Acorn Coaching and Development

Improving business performance


How to Engage Employees in a Sustainable Way

  • Engaging Employees, Performance Coaching, Leadership Development, Team Effectiveness

Faster, better, more of it! This is a mantra we hear again and again from our clients. They tell us they are under increasing pressure to do more with less; to deliver increasing productivity with ever diminishing resources. In this article we share current key challenges and issues to consider and offer some practical steps you can take to enable your business to succeed through tough times.

Work Intensification

Findings in the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey on Work Intensification in Britain1 support the experience we are repeatedly told about. The report highlights how “Those in jobs are working harder, faster and to tighter deadlines than they did in the past.” It goes on to warn that this work intensification may come at a cost to business in terms of increasing levels of workplace stress and potential losses to productivity.

So how do successful managers respond to the ‘less is more’ challenge?

One answer that is currently in favour is ‘engagement’. Whilst a range of reputable sources agree on the answer, they don’t always agree on what engagement means. This is fundamental because how you choose to define ‘engagement’ determines how you go about achieving it. For example, if you only measure engagement by its outcome behaviour of ‘going the extra mile’ (discretionary effort), you may be inclined to expect staff to work increasingly longer and harder. This approach may be appropriate for a short term project but is not sustainable long term.

It is more productive to consider not just the behaviour of discretionary effort but also the motivation behind the behaviour. Recent CIPD research2 distinguishes between transactional engagement and emotional engagement which may manifest in the same behaviour of discretionary effort whilst having entirely different motivations. Transactional engagement is when employees are extrinsically motivated towards rewards, such as pay or benefits, or away from loss of job or rewards. In contrast, emotional engagement is when employees are intrinsically motivated by enjoying their work.

Extrinsically motivated employees are more likely to suffer stress and burn-out than their intrinsically motivated colleagues. The CIPD definition is based on intrinsic motivation and their formula for success is: well-being + engagement = sustainability.

So why is employee engagement so important?

In a 2012 ‘Engagement at Work’ report3, Gallup state “Employee engagement consistently affects key performance outcomes regardless of the organisation, industry or country.” They quantified this for us by identifying nine key performance outcomes that employee engagement affects including 21% higher productivity and 22% higher profitability.

In Britain, employee engagement is considered so important by the government that in 2011 the Prime Minister gave his backing to an independent task force4 supported by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. This task force supports two of the UK Government’s top priorities: delivering sustainable growth for the UK and promulgating new approaches to help people improve their well-being.

So how do you engage employees in a sustainable way?

Drawing on eighteen years of working in partnership with our clients, employing tried and tested techniques based on sound theories, we have identified practical actions for engaging employees in a sustainable way that benefits all concerned.

A – Audit & Align Strengths

Begin by identifying the core strengths that your company needs to succeed. These are the strengths that will really make a difference to your business and your clients and directly relate to the company purpose and values.

As part of ongoing personal development, determine what strengths each of your employees can and do contribute. These are the competencies that intrinsically engage individuals. They will think of these strengths as an essential part of who they are, they will feel energised when they use them and they will seek opportunities to behave in ways that use them to advantage.

Consider how best to align the strengths of the individual with the strengths the business needs to ensure you have a clear line of sight. Focus on how learning and development opportunities can encourage, recognise and value the positive use of these strengths as a priority and use senior management to reinforce this through feedback and coaching. Consider how to use strengths in competency frameworks and appraisal systems.

B – Believe in Your Purpose

With public and private corporation scandals hitting the headlines more often than ever and increasing pressure on pay and benefits budgets, more of us are looking for other forms of reward in our work. It is not surprising that the need for meaning and purpose is perceived as more important than ever by employees and particularly so for Generation ‘Y’ers. We fundamentally want to be proud of what we do and why we do it.

Leaders need to communicate a clear narrative for the company’s direction: where you came from and where you are going to. Be clear about how the company’s values are reflected in the day-to-day behaviours of employees at all levels in the organisation.

As a manager and a leader, you need to lead by example and ensure that what you do is consistent with what you say. Ensure that the purpose and values are not hollow words that no-one remembers or relates to but are embedded within and bought to life through day to day actions.

C – Communicate & Coach

Work relationships are crucial to the smooth running of any business. The relationship between a manager and staff is one of the most important relationships as it sets the tone for everyone in the team. By being authentic, consistent and open in your work relationships, you will provide a positive role model.

Each day we are inundated with an avalanche of information from a range of sources. We also have communication challenges in terms of changing systems and structures, cross-functional and global working across different time zones. It is vital that everyone is clear about what is currently urgent and important. It is not enough just to send a message; it is vital to ensure that message is received and understood.

There is reliable evidence that coaching produces a very effective return on investment. Some companies contract external coaches and others set up an internal coaching culture. Coaching conversations are established on trust and genuine listening. Often we think we are listening when in fact we are barely hearing because our mind is elsewhere distracted by external and internal thoughts, sounds and feelings. Rather than genuinely listening, we are planning ahead what we will say in response. Being fully present, being mindful and active listening are invaluable resources for everyone to develop.

Creating the right conditions to achieve employee engagement is a process. It will require commitment from both the organisation and managers in order to achieve committment from staff.

Article Credits / References

1. Felstead, A., Gaillie, D., Green, F. and Inanc, H. (2013) Work Intensificatin in Britain: First Findings from the Skills and Employment Survey 2012, London: Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies, Institute of Education.

2. Gourlay, S.. Alfes, K., Bull, E., Baron, A. Petrov, G. and Georellis, Y. (2012) Emotional or Transactional Engagement – does it matter? Research Insight: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

3. Engagement at Work: Its effect on performance continues in tough economic times. Key findings from Gallup’s Q12 meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees.


See our Top Tips for creating ‘Mindfulness’ in the work environment. This easy to learn, inexpensive, portable and sustainable intervention is easily applied to all businesses.