Employee Engagement has become a mainstream concept throughout organizations, including corporate boardrooms. The rise of digital transformation as a strategy and the emergence of the millennial generations gave it much prominence in the recent years.
But the first use of the term occurred in a 1990 Academy of Management Journal article of William A. Kahn about the psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work which examined the conditions at work that contribute to engagement and disengagement. His finding showed that the individual and contextual sources of meaningfulness, safety, and availability had a significant impact on engagement.
It garnered speed and awareness during the internet growth of the 2000’s which facilitated employee communications through email and mobile phones. This era of employee mobility and virtual work necessitated the need for organizations to engage employees better. After a decade, tons of research had established the business case evidence on employee engagement with the business benefits of performance, safety, profits, retention, and wellbeing, among others.
In recent years with technological advances, many human resource practitioners thought that they can determine employee engagement by just conducting SurveyMonkey surveys across the organization. Everyone seemed to have a new survey and a new definition of engagement.
Until now, practitioners and researches seem to have no common definition of what employee engagement is.
The best definition we can get is that of The Institute of Employment Studies which describes employee engagement as the “belief in the organization, desire to improve the company, understanding of the business context, respect and helpfulness towards colleagues, willingness to go the extra mile, and keeping up to date with developments in the field”.
This all-encompassing definition gives rise to several theories on what drives employee engagement in organizations. Pay, working hours and condition, learning and development, leadership, and various other factors make employees feel valued and involved.
But a simple framework emerged from the study of Ateneo Center for Organization Research and Development (CORD) on employee engagement in Philippine organizations. The researchers discovered that organization pride is primarily what drives Filipino employee engagement, along with job engagement and organizational values. “Collectivism and the concept of ‘hiya’ [or shame] seem to influence Filipinos preference to be employed in an organization they can be proud of”, the study avers. Moreover, there is “tendency to belong in groups that take care of them in exchange for loyalty” and “people’s self-image is defined in terms of We”.
With the collectivist culture of Filipinos, we can surmise that employee engagement levels in local organizations is high. In fact, a survey of Aon revealed that employee engagement levels in the Philippines rose by six points to 71%; and is higher than key Asia Pacific economies including China (69%), Thailand (64%), Malaysia (63%), Australia (60%), and Singapore (59%). Furthermore, the top engagement drivers in the Philippines are talent and staffing, empowerment and autonomy, rewards and recognition, career and development, and senior leadership.
With high employee engagement among Philippine companies, we think they deliver superior customer service. On the contrary, not quite.
In our study, CEOs of many medium to large organization in the country lament at the fact that despite high employee engagement scores, processes across and between departments remain broken, resulting in poor customer and employee service. This is much evident in services sector such as financial services and utility firms.
We call this silo mentality, a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. It reduces efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture. It is something that employee engagement surveys cannot detect.
The same collectivist culture of the Filipinos promote silo mentality across organizations. The seemingly benign practices of Philippine-based companies such as holding Christmas party group performances and departmental team-building activities, build camaraderie within a group but promote and strengthen silos.
To break down silos and make employee engagement more beneficial to the organization, the chief executive should lead the changes. The CEO together with his or her lieutenants should display collaborative behavior and cross-functional communication. They should mandate their employees to institutionalize interdepartmental meetings to jointly solve problems and come up with new ideas. There should be task force, sponsored by the CEO and headed by a senior executive, charged with breaking up the silos and develop practices that require collaboration and communication. Instead of departmental competition during Christmas parties, why not promote cross-functional group performances? Apart from departmental team buildings, why not promote other interdepartmental activities?
Technology can also breakdown silos and enhance employee engagement. There are several software application tools available now that allow employees to communicate to management and other employees, and management to give feedback to employees. Gamification, the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) which is embedded in software tools, is particularly effective in engaging millennials.
Lastly, reconfiguring office spaces can do wonders by breaking down office walls and laying out open work spaces. This will facilitate better and open communication and collaboration.
Indeed, organization pride is a key driver of employee engagement among Philippine companies. That’s why we see companies investing in branding, social responsibility initiatives, and other artefacts such as logos, company songs, and image.
But organization pride can be wasted if silo mentality creeps within the company.
Reynaldo C. Lugtu, Jr. is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation firm. He is the Chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University.