Enabling engagement

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Written by Lyndon Wingrove on 15 October 2015

Employee engagement is a hot topic right now, more and more companies are investing time and money into finding out a) if their employees are engaged, b) why they are or not, and c) what they can do to improve it. 

It’s hardly surprising that engagement is getting so much attention with research showing that higher levels help contribute to increased productivity, lower levels of absenteeism, and better overall profitability for businesses. 

But while businesses are pushing to discover the key to an engaged workforce, many are ignoring the essential aspect of enablement, and yet report being confused as to why their employees are not highly engaged or performing at their best. 

What is enablement?

In essence, enablement is providing employees with the necessary tools and resources to be able to do their job and do it well. Environment is a key aspect here as well. Resources can include physical tools, such as efficient computers and software, as well as more abstract resources such as time or adequate support from management.   

Some well-known companies like Google and Microsoft have excellent engagement rates, but that is not only because they hire people who are passionate about the industry, it’s also because they provide ample resources to enable their employees to do a great job and support them to do it. 

NHS employees might be considered the other end of the engagement spectrum, many report feeling unsatisfied and disengaged at work, and on the whole it is not because they don’t enjoy their jobs, after all many doctors and nurses are truly passionate about offering the best care to their patients. 

But what can destroy their feelings of engagement are the barriers they face every day when trying to do their job.  A lack of resources, too much focus on paperwork, and ever changing responsibilities are just some of the obstacles NHS workers have to face, and while they may still do their job, it’s not allowing them to do it to the best of their ability, or even to enjoy it, and if that’s not an engagement killer, what is?

What can businesses do?

  • Learn about enablement
    The first thing a business needs to do is recognise that enablement and engagement are two very different things and understanding this distinction is vital if businesses want to utilise these concepts to improve outcomes. Engagement is all about the emotional attachment an individual feels towards their company, it looks at issues such as motivation, alignment with the company’s vision and goals, and employees’ commitment to the business. Enablement looks at the more practical aspects of helping an employee to succeed, i.e. whether they have adequate resources to do the job.


  • Identify barriers to enablement
    One of the best steps a company can take to address this issue is to actually explore the issue of enablement within their organisation. When conducting employee engagement surveys, many organisations simply focus on the ‘engagement factors’, and do little if any investigation into the issue of enablement; this is a considerable oversight on their behalf, as studies suggest that even if an individual has very high engagement, if they are not readily enabled to do their job, this will decline significantly and can ultimately lead to total disengagement. By exploring any problems in terms of enablement, whether through surveys, focus groups or one to one discussions, it allows employers much greater insight into what practical barriers staff face in their jobs, how significant the issue is, and what can potentially be done to remove the problem. 


  • Do something about it
    key benefit of looking at enablement is it focuses on day to day immediate things, these are more tangible and therefore easier to work on than an abstract concept. If it’s an issue that several people have identified then clearly steps need to be taken. Of course this is much easier said than done, sometimes there is very little than a company can do to alleviate their employees’ problems, but don’t simply assume that stance. Explore the options fully, if there’s a situation that can’t be fully resolved then work with your team to find an acceptable compromise or alternative solution. Even if the change is very small it can wonders to staff morale, simply because they are being listened to.


  • Communicate
    Employees will feel much more enthusiastic about any upcoming changes if they know they are happening and have the opportunity to ask questions. With regards to the initial survey looking at enablement, it is important that you clearly outline why you feel this is an important issue, how the data will be used, and what potential benefit it may have for employees.  Similarly, once information has been collated, results should be disseminated for all to review, this provides an additional opportunity for issues to be raised and questions to be asked and answered.  Hopefully after this stage you will have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the issues facing your employees, and you can then begin to construct some potential solutions, but again this needs to be done in consultation with your staff. They are the people who will be affected by any changes you make, and there is little point in implementing a new process or resource if it not going to have any positive impact on the people who will be using it to impact your business. That’s called throwing good money after bad. 


  • Accept that you can’t please everyone
    In an ideal world, every company would have 100 per cent engagement rates because they would have hired the perfect people, been able to provide the best resources available, and cultivated a supportive and engaging environment for people to work in. Unfortunately this rarely happens, and in truth no company will get 100 per cent engagement from their staff, even if they do all of these things. Of course efforts should be made to enable and engage your employees by making their working lives as appealing and rewarding as possible, but it’s also important to accept that people do move on and you can’t always retain your most promising talent no matter how hard you try. Instead emphasis should be on making the environment as optimal as possible to ensure that while your employees are with you, they have the opportunity to make a real and positive difference to the business, and also have the chance to develop themselves at the same time.


  • Don’t rest on your laurels
    So you’ve solved the computer issue everyone was moaning about last year — great, job done, right?  Definitely not. Employee enablement and engagement is an on-going process; as your business changes and evolves so too will the needs of your employees, and it’s important that you work hard to keep up with their needs. It’s not enough to simply send out an enablement questionnaire once a year and make a few minor tweaks, your staff should feel empowered to bring up issues at any time and be supported to address them. 


  • Listen to the dissenters
    Some companies dislike employees who raise complaints; but these are the employees you want in your business, if they are complaining about the way things are done, it’s because they care and want to do it better. It’s those who keep their heads down and accept things the way they are that you need to worry about, odds are those are the disengaged ones. But individuals who push to make you aware of issues are the employees you need in your business; they will help you to keep moving forward and will encourage you to make improvements , but only if you listen to them. Use their passion and desire for improvement to drive changes in your company, and always encourage employees (no matter what role they play) to think about how things can be done better, this can be an amazingly powerful tool when used right.   


About the author 

Lyndon Wingrove, Director, Capabilities and Consulting, Thales Learning & Development