Employee engagement: You get what you deserve

Join host Sheelagh Caygill as she explores the obvious - and less obvious - trends and influences in communications, PR, and marketing. Also explored are writing and upping your game as a creator of prose. In this essential listen, she interviews senior comms pros and thought leaders to reveal insights you can incorporate into your work.

In our series on employee engagement and workplace culture: 

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What is employee engagement?

Damian McAlonan, a leadership communications and training expert, is Managing Partner with The Boost Partnership, a training delivery business in London, UK. We talk to Damian about management’s role in improving employee engagement.

What does employee engagement really mean, Damian?

Engagement is a simple concept that’s been made more complex than it needs to be. In fact, one of the main challenges for engagement is that there’s no one true definition.

Engagement should be viewed not as something you ‘do’ to people, but rather the result of how people connect with your business. Engagement is a state where people do it because they want to, not because they have to.

It’s a relatively simple concept to understand, but hard to do. Leaders need to start listening in new ways and allow employees the freedom to express views counter to managerial wisdom. It’s about bringing both employee and employer into a collaborative conversation to create a more active involvement in the company culture.


Can you outline the key elements of an effective employee engagement strategy?

It’s easy to say you need to review your engagement strategy in terms of these things:

  • How well you listen to your people
  • Create meaningful work
  • Have flexible management
  • Provide an attractive work environment
  • Growth opportunities with empathetic leadership.

But that’s been said before, I think it’s more interesting to consider the following. You have two waiters in a restaurant, same environment, same uniform, same training, same pay, same benefits, yet one is smiling and helpful and the other is curt and rude. Why?

I’ve seen some really excellent employee engagement strategies presented by HR directors, CEOs, and engagement specialists explaining what they did to increase their engagement score.

But, if it’s just a score increase you’re after, are you really tackling the issue of engaging your people? Is the focus on gaining a result rather than on the people?

Despite the many great strategies and ideas, and according to Gallup’s latest figures, only 18% of the workplace worldwide is engaged. This is a figure that hasn’t moved significantly for the last 20 years. So, the question becomes, why aren’t these strategies solving the problem?

Working towards a cause

My waiter example previously mentioned demonstrates what I think might be a cause. A company can do everything possible for its people, but still fail to engage everyone. The reason for this might be that the only person trying to fix ‘engagement’ is the employer, not the employee. As the employee is half the relationship, the commitment and solution to engagement must be an agreement, both ways.

When helping clients with their engagement strategies we review the entire employee experience from on-boarding to exit interview. The major components that have consistently stood out when increasing engagement, improving culture and performance in a short amount of time is after the following three actions have been placed into engagement strategy.

Purpose, values, and behaviours create the setting

Firstly, and as a collective, the company must identify its purpose, values and the behaviours it wants. These must be agreed and clear to all before moving to the second stage.

Once in agreement, you need to find a way for everyone to police and protect the values, behaviour, and culture. This can be done by creating a culture of zero tolerance for anyone breaking the values in everyday interaction with everyone, internally or externally. Anyone not behaving in the agreed way, including (and especially) senior executive management, must be told.

Finally, only recruit, measure and reward people who demonstrate your values and behaviours, recognize them and praise them both within the organization and publicly.

Coming up in part two – Management Role in Improving Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement expert Damian McAlonan

Damian McAlonan has more than 20 years’ experience in leading advertising, marketing, and sales departments. As Managing Partner with The Boost Partnership, Damian’s driving philosophy in creating effective change is to keep things simple, share with honest communication, and trust people to get on with it.

Damian is based in London, U.K. Find out more about Damian on Linkedin, and follow him on Twitter.

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Join the discussion

  • “The reason for this might be that the only person trying to fix ‘engagement’ is the employer, not the employee. As the employee is half the relationship”

    How true indeed. Employees must be empowered to take charge and help create the environment in which they can feel their best and do their best. An environment that forces everyone to take stock of their life and value system.

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