Employee engagement and innovation

There’s a common belief in every industry that innovation is limited to the realm of research and development or technological advances. Companies often go to any lengths to develop their R&D department to foster innovation to stay successful in their industry. However, what drives the prized attribute of innovation in almost every company is not just R&D or its leaders but its employees. Researchers across the world agree that engaged employees drive the culture of true innovation in successful companies.

Source: Kronos

What is employee engagement?

Your employees are your company’s most valuable asset. In the endless quest to stay ahead of the curve, companies often ignore the worth of this asset. Even leaders who do value their employees frequently mistake employee satisfaction for employee engagement. Giving your employees free food coupons, spa membership, or other such perks can sure make them happy, but these don’t translate into meaningful engagement.

Engagement happens only when your company’s core values and other elements of your company’s culture work together to develop and support employees. True engagement is the emotional connection that your employees develop with your company. You’ve achieved employee engagement when your employees are so emotionally invested in their work and your company that it drives them more than a fat paycheck does.

Gallup employee engagement survey results

Gallup defines engaged employees as people who are enthusiastic about, committed to, and involved in both their work and their workplace. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace study in 2013, companies with engaged workers registered 10% more customer ratings, 21% rise productivity, 41% lower errors and therefore more quality, and 22% more profits than companies with more disengaged employees. Gallup has done extensive research that shows employee engagement directly affects business outcomes vital to a company's financial success, including productivity, customer engagement, and profitability. The findings suggest that engaged employees drive innovation, growth, and thereby revenue.

What employee engagement is not

  • Creating an environment where employees’ ideas are met only with rejection
  • Building a culture that blindly follows the status quo with no scope for change
  • Discarding employees’ ideas for the fear of failure
  • Being too protective of what you’ve created and failing to recognize employees’ innovative ideas
  • Encouraging a culture that underwrites creativity and is risk averse

Employee engagement and innovation go hand in hand

Engaged employees are empowered innovators. They pursue ways to innovate, which can translate to improved quality, enhanced customer experience, brand building, increased profitability, or just more creativity. Giving your employees the opportunity to innovate drives engagement, and engaged employees are always more innovative than the disengaged one.

The opening chapter of the extensive MacLeod and Clarke report dedicates a significant chunk to explaining the direct correlation between employee engagement and high levels of innovation. The authors also reported that employee well-being improves performance and can be the source of competitive advantage, growth, and innovation.

Engagement cultivates creativity to foster innovation

According to a study by Krueger and Killham published in the Gallup Management Journal, 59 percent of engaged employees agree that their job makes them more creative. Of the disengaged employees surveyed in this study, only 3 percent felt the same. The difference is massive. It clearly indicates that it is the engaged employees who believe their work nurtures their creativity and innovation. That’s the employee side of it.

So what about the management? UK’s Chartered Management Institute studied the association between employee engagement and innovation from the management perspective. The study found that 92 percent of the managers in the UK who described their management style as innovative was proud to work in their organization.

How employee engagement drives innovation

In 2012, Jyotsna Bhatnagar investigated the relationship between work engagement, psychological empowerment, and turnover intention in the Indian context. She found that cultivating a genuinely engaging work environment enhances innovation. There are many case studies that drive the point home! But how exactly does employee engagement drive innovation? Here’s how.

  • Engaged employees go the extra mile

All your employees have more potential than prescribed in their job description. However, only engaged employees tap into their potential willingly. They do what it takes to help the organization succeed. They seek opportunities and challenges and work with passion to achieve and solve them. An engaged employee can be anyone from a customer service executive who follows up with customers, a salesperson who learns code in his/her free time, or a  developer who puts in extra hours to ensure your new app is up and running.

  • Engaged employees align their career goals with the organization’s goals

When there are common goals to be achieved, there’s bound to be innovation. Once engaged employees are on board with your organization’s goals, they put all their resources, i.e., their brainpower and often spare time, in achieving those for themselves and their organization. The results of such entrepreneurial freedom are significant for both your company and your employees.

  • Engaged employees steer better business outcomes

This is backed by research. The Workforce Research Foundation found that engaged employees are more likely, 38 percent to be precise, to show more productivity. The research also showed that employee engagement can lead to a 12 percent increase in customer satisfaction. Companies that have engaged employees outdo those that don’t by almost 202 percent!

  • Engaged employees boost workplace happiness

Reduced absenteeism is a direct outcome of being happy with one’s work and workplace. A fatter paycheck only makes 12 percent of employees leave their existing job for a new one. Most employees seek recognition for their contributions and efforts than only a raise. They are more satisfied when their company emphasizes recognition and on-time feedback. Happy employees make the workplace happy while improving productivity and morale.

  • Engaged employees innovate more to create great products

Employees who are emotionally invested in their companies are more open to new tools and innovative ideas. They’re always thinking about ways to improve their work instead of just meeting the minimum targets set for them. This attitude in engaged employees fosters innovation.

Implement employee engagement and innovation in your organization

Employee engagement and innovation: Implementation

Source: KaiNexus

In a nutshell, if you want a breakthrough innovation in your organization, you should find ways to engage your employees. More the number of engaged employees you have, the greater the opportunities to innovate. Employee engagement and innovation are classic elements of the chicken–egg story. While employee engagement sure drives innovation, innovation nurtures engagement too. Isn’t that some food for thought?

"If you have an apple and I have an apple, and we exchange apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea, and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

- George Bernard Shaw

About the Author

Vivek Siva
Learned what not to do as an entrepreneur. An optimist with a love for business, the outdoors, and movies. Superpower: Ability to smile even when all hell breaks loose. Affiliation: World of witchcraft & wizardry