Why Employee Engagement Needs to be Infectious

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person –not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”
                          Anne M. Mulcahy – Former Chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation


The term “employee engagement” is usually considered an HR responsibility for building employee morale and retention. It is also valued by executives and team leaders to build internal relationships and a greater sense of “team.” In either case, the very concept of “employee engagement” is often perceived to be a feel-good effort versus strategic investment and competitive advantage.  Support, or lack thereof, for such programs, tends to be polarizing. The emotional benefit these programs represent can often obscure and distract traditional business minds from seeing the true impact they can ultimately have on improving corporate performance.

Why do so many businesses think of employee engagement as a “nice-to-have” versus necessity? And why is the management of such programs often treated as an afterthought or added responsibility undeserving of a dedicated role or department?

I believe five key reasons that feed into these corporate biases and misconceptions are as follows:

1) Engagement is emotional – this means that measurement of impact may not be quantifiable, scalable or tangible. Therefore, it becomes difficult to take ownership – or take credit – for program impact or risk.

2) Promotional Expense or Corp Investment? – a campaign, new program roll-outs or launch event, are all expenses designed to promote awareness internally and build excitement. However seasonal communication efforts are not enough to sustain, let alone inspire, long term employee interest and support. Sustaining engagement, or propelling waves of culture shift and change requires ongoing, long-term investment.

3) Participation, Compliance and Awareness – is often mistaken as being the same as “engagement.” When executives and managers see employees adopting new programs or processes– they assume that such action means they are thereby “engaged”

4) Responsibility of Execs/Team Leads – it is assumed that just because Executives/Team Leads can manage team programs and can identify with their needs/challenges, then they too must know how to get their people motivated and engaged.

5) Engagement is expected not earned – businesses assume they will have employee interest, participation and enduring support for new programs, policies etc. It is why instituting corporate-wide change, or launching new programs/policies are usually handled as declarative, one-way forms of communication. The communication focus is often about “what” and “how.” It is less about the “why” behind the programs/policies.

Understanding of, and compliance with, new programs, policies or business priorities is not the same as getting employees emotionally engaged and eager to advocate program merits to others (see post on Building Sustainable Brand and Culture) .  As illustrated in this model from Dale Carnegie, there is a great distance from the time an employee engages, to the time where they believe, support and  adopt a sense of shared ownership in ensuring the success of new programs, policies or strategies.

Inspiring people to be so emotionally engaged that they feel compelled to act, is the very challenge community managers and social marketers face daily.


Source:  Dale Carnegie: What Drives Employee Engagement & Why it Matters 2012

Community Engagement Building 

Given the growing importance of social networks and community building, it is surprising to see how few businesses recognize the correlation between internal and external when it comes to building communities and engagement. Most businesses understand by now that externally, social engagement has to be learned and earned – it cannot be assumed or expected from people. And while the nature of relationship is different for internal communities, the same principles and challenges for community and engagement building still hold true.

Building the social sharing platforms and establishing a presence via social networks is the relatively easy part. The true challenge for any community building effort is to foster interest that can grow into an emotional connection, advocacy, and ultimately a level of community engagement that becomes self-perpetuating.

Nurturing support and engagement of employees benefits not only the current workforce – but also future. Employee engagement encourages information sharing and relationship building.   It also fosters the development of a new breed of leadership and management style that is cross-functional in role and interest, diverse in perspective, and openly social in how it operates.

Diversity + Inclusiveness = A more engaged workforce

EY (formerly Ernst & Young) recently conducted a study of 821 business executives in 14 countries regarding leadership and its impact on corporate diversity and inclusion. What is surprising is that more than half of the participants in the study found their companies lacked the kind of leadership needed to motivate and manage diverse team talent and interests. Team diversity is key for ensuring that cross-disciplinary teams can learn from one-another, and be inspired to collaborate as they are exposed to a varied perspectives and talents. But exposure to diverse ideas is not enough. Unless team members feel they have the skills, support, and opportunities to explore and engage with others, they will not share their ideas or collaborate freely beyond their comfort zones. Nor will they be inspired to be creative and apply new ideas to their day-to-day thinking and work.

Internal inclusiveness and a commitment to building communities internally – is key to fostering enduring employee engagement.

“When researching the power of engagement and what factors drive a more engaged workforce, Cullen says EY discovered the magic dust – that the highest contributors to engagement levels were high-performing teams, those working in collaborative environments and being stretched to the edge of their abilities.”

The following are some ways that employee engagement has evolved beyond the “soft” benefits and towards more tangible forms of business impact and sustainable success.

Tangible results of Employee Engagement

• New ideas and influences inspires creation of more innovative products and solutions

• Encourages a new leadership style and mind – one that is more distributed, diverse, and holistic versus centralized and controlling

• Inclusiveness fosters a culture that excels via collaboration and co-creation

• Brands become more socially relevant as more internal voices become engaged and contribute their own verse to a brand’s story

There is no magic bullet or formula for building a thriving corporate culture. HR, Executives/Managers, and team leaders, should no longer feel that a leap of faith is needed. Building internal social engagement is not an optional expense. It is an essential business investment in strengthening productivity, corporate culture, and future leaders. Business leaders must keep in mind that engagement doesn’t just happen. Nor can they assume it to be the natural employee response. It takes true emotion to inspire emotions within others. When business leaders begin to see, feel, and believe differently about employee engagement – then so will their employees.

If you have examples or stories to share regarding employee engagement programs that either missed the mark or got “it” right, please share in comments below.  Thank you!

Special thanks to Vegardig for use of this “Engage” photo.

This article was originally published on the SocialVoice Branding website
Anneliza Humlen is the President and Founder of SocialVoice®.  She is a brand strategist, development leader, culture-change catalyst and writer. She has dedicated over 15 yrs to helping businesses create meaningful brands through humanizing communication, culture-building and mentorship development of brand ambassadors