, HR Generalist, Director of Recruiting, HR Manager, and Training Director. The group generated the following questions for business leaders/managers to ask themselves with respect toEmployee Engagement:

  1. Do employees feel as if what they are doing is important? Are they connected to the organization’s goals?
  2. Do employees understand their role? Have expectations of what is wanted from them been made clear to them?
  3. Do employees feel as if they are advancing in their careers? Are they growing, developing and improving themselves?
  4. Are employees getting frequent and regular informal feedback on performance in addition to an annual performance evaluation?
  5. Does the employee have a good relationship with his/her immediate supervisor?
  6. Does the organization have strong values, a compelling vision, and inspirational leadership?

The group further discussed the topic by identifying a few normal business obstacles that can very quickly impact an organization’s ability to maintain desirable performance from staff. The consensus by the group was that senior management plays an important role in “setting the stage” on how such areas are managed. The list includes:

- Joint ventures/acquisitions/mergers
- Rapid company expansion
- Multiple remote locations
- Management communication
- The overall economic environment and how the organization is impacted
- Company benefits

Time can pass and the above areas can be taken for granted and if not addressed properly they will adversely impact overall employee engagement within the organization.

October to December is a time of year that can be very busy for everyone. Managers should also be aware that this time period is statistically proven to be very active for individuals seeking a career move. People are just coming off of summer vacations and begin to act on their “career move thoughts!”

Consider these statistics. In July 2010, AgCareers.com processed 6,900 applications by individuals to jobs on the AgCareers.com site. In August, that number moved up to 7,500. In September, total applicants were up 15% compared to July with over 8,100 applicants. And if October follows the previous year’s trend, total applicants processed will be up another 10% over September.

Therefore, we would like to encourage everyone to ensure employee engagement is a topic not to be taken lightly. Employee engagement is a fancy phrase for “taking care of the basics!” Within AgCareers.com and Farms.com, we would like to share a few basic guidelines that we intend to communicate to our managers over the coming months. We hope you’ll do the same within your organizations!

1) Let go of any negative opinions you may have about your employees.
Approach each of them as a source of unique knowledge with something valuable to contribute to the company. Remember that you are co-creating the achievement of a vision with them.

2) Make sure employees have everything they need to do their jobs.
Remember when you started a new school year and you'd prepare by getting all new school supplies? Why not build such an opportunity into your department simply by asking each staff member, or the team as a whole, "Do you have everything you need to be as competent as you can be?" Remember, just as marketplace and customer needs change daily, so do your employees’ needs.

3) Clearly communicate what's expected of employees.
Communicate what the company values and vision are and how the company defines success. Employees can’t perform well or be productive if they don't clearly know what it is they're there to do and the part they play in the overall success of the company. Be sure to communicate your expectations and to do it often.

4) Get to know your employees.
Get to know your employees - especially their goals, their stressors, what excites them and how they each define 'success.' I'm not suggesting you pry too deeply or start 'counseling' your team members. What I am suggesting is that you show an interest in their well-being and that, when appropriate, you do what it takes to enable them to feel more fulfilled and better balanced.

5) Make sure they are trained - and retrained - in problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
These critical skills will help them interact better with you, their teammates, customers and suppliers. It's common sense - better communication reduces stress and increases positive outcomes.

6) Constantly ask how YOU are doing in your employees’ eyes.
I know it can be difficult for managers to request employee feedback and it can be equally, if not more, challenging for an employee to give the person who evaluates them an honest response. To get strong at this skill and to model it for employees is important. Begin dialogs with employees using conversation starters such as, "It's one of my goals to constantly improve myself as a manager. What would you like to see me do differently? What could I be doing to make your job easier?" Be sure to accept feedback graciously and to express appreciation.

7) Pay attention to company stories and rituals.
Are people laughing at each other or with each other? Do they repeat stories of success or moments of shame? Stay away from participating in discussions that are destructive to people or the organization, and keep success stories alive.

8) Reward and recognize employees in ways that are meaningful to them.
Reward and recognize employees in ways that are meaningful to them (that's why getting to know your employees is so important). And remember to celebrate both accomplishments AND efforts to give employees working on long-term goals a boost.

9) Be consistent for the long haul.
If you start an 'engagement initiative' and then drop it your efforts will backfire, creating employee estrangement. People are exhausted and exasperated from 'program du jour' initiatives that engage their passion and then fizzle out when the manager gets bored, fired or moved to another department. There is a connection between an employee's commitment to an initiative and a manager's commitment to supporting it. A manager's ongoing commitment to keeping people engaged, involved in and excited about the work they do and the challenges they face must be a daily priority.

For more information email AgCareers.com at agcareers@agcareers.com.