Employee Engagement: How’s It Working For You?

Bygone eras

We’ve long since left the era when employees were likely to be “lifers” working their entire careers with a single employer. The new norm is that many people will change their employers almost as frequently as some change their hair colour.  Even so, many assistants sit tight in the interest of financial stability, or nurturing an attractive pension plan.

Others may consider themselves fortunate to hold the jobs they do, as some employers are shedding human capital and brick and mortar investments as they shift to flexible work assignments and invest in artificial intelligence (AI).

If you’re working in a vibrant labour market, though, and your sector hasn’t been adversely impacted by digitization, you may have more options. So, why do you stay put in a specific role or with a particular employer?

Do you have positive things to say about your organisation?


It may have a lot to do with employee engagement

It’s a bonus if your work is interesting and fulfilling. The business relationships you’ve nurtured are also important; collegiality and a positive work environment go a long way. Employee engagement, though, is more than employee happiness – and it’s important to employers as well as employees, since it’s acknowledged as contributing to increased profitability.

So what does it boil down to? Well, HR solution provider Aon Hewitt defined employee engagement in its 2018 Global Engagement Report as “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization”.

This can be assessed through three simple questions that reflect the say, stay, strive principles.

  1. Do you have positive things to say about your organisation and advocate for it?
  2. Do you intend to stay there for the long term?
  3. Are you motivated to strive to give your best efforts?

If you’re able to say yes to all three questions about your job, you’re most likely an engaged employee. You’re invested in the organisation, which should be music to your HR colleagues’ ears.


How do employers go about engaging their employees?

Again turning to Aon Hewitt’s 2018 Global Engagement Report, there are five dominant drivers. Here they are, in descending order of importance.

  • Rewards and Recognition
  • Senior Leadership
  • Career and Development
  • Employee Value Proposition
  • Enabling Infrastructure

The report indicates that employers should also acknowledge and act on employees’ future focus. It stated, “Employees want more exposure to senior leadership and strategy. Strengthening of skills and gaining relevant knowledge that can be applied later in their tenure are also in high demand among employees.”

Do you see attention to these drivers in your workplace?

Do you intend to stay in your current workplace for the long term?

Where does your principal (aka your boss) fit into this?

Your principal, and the working relationship between the two of you (or, for those with multiple bosses, the bunch of you) is relevant not only to the health and productivity of the organisation, but also to the health of your career.

Consider this: Your principal has the highest level of authority of anyone in your immediate working environment. It doesn’t matter whether your principal is a supervisor, a manager, or a member of the C-Suite. Whatever his or her job title, that person has capacity to influence your career prospects. This is, after all, the person who conducts your performance evaluations.­­

Then there are functional considerations. Your principal can endorse or reject your requests for professional development (PD or CPD) undertakings. This individual also has influence over whether projects and other opportunities are afforded to you in your current role. These are all factors in your professional growth, visibility and career prospects. Depending on the sector in which you work, this person may wield power over whether or not you receive a raise, or the size of your bonus.

I’ve cited organisational expert Linda A. Hill, a Harvard Business School professor and author, on leadership before. She expressed what assistants have long known when she wrote that a strong, positive relationship with one’s manager helps you to “stay aligned with the priorities of the organization, understand its constraints, and get access to the resources you need to get things done”. That’s common sense. When you and your principal are aligned and you have access to information and resources, you’re well positioned to succeed – not only individually, but as an organisation.

Conversely, you know you’re on shaky ground with your principal if you find your exposure to information, projects, resources, development opportunities and even meetings or certain people curtailed. Imagine trying to meet your performance goals without support for the requisite training, or the green light to participate in conferences or networks. If you’re out of the loop when it comes to information, you’ll be working from a position of disadvantage and there’s a good likelihood that your performance and performance evaluations will also suffer.


Assistants join organisations, but they leave their managers

I’m paraphrasing authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman here. If you’re in a working relationship that’s a constant source of stress, you have some tough decisions to make – that is, if someone else doesn’t make them for you. Only a naif would consider oneself irreplaceable in the workplace. While many executives will say they couldn’t manage without their assistant, it’s likely that – from a financial perspective – you are more dependent on your principal than s/he is on you.

Some time ago, Forbes published a leadership article citing a dozen or so signs that it’s time to leave one’s job. Harassment and bullying are on the list, as is – natch – illegal behaviour. So are job stagnation, finding your skills untapped, and a compensation package that’s below the level of your contributions. Other indicators: constant stress, feeling unhappy about the job, lack of work-life balance, and a feeling that you don’t fit in. You have a sense that your ideas are no longer valued, or even heard? Check. You and your principal don’t get along. Double check!

Often, people will keep plugging away, trying to work through difficult situations. If competencies aren’t the issue, some assistants may seek employer-provided counselling. Even when matters don’t improve – or if they deteriorate further – many assistants can be reluctant to act on the knowledge that it’s time to move on, either to another department or another employer.

One problem with staying put is that stressful relations with your principal can also impact your emotional and physical wellbeing. For, while assistants are financially compensated for their work, most employees also want to be liked. Consider, then, the words of Jean-François Manzoni, the President and Nestlé Professor at Switzerland’s IMD Business School. Manzoni is quoted as saying, “We are wired to please authority figures” and, unsurprisingly, “When your boss doesn’t like you, it’s painful.”

 Are you motivated to strive to give your best efforts?

Assistants are engaged when they know they’re respected

Last month, in reviewing articles about the skills and competencies assistants should bring to the table, I thought it would be interesting to learn about the qualities assistants hope their principals bring to that same table.

Realistically, job interviews are not merely opportunities for an employer to assess candidates. Most assistants of a certain level of experience and confidence will also be assessing the principal, and the potential for a positive working relationship. That relationship should be a two-way street, even if one person has more power.

With these thought in mind, I presented readers with 21 characteristics of a good boss. I asked readers to rate the importance of each of these qualities on a scale from one (nice, but not a priority) to five (critical). What came out top? The principal’s respect for people across the org chart. You can find the full results of this particular Weekend Poll by clicking here. For now, though, here are the Top 10 qualities of a principal according to today’s assistants.

  1. Respectful of people across the organisational chart
  2. Demonstrates Integrity
  3. Invested in the organisation’s success
  4. Demonstrates leadership
  5. Shares information
  6. Assumes well of the assistant’s efforts unless proven otherwise
  7. Supports the assistant’s professional development
  8. Makes the assistant feel valued
  9. Is a good role model
  10. Is inclusive of the assistant and other colleagues

If you’re able to credit your current principal with possessing the majority of these qualities, it’s likely a safe guess that you’re an engaged employee – which positions you to contribute effectively to your organisation’s success!

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