The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) highlighted, in The drivers of employee engagement, published in March 2004, that the single most important predictor of employee engagement is a sense of feeling valued and involved, underpinned by opportunities to express ideas, and managers who genuinely listen and value employee contributions.
The proliferation of apps, mobile devices and cloud technology designed to enhance the sense of connection between employees, their managers and their workplace, should prove a positive boon for motivation, and ultimately productivity. How is it, then, that according to Weak workplace cultures help explain UK’s productivity woes, published by Gallup in October 2017, only one in 12 British workers are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work, and workplaces?
One answer to this conundrum could be that, distracted by bright, shiny, new technology and all that it offers, we expect it to do too much. While technology can facilitate and support communication, it can never really substitute for the need for effective face-to-face communication between colleagues, managers and their teams, and the engagement that this can deliver. In IES’ research into the drivers of engagement, the importance of being listened to is central. The act of listening, paying attention to both what is said and how it is said, and the sense of having been listened to, are deeply human.
Another explanation could be that we adopt and use technology unthinkingly, not giving pause for thought about how and when best we use it. In other words, maybe we default to communicating by technological means too often, simply because the facility is there. One could argue that, in many workplaces, email has become the default mode of communication even when talking with someone face-to-face is likely to be more useful.
That said, if used well, technology has an important role to play in enabling employees to stay connected with each other and with their organisation. It is also crucial in providing the infrastructure that can enable the remote and flexible working that employees increasingly seek from their employers, and which is a significant driver of engagement in itself, particularly for younger generations.
Dan Lucy is principal research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies