Countless studies have proven that engagement results in better student outcomes, but did you know the same holds true for employees? If fact, engaged employees don’t just produce better business outcomes, they do so across industries, company sizes and nationalities, in both good and bad economic times (Harter/Mann, 2017). Additionally, according to Gallup highly engaged businesses:
- Experience a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity
- See 59% less turnover
- Achieve a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales
- Realize 21% greater profitability
Given these statistics it seems obvious that companies should strive for a culture that promotes engagement, yet a recent Gallup poll found that only 32.5% of employees are engaged at work. Why? Just as schools are prone to confuse engagement with involvement, businesses are prone to confuse engagement with happiness. And let’s not forget, schools have employees just like any other business, so they need to distinguish between engagement and happiness as well.
What is Employee Engagement?
Engaged employees tend to be happy, but happy employees aren’t always engaged. Consider, an engaged workforce is defined as those who are “involved in, enthusiastic and committed to their work and workplace.” Therefore, an employee may feel happiness regarding their fellow employees or their customers without being happy about their job.
Engagement isn’t a feeling, it’s a mentality that impacts whether we feel invested in a given outcome. When people are invested they take pride not just in their work, but in their companies as well, making pride perhaps the biggest indicator of employee engagement. In fact, Facebook recently analyzed their own data to determine what drives employee engagement in their company, and found that pride was a stronger indicator of engagement than both working with a close friend or performing a task you enjoy.
Employees who feel pride for their company believe in the company’s mission, often internalizing organizational goals and directing their energy toward what’s best for the group (Goler/Gale/Harrington/Grant, Fast Company 2017). Pride results in a gratified, loyal and successful workforce, one that has a clear understanding of their role, believes in the company’s objectives, and feels their input is valued.
Building and Engaged Workforce
According to Daniel H. Pink (Drive 2009) what people really want in their jobs is a purpose that connects them to something larger. Something they can take pride in. Thus, having engaged employees requires a clearly defined purpose.
Too often companies define the purpose with a number. The number of clicks. The amount of revenue. The number of enrolled students or their standardized test scores. These may seem like tangible goals but they aren’t fulfilling ones. But if the goal is to improve the lives of diabetes sufferers with a new drug, to help borrowers make educated financial decisions, or to help a student find something they are passionate about, employees feel a greater sense of purpose and work harder towards achieving their goals.
Pride may be the foundation of employee engagement, but just as we learned from our March blog you can’t achieve engagement without trust, and building trust starts with effective communication. Engaged employees who take pride in what they do and make the organization’s goals their own do so because they know they have an impact on the outcome. Recognizing this and encouraging their contributions therefore increases their engagement level.
Every interaction with an employee has the potential to influence their level of engagement and inspire discretionary effort (Reilly, 2014). Therefore, managing to engagement leads to employees who go the extra mile, while managing to happiness can lead to unmotivated, unfulfilled employees.
Engagement isn’t achieved by individuals, its achieved by a group of individuals with a common goal. Ownership, management and employees need to be aligned in their purpose, their commitment and their level of trust in one another. When a company culture reflects these attributes the job is satisfying for all.
Employee Engagement in Schools
Remarkable schools begin with remarkable teachers and administrators; those who are committed to the bigger purpose and feel empowered to help achieve it. In fact, “engaged teachers are more willing to take on extra tasks that are not part of their job description, such as helping colleagues or volunteering to support extracurricular activities, all of which enhance the performance of the school,” (Runhaar, Konermann, & Sanders, 2013).
In addition to going the extra mile, engaged teachers tend to be more creative, more productive, and more positive overall, transferring that mindset to others including co-workers, students and parents (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008). This increased engagement may lead to “engagement cycles” whereby positive outcomes lead to future resource gain, which reinforce each other reciprocally (Schaufeli, et al. 2009).
When we consider a school’s community, engagement doesn’t begin and end inside the building, it encompasses districts and communities as well. Communication, collaboration and respect need to exist within each building and across the district for employees to identify and internalize the goals and objectives. When this occurs, the workforce feels pride in their district as a whole, and their school in particular, which helps create a positive culture for students, their families and the greater community.
Fostering a culture of engagement means districts and schools alike should strive for shared decision-making, stability in leadership, clearly defined goals and objectives, frequent communication and shared values. When this criteria is met the workforce feels valued, respected, and committed.
Building an Engaged School Community
The cornerstone of engagement is communication. Whether you’re striving for parent engagement, student engagement or employee engagement, it all starts with communication. Sharing information, and more importantly listening to the information that is shared, sets the foundation for engaged employees. Additional steps to achieve engagement at your school include:
- A clearly defined vision or purpose – recall that Daniel H. Pink (Drive 2009) said employees want to contribute toward a higher purpose, which mostly likely isn’t a test score. But higher test scores and strong student outcomes might be a result of encouraging students to develop a strong work ethic, critical thinking skills or a sense of responsibility. Find a purpose that reaches beyond the test scores and be sure to celebrate these successes. Consider building a strong network with alumni and sharing their stories to build excitement among employees. Ultimately, your goal is to make sure employees know and believe in your school’s vision, so they can work toward it and understand how their contribution impacts the bigger picture.
- A collaborative culture – as we highlighted in our January 2016 blog the “hive” makes the optimal decision for itself 80% of the time. This is because they factor multiple perspectives into the decision-making process, a concept that can be applied to schools a well. Think of your school as a collaborative hive, where teachers, administrators, and sometimes even parents, students and the greater community, can all contribute valuable input. When individuals have an opportunity to contribute, they are more likely to support and feel invested in the final decision, even if the outcome isn’t the one they desired.
- A commitment to employee development – people who are given the opportunity to expand or add to their skill sets tend to be more committed to an organizations’ purpose because they feel the organization values them enough to invest in them. Development programs may range from new classroom programs to technology skills they can carry over to their next career to their own financial planning. Investing in your workforce can inspire your workforce to invest in you.
Engagement occurs when people feel valued, but too often organizations resort to gimmicks and exercises like spirit day or trust-building workshops, which give the illusion of happiness without actually creating engagement. The steps above are focused on making people feel valued and creating an actively engaged community. Incorporating these ideas into your organization’s culture will result in employees who are proud of their jobs, their school and their community.
Join the Discussion
We take pride in achieving personal goals like running a race or losing weight. We take pride in our homes. We take pride in our favorite sports teams. But do we take pride in our schools? What steps do you take to build a highly engaged workforce at your school?