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The Role of Empathy in Increasing Employee Engagement

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Human resources professionals constantly emphasize on strategies to attain Employee engagement (EE) in order attain high performance and competitive advantage. However, the challenge for HR professionals is implementation EE practice in an effective, enhancing and affordable manner considering both organizational goal and psychological consideration of employee.

Previous research by Kahn’s determining 3 psychological conditions (1990) provides strong foundational research and evidence for the relation between “employee state” and engagement. Despite it is observed that HR practice of EE being more “device driven” and emphasizing more importance on the organizational agenda which cause discordance in its implementation.

Service sector in the UK economy is undergoing multiple political and financial uncertainties. Thus maintaining internal contingents is vital for sustenance. This research aims at studying aspects affecting employee state and factors affecting device driven policies of EE in the Public sector. The study review concepts of empathy which impact and effect employee state, relationship and engagement. The essence of this research is to understand the approach in order to gain trust, motivation and commitment of the employees, and gaining clear understanding of state approach by which correlated implementation and effectiveness of strategies can be effective. The overall agenda of this research is understand a procedure where EE practices can more cost effective and rewarding in terms of high productive and performance, as well as a workforce with positive emotion and commitment towards work.

Employee engagement (EE)

Employee engagement is defined as “a positive attitude held by the employee towards the organization and its values. An engaged employee is considered aware of business context, and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of the organization. On the other hand the organization develops this kind of behavior and nurture engagement. This is a two –way relationship between the employer and employee”. Its understanding can be derived from personal engagement approaches (which is the association with social and individual factors) also termed as positive employee and device approach which is the relation with business developmental also termed organizational strategically approach. Understanding the concept of EE is similar to HR practices and approaches of soft and hard skills. The benefits of EE are not only limited to organizational gains (focusing of organizational perspectives, objectives and goals) termed as “device objective” such as improved performance and productivity, lower employee retention and absenteeism, but also on have profound relation to “psychological or state benefits” (concerning thoughts, feelings and behavior of individual employee) such as employee wellbeing and employee satisfaction and employee commitment.

Employee engagement in the UK

EE in the UK economy can be studied under the “public or service” sector and “private” sector. Current economic condition after UK referendum to leave the EU has impacted trading activities to high uncertainty and change in the Job market in the UK. The decision has also seen impacts such as inflation, lower GDP, and decrease in the value of currency and increased rate of interest creating a sense of psychological and job uncertainty. A post Brexit referendum survey by CIPD, illustrates 44% of its surveyed UK employees to be pessimistic and uncertain of the future, with 22% feeling less secured at their work. Job insecurity and uncertainty usually leads to increased absenteeism and turnover, decreased productivity and lower levels of trust and impact EE negatively.

Gallup one among the major researching organization in the field of EE have ranked UK bottom 4 low engagement countries in the Western world with only 8% of British employees to be engaged.This predominantly is more compared to that of Private sector in the UK. The predominant reasons being the strong HR practices and continual emphasis on research and survey allows Private sector to reap competitive advantage. Private sector organizations in general are a single employer which make management decisions and maintenance of Organizational climate more predictable. It is also observed that Private sector organizations are self-funded and less reliant externally for financial aid and decision making and management activities are more independent.

Employee engagement in Public Sector

On the other hand the Public sector in UK plays a major role in providing services from Healthcare to Education, Social Care to Housing, Refuse Collection to International Development, Tourism Promotion to Pensions , this sector employs over 1/4th of working population in the UK. The service sectors are more dependent on the Government and are controlled by external stakeholders making it challenging to maintain a similar organizational climate and objectives.

Factors such as budget cut in the public sector influence situations such lack of funds, competitive lower salaries and vacant positions impacting work intensity among employees. These scenarios demand the need for organizational citizenship behavior for functioning and sustenance of service sector. The challenges and uncertainty in the Public sector challenge HR practice to constantly strive to attain employee motivation and commitment constantly. HR professionals in the UK public sector are reliant on Device approach to build engagement despite to the lack of academic researchers in the subject.

Civil Service People Survey (CSPC) is among the main providers reporting studying the attitudes and aspect relating to engagement in the public sector. Despite intense studies and programs by CSPS the public sector still faces a “deficit” engagement. Public sector in the UK observes EE as an “add on” benefit and not integrated as an overall business approach. Despite the implementation of competitive Engagement program, results are found to be limited in its effectiveness due to its replication and reliance on the strategies designed for the private sector which emphasis mainly on device approach. However, a significant drawback is gap between the intended and actual implementation practices. Factors such as public sector not being a single employer and organizational culture being varied management and comparison within the public sector is also challenging.

Employee engagement and State driven approach

State approach involves clear understanding of an individual employee’s motivations, goals and performance which is impacted overall organizational strategies and performance. The key drivers of State approach are based on Kahn’s (1990) psychological conditions of meaningfulness, safety and availability. Simpsons (2009) and Shuck and Wollard (2011) study of employee perspective and demonstrate the importance of trust and approach of listening and employee voice given understanding of State approach.

State driven approach of EE is closely related to trust building, understanding and positive communication is closely related to practice of empathy. However, previous researches in the field of EE determine positive influences on organizational climate through the study of “State” of the HR supervisor, trainers and line managers.

Relation of Empathy and State Approach for EE

Empathy in the current business context has evolved from viewing it as a fluffy feeling to a more strategic approach. However, its benefits are associated to loyalty, trust and clear understanding of people and their emotions which lead to better performances and competitive advantage. Three forms of empathy: Cognitive empathy- the ability to understand another person’s perspective, Emotional empathy- ability to feel what someone feels and Empathetic concern – ability to sense what another person need from you, all have shown strong relation in trust building, understanding, positive communication and employee engagement. Demonstration of empathy has shown significant lower stress and employee wellbeing, better performance and implementation of organizational strategies. The approach of empathy is relational and helps allow better “state” assessment of the individuals and may provide guidelines for better designing and implementation of organizational strategy to attain employee engagement.

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