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You asked, I answered: A Social Workplace Starts with Culture and Engagement

Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of appearing on Digital 411, an internet technology radio show. During the show, I discussed the impact that social technologies can have on HR transformation and employee engagement. There was so much interest in this topic that I didn’t have time to respond to all of the questions asked. Here are the questions that sparked the conversation along with my responses.

In your Social Knows: Employee Engagement statistics, you indicate that 52% of organizations using Web 2.0 achieved Best-in-class performance and an 18% increase in engagement. Help us contextualize and understand stats around achieving higher employee engagement using Web 2.0? What does that mean and what are some of the most significant tools being used?

Using a social network won’t change anything unless it’s a part of a set of tools serving a more global approach aimed at improving culture, performance, communication and productivity.

  • Collaboration sites: Sharepoint
  • Internal twitter and threaded conversations: Yammer, Socialcast
  • Video sharing: YouTube
  • Mobility and Access: extranets, mobile access
  • Intranet enhancements: RSS feeds, social tagging, social sharing, employee profiles, content bookmarking

In your experience, what does a fully engaged employee look like, feel and experience, in comparison what a disengaged employee looks and feels like?

According to Gallup there are three types of employees:

Actively Disengaged – employees who aren’t just unhappy but want everyone else to know that they are. These are the employees who are bored and frustrated, make sarcastic jokes and speak poorly about the company and its leaders.

Not Engaged or Passively Engaged – employees who are checked out. Sleeping walking through their day and don’t actively contribute to new ideas or thoughts. These employees feel underutilized, spend work time taking care of personal needs, do just enough to get by or to not get in trouble, and are present for the “paycheck.” Believe it or not, 72% of US workers are not engaged in their work. Defined as essentially sleep walking throughout their day. (Gallup)

Actively disengaged and passively-engaged employees take more sick days, take more time than necessary to complete projects … bottom line… cost the company more money.

Engaged[Note: on the show, I teased that an engaged employee was about 5 feet tall, wore 5 inch heels… Sound like someone you know?!] employees who work with a passion, are involved. Drive innovation and move the organization forward.

  • Commit to company, work group, and role.
    • Are proud of their company and what the company does, are clear about the desired outcomes of their role,
    • speaks positively about the company when interacting with others.
    • Takes personal satisfaction in the quality of their work
  • Use their talents everyday:
    • demonstrate consistent levels of high performance,
    • Broaden what they do and build on it,
    • participates in training opportunities.
    • Stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone
  • Show natural innovation and drive for efficiency
    • suggests cost-saving measure to their manager or
    • seeks ways to streamline processes and introduces these ideas rather than waiting for someone else to do so
  • Intentionally build supportive relationships
    • offer to serve as a mentor to another employee or
    • volunteers to ease the workload of another employee
  • Other traits:
    • Emotionally commit to what they do and
    • Work with high energy and enthusiasm.
    • Find work can sometimes be stressful but also rewarding and fun

What are the dangers of a disengaged workforce?

  1. Employee morale
  2. Broken culture
  3. Loss of productivity
  4. Performance objectives not met and business goals suffer overall

What are the benefits for an employee and the enterprise to have an engaged or fully engaged workforce?

In a word: Many. But here are just a few benefits:

  • Affiliation – When an employee feels connected to the organization and to each other they better understand their role and the impact they have within the company.
  • Collaboration and Productivity – More than 66% of those managers who reported that they were motivated at work also claimed high productivity levels
  • Company performance – Companies with high levels of employee engagement improved 19.2% in operating income while companies with low levels of employee engagement declined 32.7% (Towers Watson)

In your opinion and work, is employee engagement the next hot topic on which people are hopping on the band wagon to discuss and address?

Personally, I think employee engagement has always been a hot topic. The difference is that social technologies brings a much clearer and visual correlation between the level of employee engagement and organizational performance. From an HR standpoint, employee engagement also means enhancing employee satisfaction, increasing productivity, reducing redundancies, and driving unnecessary cost out of the business.

