This is one of the questions that Martin Reddington asks with his employee engagement tool. On March 9th, I went to the launch of the white paper on workforce engagement in the public sector, where Reddington shared his research and work with us.
The presentation was interesting in several regards – since I normally work in the private sector, it was eye-opening to hear about the experience of trying to address engagement within local councils.
One big difference between the private sector and local councils is that there is often a lot of engagement with the work itself, especially when it is client-facing.
People tend to work in the third sector because they truly believe in what they are doing – engagement is built in. Disengagement often stems from interacting with the organisation – whether that’s in terms of bureaucracy or limited funding, amongst other things.
I’ll talk about Reddington’s approach to engagement in a moment, but I wanted to highlight the white paper itself, which is a truly digital experience – you don’t just flip through the pages online; it is highly interactive and engaging in and of itself.
I really recommend exploring it, to get a feel for what a digital paper ought to be like.
On to the content itself…
In my experience, apps, surveys and other engagement tools fall down because:
- People don’t trust surveys (they wonder if they’ll truly be anonymous)
- Apps and other tools collect reams of data – but, honestly, what for? What do you do with all that data once you’ve collected it?
- People don’t know where engagement should sit in the organisation; therefore, accountability becomes a question
- The data tends to lead people to focus on the negative
- They don’t necessarily lead to improved interactions between people
Reddington and his partner Helen Francis came up with a framework for understanding engagement, and derived their model (The Employment Deal Diagnostic or TEDD) from it.
Their model, they said, “embraces the concept of social and economic exchange between employer and employee as the means by which employee engagement and associated performance is encouraged and experienced” (Francis and Reddington, 2012; Guest, 2014; Reddington and Weber, 2016).
An interesting case study in local councils
In his work with local councils, Reddington and his team looked at the perception that in local councils the balance of favour, in terms of engagement, is with the employer.
He thus chose to use the balance of favour (with the employer on one side, and the employee on the other) as an axis for collecting data, and as a goal for local councils to work towards. The ideal is to be right in the middle, where both sides gain from engagement equally.
Importantly, this allowed him to measure something that is quite difficult: the perception of fairness or unfairness.
He also gathered qualitative data to support this by using free text analysis.
He asked respondents four questions:
- What was the best thing about work?
- What was working with line managers was like?
- What is the biggest workplace tension?
- The fourth question was the one I started this article with – if your council came to life as a person, what is the one word you would use to describe it?
The data he collected from these methodologies allowed him to pull out four super themes that were relevant in all organisations, which were the psychological contract, the perceived organisational support, conversational practice, and tensions and job pressure.
And, what he found was that those who are highly engaged are radically different to those who are highly disengaged.
A highly engaged employee is quoted as saying “We regularly have discussions about how to improve service delivery. He asks for my input and listens to it and enables me to challenge the status quo. Most recently this has resulted in improved business planning and a tasking process that allows us to use our resources more efficiently.”
Whereas a highly disengaged employee says, “New requirements and initiatives constantly being added to the list of what I am expected to do, when I am already working over my paid hours and managers will not give me any clear priorities. it all seems to be “you will do this now.”
You can see how in the first case, the positive relationship will have a knock on effect of improving the organisation; in the second, there is no thought about the relationship between employee and organisation. This, indeed, is a radical difference.
The final ingredient in the effectiveness of Reddington’s work is that he himself was highly accountable – he didn’t just provide a tool and walk away. I heard this repeatedly around the room; there was quite a bit of admiration for his work and loyalty to him personally.
I think that what I learned from the launch of this white paper is that to create a tool for engagement that works, you have to have a solid framework; collect qualitative and quantitative data; and be willing to really get stuck in.