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Michael Hargreaves

Michael Hargreaves  ·  5 min read

The 4 essential pillars of employee engagement

What is the one thing that all successful companies have in common? Involved and engaged employees? True engagement affects every corner of your staff, from top management and beyond. Here are 4 requirements to achieve employee engagement success.

Have you ever heard the story of JFK and the janitor?

While visiting the NASA headquarters for the first time, President John F Kennedy happened across a janitor sweeping the floor. When he asked the janitor what his role was, he was met with a rather unusual response.


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The janitor didn’t remark ‘I just keep the floors clean, sir’. Nor did he say, ‘it’s my job to help keep the place looking spick and span’.

Instead, he replied with ‘I’m helping to put a man on the moon’.

This charming tale is well-known within business circles, with good reason.

The janitor wasn’t directly involved in constructing the shuttle that would eventually take Neil Armstrong to the lunar surface. In fact, he was virtually at the bottom of the pecking order within the NASA employee hierarchy.

But to the janitor, that didn’t matter. He was able to see himself as part of a higher vision. To him, his job wasn’t just a job – it was one small step along the way to a collective giant leap.

The employee engagement problem

Employee engagement on this scale is something which business leaders everywhere dream about. After all, what could be better than a workforce of people who can see past the pay check, and genuinely care about the impact they can have on the organization?

When your employees are engaged, you’ll see improvements in practically every organizational metric there is. Companies with engaged and passionate employees see increased customer loyalty, enhanced productivity, reduced turnover, higher profitability, and lower absenteeism (they also suffer 41% fewer safety incidents – who knew?)

Unfortunately, the reality is rather bleak. While 80% of executives cite the employee experience as very important or important to their business strategy, only 22% consider themselves to be ‘excellent’ at building a differentiated employee experience that encourages employees to stick around.

With a war for talent waging across the business landscape, senior leaders everywhere need to be armed and ready to create an organizational experience that keeps their people inspired, dedicated, and highly productive.

So how can business leaders go about improving employee engagement?

At H&H, we’ve condensed employee engagement down to four distinct contributory pillars:

What I Know

What I Feel

What I Believe

What I Experience

Each of these pillars is fundamental in driving engagement across an organization. And they’re inextricably linked – if even just one is lacking, you won’t be able to thoroughly inspire or engage your employees.

The 4 pillars of employee engagement

What I Know

This is where the NASA janitor comes in.

This pillar revolves around the intangible elements that characterize an organization – its vision, values, strategy, and goals. Once the employee understands each of these, it’s easier for them to see how exactly they’re contributing to the organization’s success.

Psychology tells us that we humans have an innate desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s why 2/3 of us would still show up to work even without an economic incentive, and why 91% of employees say an organization’s social impact efforts are important when they’re considering which company to work for. We need to have sight of a broader purpose, something we can positively contribute and add value to. It’s inspiring, compelling, and highly motivational.

Employees who lack this crucial line of sight, with nothing to drive them aside from the promise of a pay check, will most likely go through the motions, expending the least amount of effort and never going above and beyond. It’s up to the senior leadership team to clearly and confidently articulate the organization’s purpose, so it’s always in the back of employees’ minds.


Treating employee engagement like a one night stand?

Make your employees feel valued, before they find another company who will. Download our free eBook today.

What I Feel

This one’s all about the employee feeling that they’re a valued player within the organization. They’re always in the loop, respected by their managers and the senior leadership team, and trusted to do their job to the best of their ability (without being micromanaged).

At the heart of this engagement pillar is appreciation and recognition. Evidently, employees working their fingers to the bone will naturally expect a little more than the occasional half-hearted ‘thank you’. In fact, a whopping 96% of employees think that receiving feedback regularly is the bee’s knees.

And this goes way beyond providing the core staples of great employee benefits and a competitive salary. Dishing out appreciation where it’s due and going the extra mile to thank employees for their hard work (for example, by writing a personalized card with a unique ‘thank you’ message, or providing a free lunch) will make a more memorable, lasting impact – and provide a motivational boost. Employees will snuff out insincerity too – so make sure the appreciation is genuine and authentic.

What I Believe

Naturally, what an employee knows and feels will give rise to certain beliefs about their position within the organization. The most important belief an employee can have is that their contribution is meaningful, and ultimately makes a difference to the organization and its customers. After all, when was the last time you continued to do something you perceived to be pointless?

Key to making a valuable contribution is not becoming just a part of the furniture. When it comes to internal communication, bottom-up is just as important as top-down. 75% of employees would stay longer at an organization where they were listened to and had their concerns addressed. Business leaders need to keep their ears to the ground, and act consciously upon employee anxieties or suggestions.

Your employees must also believe they have a good future within the organization. This means ensuring they have the support they need to do their best, as well as encouraging them to develop their skills and expertise. In fact, development opportunities are the second-biggest driver of employee retention, behind only a satisfactory salary.

What I Experience

Last, but certainly not least, is the employee’s entire experience within the organization. An exceptional employee experience requires a holistic approach, encompassing everything from the on-boarding process to leadership practices and how the individual relates to their role.

It’s all about empowering your employees to be able to excel themselves every day. But crucially, making sure they have the necessary resources, environment, and support to make it happen.

The latter is particularly important, since 91% of employees feel motivated to do their best when they have leadership support, and employees with helpful and encouraging supervisors are 67% more engaged. Having sight of the all-important safety net will boost your employee’s confidence to take risks and break the mold, potentially leading to improved results.

Also pivotal is having clear role and performance expectations. After all, if we don’t thoroughly understand what’s expected of us, how will we know where we need to improve in order to deliver better outcomes?

Lastly, 90% of employees believe their work environment boosts their productivity – so having the right environment is essential too, as well as the right tools for the job. Technology is advancing rapidly, and in a working world increasingly reliant upon knowledge workers, having up-to-date digital capabilities is imperative to staying ahead of the game. Plus, it’s good for the sanity too.

While these four pillars might appear to have complex foundations, the reality is that perfecting employee engagement isn’t so much about mastering a fine art as it is about drawing on a bit of common sense.

As long as you give meaning to the work, foster an empowering, inclusive culture, and offer adequate support and recognition – as well as treating your employees as human beings rather than just organizational assets – you’ll create an organization of people as inspired and proud as the janitor who helped to put man on the moon.


Treating employee engagement like a one night stand?

Make your employees feel valued, before they find another company who will. Download our free eBook today.

Michael Hargreaves is the Marketing Coordinator at H&H Communications, the UK’s leading internal communications agency. He writes on internal communications, employee engagement, organisational change and leadership. You can read more of what he has to say on these subjects over at the H&H blog.

H&H help people to be more informed, engaged and happy at work. They use their unique blend of perspective and insight mixed with a large dollop of creativity to achieve truly outstanding outcomes.

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