What’s L&D’s role in employee engagement?

Sarah Cook and Steve Macauley tell us about how L&D and employee engagement fit together.

Many organisations are finding it increasingly hard to recruit skilled employees. Engaging employees has become an issue of increasingly high importance as global competition intensifies and organisations seek to retain its scarce and valuable talent. 

Business recognises that engaged employees are more productive, engender greater levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty and contribute to greater levels of organisational success. Qualitatively, high engagement is almost tangible: there is a buzz about an organisation where employees are truly engaged. People feel trusted, valued and empowered.

They are emotionally committed and personally involved; there are high levels of motivation and enthusiasm. All overwhelmingly good things to have, but not so easy to put into practice. So how can HR and L&D contribute to the nurturing of engagement? It is important to concentrate on developing key behaviours to help managers do the right things.

HR and L&D people need to pay attention to a small number of linked areas which have a profound effect on employees and their commitment to the organisation.

Support and develop managers to do the right things

HR and L&D cannot implement engagement on their own, it is primarily down to line managers. Focus on what managers do and say – studies show that organisations can engender higher levels of engagement when managers actively and consistently:

  • Make team members feel special
  • Treat them as individuals
  • Respect them
  • Make them knowledgeable

This requires L&D to assist, guide and stimulate managers in a focused way.

Implement a focused checklist

Rather than taking a fragmented and narrow approach to different people initiatives, HR and L&D people need to pay attention to a small number of linked areas which have a profound effect on employees and their commitment to the organisation. Above all, the aim should be for leadership to be visible, accessible and responsive.

Putting this into practice requires a cohesive strategy to support managers through HR and L&D initiatives in each of these important areas:

  • Make team members feel special – Regular two-way communication, careful recruitment.
  • Treat them as individuals – Supportive working environment, commitment to employee wellbeing.
  • Respect them – Reward and recognition strategies focused on key behaviours, measuring and monitoring of employee ‘health’ indicators.
  • Make them knowledgeable – Development identified and fully implemented.

L&D and HR have a key role

L&D and HR have a key role to play in each of these target areas, bringing to managers’ attention suggestions for improvement and, more uncomfortably, raising concerns where there are gaps and deficiencies.

A good L&D/line manager working relationship is vital: busy managers need to be convinced about how engagement will specifically benefit them in performance improvement.

How do you measure and monitor engagement? Many of these areas are perhaps hard to pin down. Yet it is important to keep a careful eye on whether engagement is strengthening or slipping back against agreed company and local standards, followed by seeking out suggestions for new ways to improve and strengthen engagement.

There has been a lot of emphasis on engagement surveys, which can be valuable if data generated is focused and relevant to the business and, importantly, results are put into action with management buy-in.

In summary, we all have an inherent desire to grow and develop and L&D plays an essential role in supporting and developing managers in their important and challenging task of engaging people at work.

This means HR and L&D targeting key managerial attitudes and behaviours linked to employee engagement and regularly keeping an eye on what needs to change and how to do better. At business-critical times like the present employee engagement can make all the difference in keeping ahead, thriving and surviving.


About the authors

Sarah Cook is managing director of the strategic leadership and change management specialists, The Stairway Consultancy. Steve Macaulay is an associate at Cranfield School of Management’s Centre for Customised Executive Development. Steve can be contacted by email on s.macaulay@cranfield.ac.uk. Sarah can be contacted by email on sarah@thestairway.co.uk


Read more from Sarah and Steve here


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