The definition that I use for Employee Engagement is that “it’s the employee’s emotional connection to an organisation that inspires greater discretionary effort”. The significance of this definition is twofold. The first is that we are not talking about employees that just do their jobs, however efficiently. We are talking about employees that go beyond the call of duty. Secondly they do this out of loyalty to and appreciation of the quality of work life that their organisation provides. So let me start by giving you an example of classic Employee Engagement.
Recently, I’ve become very conscious of the amazing come-back of Air New Zealand. In 2002, Air New Zealand was on its knees after the Ansett debacle and few gave much hope for its survival as an independent airline. In 2010, it was voted Airline of the Year. It has one of the highest load factors of any airline in the world at 83.3% and in a market that is heavily dependent on tourism – and one would have thought low fares – Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777 – 300ER’s have more premium seats than any other aircraft including A380’s. Despite the natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan, the company’s net profit declined by 1%.
This remarkable turnaround has been led by their CEO Rob Fife. Air New Zealand enjoys very high levels of Employee Engagement because it has clear goals and strategies to achieve them, excellent communication between all levels of management and staff and provides a fulfilling and fun place to work. Rob Fife relates this incident of Employee Engagement at work.
“I had an email from a mother of two young children. She wrote: “We were running late for a flight. The plane was fully boarded and our names had been called. I was struggling with an eight month old and a three year old (plus luggage). I ran down towards the check-in at the gate and was met by a gentle, smiling man who told me to relax and pass the baby and the bag to him. He then led me down the aerobridge, chatting and asking about my day. He didn’t stop at the door (I thought he was ground staff) – he took me and my girls onto the plane. I said are you on this flight too? And he told me he was actually the pilot. His name is Brendan. He had seen us running and me struggling with the girls and got out of his seat in the cockpit and walked out to meet me. I was so touched. He demonstrated what makes Air New Zealand so special. Go well and thank you again. Kiri’”
This is the real McCoy of Employee Engagement but my work with customer and employee surveys suggest that the display of discretionary effort may be due, not to the employee’s emotional connection to the organisation but to the customer or to self. Let’s take emotional connection to the customer first. Where people have a long term and close business relationship with a customer who clearly appreciates when they go the extra mile on their behalf, it is this relationship that inspires greater discretionary effort.
Other employees are driven in their desire to give 110% because they are ambitious or competitive or because it’s part of their genetic make-up. One might question whether it matters, given that the benefit to the employer remains regardless of the motive. I don’t buy that argument.
If the employer does not provide a work environment that encourages discretionary effort, it will ultimately lose its best and brightest employees to other
employers that do.