Getting started with employee engagement

“Well, Mr. CEO, how many people work for your company?” “About half of them!” It may be an old joke, but there’s more than a grain of truth in it and the importance of employee engagement is well recognized; a brief scan of the Deloitte’s 2015 Human Capital Report reveals some startling statistics such as:

  • Only 13% of the global workforce is “highly engaged”.
  • More than half the workforce would not recommend their employer to their peers
  • 87% of organizations rate culture and engagement as one of their top challenges.

But what difference does it make to have an “engaged” workforce?

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Gallup Research’s Jim Harter PhD, explained: “Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”


Among other metrics, in a 2012 Gallup study, organizations with a high level of engagement reported[1]:

  • 21% higher productivity
  • 25%-65% lower turnover.
  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 22% higher profitability

…and so on.

No wonder then that employee engagement is being treated so seriously.

But many companies haven’t the first clue how to get started with employee engagement, or even what engagement is.

“Employees are now like customers; companies have to consider them volunteers, not just workers…”[2]

(Interestingly volunteer workers at nonprofit organizations are some of the least engaged[3]. When you think about it, it may not be surprising – apparently the low salaries, long hours and poor management just aren’t worth it.)

Employee engagement: Starting out

While Employee Engagement is an ongoing and complex process in any organization, and a complete exposition of the subject is beyond this post, there are some practical themes:

  • Communication: both top down one:many (e.g. the CEO explaining and reinforcing the company strategy) as well as one:one (e.g. acknowledgement of a team member’s unique contribution to a project).
  • Measurement: formalized, repeatable ways of measuring the engagement of the workforce (e.g. surveys)
  • Incentives and rewards: both tangible (bonus for achieving a goal) and intangible (pat on the back from your peers).

Underlying all of these themes is the challenge of how to communicate. Email is the obvious answer, but consider this:

Email is not an effective way to communicate

According to sources like MailChimp, the click-to-open rate for emails ranges from 18% to 27%, so the odds are that your company newsletter will fall somewhere in that range – which means that three quarters or more of your employees won’t read what you have to say.

(Contrast that with in-app push messages, which enjoy click-to-open rates of 90% or more.)

Incentives and Rewards are minefields

Incentive and Reward schemes have to be done properly if they are to succeed.

A large South African Financial Services company recently did a survey to find out what their staff thought of their incentive scheme. On the face of it, they have an innovative, multi-layered scheme where managers can reward employees with small, ad-hoc incentives; larger prizes are awarded to outstanding employees on a monthly and annual basis through a nomination and voting process.

The survey, along with informal interviews revealed that:

  • Employees felt that the scheme lacked transparency.
  • HR have a massive workload trying to track the schemes through spreadsheets.
  • Even the small incentives were added onto paychecks at the end of the month – so employees didn’t feel immediate gratification. Even worse, managers sometimes forgot to follow through on the award because of the cumbersome manual process of informing HR and F&A via email.
  • The larger incentives saw short-listed employees actively campaigning amongst their peers to gain votes – an entirely unforeseen consequence of the voting rules.
  • Some managers were running their own, entirely independent incentive schemes, taking funds from their company credit cards or petty cash.
  • F&A find it almost impossible to track the incentives, making some of them illegal from a tax point of view.


Catastrophe? Or Opportunity?

The solution that has been proposed for the company above comprises:

  • A web-based incentive scheme administration system
  • A mobile app for employees
  • A mobile friendly website for employees without smartphones

In summary the features of the system include:

  • The ability to run a points-based incentive scheme. Managers are allocated a budget of points, which they can give to individual employees.
  • Employees can view their points balance on the app or mobi-site, and can exchange them instantly for tangible rewards such as airtime, cash or shopping vouchers.
  • Monthly reports will enable HR to see which managers are using the system, and what rewards are the most popular.
  • The reports will enable F&A to adjust the salaries of the employees who have been rewarded so that they end up in a tax-neutral states (i.e. the salary is boosted by the amount owing to the receiver of revenue.)
  • The admin web-site includes an ad-hoc message composer – so that HR or other designated “senders” and compose and send messages to be delivered by in-app Push or SMS.



While every organisation is different and will require a different balance of strategies, a mobile solution that encompasses the themes and features discussed above, including a strong reporting and administrative capability, will go a long way to solving the employee engagement conundrum for many organizations. What is your organisation doing about employee engagement?


[1] 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


[3] 2015 Employee Engagement Trends Report – Quantum Workplace.

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