How digital employee engagement could work better

BY Simon Lake

There are plenty of stats that show digital internal communications can make a big difference in improving productivity and reversing disengagement in employees. Research consistently shows that less than half of employees consider themselves to be fully engaged and conservative estimates put the cost of this to the UK economy at £6bn+.

In this context, digital offers unparalleled opportunities to reach each and every employee when done well, yet less than half of organisations believe that they devote enough effort and resources to engagement. In fact the outlook is grim. Despite ongoing investment in intranets, staff apps and enterprise social networks, employee engagement is not really seen as a core business activity.

The challenge is two-fold:

–     To implement technology that makes sense and is intuitive so that it is used every day and adds value to the business.

–     To develop a culture that will support the kind of tools and practices that will enable digital to achieve most impact.

In a world of competing priorities these aren’t easy: there are many technology options to choose from and uncertain or inconsistent measurement techniques won’t create the metrics to prove the business case. More importantly, if there isn’t a culture which supports engagement and trust, tools which rely on these to function won’t achieve mainstream adoption.

For instance, if an objective for employee engagement is to share best practice, a culture must exist where mistakes can be recognized and accepted and learnings from these rewarded. Digital is an excellent tool to support a culture of openness to share these learnings but it won’t happen unless there is a wider culture to support it.

Because this is hard to do, digital engagement often becomes just a platform for surveys or questionnaires or the café menu, not meaningful engagement.

Start at the top

There are a proliferation of stats that say cultural tone is set at the top and that show employee engagement pays when the exec team get behind it. For this to have meaning it should be grounded in the brand (corporate values translate to day-to-day staff activities), and offer a voice to staff (two-way communication, not broadcast).

Whilst the effort involved isn’t to be taken lightly, there are simple steps that can contribute – for instance many C-suite Twitter feeds are aimed exclusively at external audiences. If internal audiences know that they are an audience too and welcome to engage, they will start to use this channel.

This will probably lead to the question of extending social media to the wider employee base. This can be given a forum through social networking capability on intranets, but a sensible discussion should take place about access to external social media. Sites and platforms already offer staff the ability to talk freely and openly about their employee culture. Ignoring this is akin to burying the corporate head in the sand.

Alongside this, companies will see returns if they trial and test, using small samples to understand what works and what doesn’t. Technology should support this, not dictate what the employee engagement programme looks like. This will help understand how your employees behave – many a good intranet sits unused despite the best intentions of HR, Marketing and staff themselves. What works out of the office or at home, might not work in the office.