“Are they engaged?” Without context, that question can be interpreted in many, very different ways. In a marketing environment you might be talking about the intended audience of your latest campaign, trying to determine how well you’re speaking to them and how likely they are to buy; in a social setting, you’re more likely to be talking about a couple going through that very special moment in their relationship. In our world of HR, the meaning lies somewhere in the middle – it’s not quite as detached as how a person responds to promotional materials, and it’s also not nearly as romantic as a life partner getting down on one knee.  But it is about how your people respond to communication and the relationship – albeit professional – you have with them.

The average attrition rate of employees across Australia, the US and the UK is 15% - with Australia at the lowest end of the scale, at 14% - that means two things to me. Firstly, 10% of employees in every organisation are not adding any value, they shouldn’t be there and they should be identified and either heavily performance managed or let go. Secondly, the other 5% of the 15% that are on their way out are great at what they do, they are just disengaged with the organisation and, as a result, prime targets for the opposition. They need to be invested in and rewarded for the work they do, otherwise they will leave.

Make engagement more than an afterthought

At the latest VHA conference in Melbourne, I opened a discussion with some great speakers about the issue of employee engagement. One of the panellists, Lyn Gunnell, ‎National General Manager at Mercury Executive Recruitment, made the critical opening point that engagement mustn’t be seen as something to be addressed once a candidate is in the role – it must start from the moment a job advert is placed, and really sell the brand – back to my marketing point – to the prospective employee.

Too many organisations mistakenly see engagement as a means for improving retention, but we must recognise the value it brings in attracting new talent. Today, the culture and values of a company are as important to candidates as the pay packet it can offer. Critically, today’s job seekers are also very aware of the type of organisation – or even specific brands – they don’t want to work for. So it has never been more important for organisations to ensure their reputation as an employer of choice precedes them.

Use tech to build relationships

The level of engagement an employee feels with their organisation, ultimately comes down to how well they believe their employer knows them – both professionally and personally. Ask an employee what their employer understands of their skills, background and any personal situations, and you’ll have a good idea of how well engaged they feel they are.

Another of our panellists in the VHA session on maximising employee engagement, Maggie Plantzos from workforce management solutions provider Kronos, addressed the benefits of technology in making engagement more achievable and efficient, by helping organisations utilise employee data.

A particular example that came up was the rostering of healthcare staff. With such a large staff in most cases, knowing exactly how many hours and at what time every one of them is working can be a challenge. But to each of those individual staff members, knowing that they’re one of many and therefore they cannot expect their employer to recognise their workload, can be hugely demoralising – technology can provide the insight, at a glance, that these organisations need to make every employee feel recognised and valued.

Ensure the right balance of art vs science

But technology isn't the only answer. As our third panellist, Leigh Penberthy from LeasePLUS, pointed out, the right balance of technology and human integration is critical to forming a workforce that feels both engaged and valued. While utilising technology to read and analyse data on employees and, in turn, demonstrate an understanding of their situation is helpful, nothing will replace the importance of direct, human interaction.

The HR industry is absolutely crying out for technology solutions to ease the pressure on professionals, but robots are unlikely to take over any time soon.

The value an experienced HR professional can offer will never be replaced but it can be enhanced with technology. Finding the sweet spot on the art vs science scale is key. 

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