It’s also important to remember that you can’t FORCE engagement. You can make tools available to employees so that they can choose to be more engaged, but ultimately, the decision is up to the employee.

How can employers address issue of employee expectations in an effort to move towards developing or enhancing employee engagement?

Organizations need to keep up with the times and with the emerging workforce. New hires fresh from college are individuals who have always had the immediacy that internet and even social tools brings to them.

64% of all employers recruit from social platforms and 81% of college seniors look for jobs on them. Because we use social tools externally and sell ourselves as innovative companies to candidates, we are setting an expectation that social and interactive platforms are available tools internally. As companies, we tend to fall short on providing the same services to our employees as we do our customers.

So what can we do?

  • Identify what comprises the employee life cycle for your organization and apply a social layer around those base camps to create a social, yet task-based employee experience
  • Improve internal communications (frequency, transparency, cross-functionally and vertically down through functions)
  • Accelerate training programs across a variety of management and technical areas
  • Upgrade the performance management system with a sharper focus on developing objectives and improving documentation to support the evaluation process
  • Phase out managers who, simply put, had been there too long or were wrong for the job.

The biggest challenge is to balance the demographics within your organization. Making new tools available to the emerging workforce while still maintaining (or gradually transitioning out) traditional tools that your existing workforce is using.

From your perspective, what kind of social media activity indicates engaged employees, and what are some of the other ways in which employee engagement can be measured or evaluated?

Social technology within an organization is all about informal interaction and engagement. Employees can communicate with each other throughout the day and at any time. Social technologies makes it easier to express ideas and knowledge, to make them visible and, ideally, viral.


You  have to keep in mind that it’s also a biased indicator of an engaged employee. Some employees will actively participate while there are others who won’t. There are lots of employees devoted to their company, who are conscientious and committed but whose personalities prevent them from being overt in what they say and do. Their engagement is more discreet. Don’t use social media activity as your single metric for employee engagement.

True engagement doesn’t focus on activity, it focuses on how the employee feels.

Does the employee feel inspired when they get to work, do they feel connected to the rest of the organization and do they feel fulfilled with the work they are doing

What are some of the ways we can measure employee engagement?

Formal employee opinion surveys are a popular way to measure employee engagement. But some of the issues associated with EOS are:

  • They are event driven by a yearly initiative
  • Survey’s don’t really measure engagement, they only show outcome
  • Little or no followup
  • Results reported to executive team

Some other ways you can measure employee engagement:

  • Read Benchmarking reports  to identify strengths and weaknesses relative to your peers and map employee engagement to business performance.
  • Perform pulse checks and develop a clear communication plan to prove efficacy of actions plans
  • LISTEN to the conversation – pay attention to online chatter and listen to what potential, present and past employees are saying about your company
  • Develop an Employee Engagement Score – Measure employee loyalty. Telus is a great example of a company that does this. They have something called the “likelihood to recommend” score which helps them understand how their employees feel about the company.

What’s next for 2012?

If you think back, 2009 was all about Web 2.0, 2010 was about social media, 2011 was about social media in the workplace. Today, we need to focus on being social in the workplace.

But in order to do this, we need to shift our focus from creating siloed social platforms (e.g., a collaboration site here, an internal Twitter there) to transforming how we lead our organizations and communicate with our employees from a holistic standpoint. That is, consider the overall experience and using social tools to enable employees to improve their work and personal lives.

Effective integration of social tools means analyzing employee behavior and intersecting that with organizational needs, and revolutionizing traditional workplace programs such as:

  • talent acquisition (how we find and hire new employees),
  • talent management (how we maintain employees),
  • performance management (how we recognize employees) and
  • learning and development (how we grow our employees)

In general, it’s innovative and encouraging to see so many companies tackling collaboration and productivity through the use of social technologies. But a connected enterprise doesn’t automatically create an engaged workforce.

It’s easy to create a collaboration portal, but it’s much more difficult to make engagement a way of life in your organization.

PS: You can listen to the archived podcast of my Digital411 appearance on

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