A growing body of research shows that learning and development professionals have a real opportunity to influence the degree of employee engagement with their strategies and programs.
The concerns of learning professionals and the top priorities of our organizations rarely align, but we are finding that synergy now on the topic of employee engagement. Increasingly more business leaders agree that engagement leads to better performance, higher quality outcomes, increased customer satisfaction, and talent retention. Unfortunately, studies show that employee engagement often is alarmingly weak.
A large body of research on engagement is demonstrating that the areas that most influence employee engagement are those activities that fall within the scope of learning and development professionals. Recent research conducted by Brad Shuck, Angie Shuck, and Thomas G. Reio Jr. suggests that 41 percent of the variance in engagement is driven by activities that learning and development professionals have the opportunity to influence. In turn, 70 percent of the variance in performance ultimately can be explained by the degree of engagement.
"Taking human performance to the next level falls directly within our scope of work," says engagement expert Brad Shuck, assistant professor in the workforce and human resource education program at the University of Louisville.
In short, our work matters. The Shuck, Shuck, and Reio study surveyed 241 healthcare professionals across multiple hospitals throughout the United States. It found specific factors that most predict the degree of employee engagement (and their percentage of variance explained by each factor). They include
- perception that work is meaningful (15 percent)
- access to L&D and career development activities (12 percent)
- supportive, flexible management (8 percent)
- appropriately challenging work (6 percent).
Our work in manager development helps to ensure meaningful work and a supportive environment by focusing on communication, collaboration, empowerment, and recognition. Access to learning and development is certainly in our purview, and we can especially focus on identifying the future needs of the organization by putting systems in place to allow employees to identify where they might want to develop, and advocating for dedicating sufficient time and resources for learning.
The Shuck and Reio research and other studies have led to new models of employee engagement that can help learning and development professionals to organize their strategies to support their companies' efforts to increase engagement. Defining engagement is an important starting point. Shuck defines engagement as the degree of energy employees direct toward organizational outcomes. Employees demonstrate engagement on three planes—through their thoughts and beliefs, their feelings, and their actions.
Shuck advises that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. "We need to follow engagement principles, not trendy methods." Instead, leaders should "determine the one or two leverage points important in your organization, and dig down to explore what those factors mean to your employees. Your strategies need to be localized to your organization to work."