Why employee engagement matters to SMEs

So, we’ve all heard about engagement and how many big companies are incorporating engagement strategies into their HR activities, but what exactly has it got to do with you and, as an SME, is it something you should be thinking about?

Engaging your employees certainly has a different spin in relation to SME’s, but the ideas, potential results and pitfalls are just as real and important.

Employees who are not engaged with the business or their roles can have a negative effect not only on their colleagues but the business as a whole. An employee who is not focussed on the company’s best interests will never be as efficient or productive as one who is engaged and committed to their role.  This impacts on their contribution to your company’s bottom line and in turn can impact on their colleagues’ mood, engagement and efficiency as well. Essentially a disengaged employee can spread the feelings of discontent further than just their own desk.

The impact of having employees with low morale and efficiency could obviously be bad news for a large company, but potentially disastrous for a smaller company with fewer employees and closer-knit teams. Customers and vendors will be talking to your employees on a daily basis and with a smaller contingent it won’t be long before a hint of disengagement could be picked up on externally and impact reputation.  

The impact is not just negative though, those organisations with actively engaged employees, not just ‘neutral’ employees, see significant results in terms of profits, customer satisfaction and innovation.  Engage for Success have a great infographic on this evidence for engagement.

So, what can be done? First off, find out what the employees are thinking and talking about in relation to their roles and standing in the company. A good starting point is to ask trusted members of staff what they are hearing from employees; this can be a better way to begin as you can try and start addressing issues without further disengaging staff with promises or worries.

A survey may seem an obvious answer but not be the best option for many companies; they can often come across as disingenuous or a waste of time if employees do not trust your intentions or whether you will actually do anything afterwards. If you do choose to do an survey of any kind, make sure that employees know why it is happening and be prepared to follow up and take responsibility for the outcome of the survey. It is essential that your questions are sensitive and are set to uncover the blind spots – be prepared to hear it warts and all, ensuring that employees can say how they feel without fear of reprisal. A poorly conducted survey has the potential to make matters worse so tread with care if you go down this route.

Consider if there are any employees that you simply cannot afford to lose or those with high potential that you would like to invest in and whose opinions are respected by others. Get them on side, explain your intentions and listen to them. These people will be invaluable to you in terms of listening to the employee group as a whole and building the engagement with them specifically too.

Resources that are available to you as you move forward with your feedback (aside from speaking to your employees themselves) are consultants who can help open your mind and enable you to consider things that you may not have thought of or may have written off in the past. Bench-marking data can also be a good resource to find out what other similar companies are offering to their staff in terms of compensation, benefits and working conditions.

Opportunities for improving employee engagement needn’t be expensive.  Simple things that set your company aside from others such as providing free fruit, lunch time activity options, ensuring your performance management and bonus structures are seen as fair, for example, don’t need to be expensive, they just rely on organisation and communication.

The benefits of good employee engagement are multiple and far reaching and could be key to growing a successful SME in a competitive environment. The investment can not only retain your best employees and improve efficiency and profit for the now, but also secure a better outlook and scalable business for the future.