Strong leadership vital to employee engagement

Employee engagement has always been one of the most important KPIs for leaders of any organisation. A company – and the leaders behind it – are nothing if they are not supported by an engaged, committed workforce.

Of course, there are so many different factors that fall under the employee engagement umbrella, which makes it even harder to measure and take action on. However, according to the '2014 Trends in Global Employee Engagement' study from AON Hewitt, engagement appears to be rising on the whole across the world.

That doesn't mask some underlying human resources challenges that have persisted into this year though – and the importance of strong leadership has once again been highlighted.

Employee engagement on the rise, but retention under threat

The AON Hewitt study measures employee engagement around three parameters – Say (whether employees speak positively about the organisation to co-workers, potential employees and customers), Stay (whether they have an intense sense of belonging and desire to be a part of the organisation) and Strive (whether they are motivated and exert effort toward success in their job and for the company).

Encouragingly, the Say and Strive measures both recorded increased last year, rising to 67 per cent and 58 per cent respectively. When employees spread good word about the company they work for and are motivated to help it reach success, these are usually sound indicators of strong engagement.

However, the Stay measure – which looks at to what extent employees feel a connection with their organisation and how likely they are to stay there – recorded no growth between 2012 and 2013. In fact, at 56 per cent, it is the lowest ranked of the three measures.

While the increase in employee engagement on the whole is positive, this result could suggest that retention is something that employers need to work on. Further insight from the study reveals that shifting employee attitudes could be behind their reluctance to stay put.

Employees increasingly looking short-term

AON Hewitt's study suggests that high engagement does not necessarily translate to retention and longevity on the job. One of the most concerning phenomena it highlighted was that more and more workers no longer see the value in a long-term tie to one organisation – which could be attributed to the breakdown of the “employee value proposition”.

“Employees are engaging more, but only a little over half see a long-term path with their current company and fewer see a compelling value proposition to keep their talents with the current company,” the survey report reads.

To combat this, AON Hewitt suggests, leaders need to recognise that they hold the key to employment engagement. Leaders should aim to be engaging and “think, feel and act in different ways” to the norm.

“Leaders have a multiplier effect on engagement in that they affect engagement through control over all the top drivers, in addition to having a direct effect on the engagement of others through their interactions,” explains AON Hewitt.

People skills essential to become an engaging leader

Not surprisingly, strong people skills are crucial to become an effective, engaging leader. This is a point discussed in two separate peterberry_author studies, 'Leadership in Australia and what Makes a High Performing CEO' and 'Emerging Leaders in Australia'. According to the first study, leaders equipped with people skills “have excellent human relations skills, give credit where credit is due, make people feel valued, communicate effectively, share resources, knowledge and time, and hold staff accountable”.

In the other study, leaders will good people skills are identified as those who recognise “the need for human interaction, engagement and variety”. 

The importance of interpersonal skills to leadership development has never been more relevant, and is likely to continue to gather attention moving forward.