Vishal Bora — EVP & Site Head, Gurugram, had the opportunity to join MarketScale's Daniel Litwin as a guest on the Information and Technology podcast recently, where the pair discussed everything employee engagement. Listen in to Bora and Litwin's conversation about how workplace dynamics, corporate culture and employee engagement have rapidly changed in the past few months, and how the shift out of the office and into the home has changed how the whole world gets work done:
What Employee Engagement Is – And What It Isn't
Bora and Litwin began their discussion on a topic that's especially prescient in June of 2020, with a hard truth about the issue at hand: employee engagement as a concept is vast, it's changing and – according to Bora – it's completely subjective. The Gurugram site head was candid about the fact that his take on it has evolved not just in the over two decades that he's been working in the BPO space, but as he moved from front-liner to leader.
"Over the last 20 years, if you'd talked to me about this I would have to say that I was a little confused in the beginning," Bora admitted, explaining that, "[Because] in the organizations that I worked with, there was a miniscule difference between 'employee satisfaction index' [scores] and employee engagement."
Therein lies the rub when it comes to "engagement" in the workplace. Hiring talented, driven employees is a great start, but simply asking them where they'd rank themselves on a scale of 'Very Dissatisfied' to 'Very Satisfied' just isn't be enough. Ambition and strong work ethic will get a large portion of the workforce through just about anything with a fair amount of diligence, but if you aren't investing in their quality of life and professional development, they may very well have their eyes on the clock and the job boards while they wait for someone who will.
More on Personiv's Approach to Employee Engagement: Here's Why We Invest So Heavily In The People We Hire – And Why You Should Too
It's this sense of investment that's key, Bora explained to Litwin, and it has to come from the very top. Bora found this out firsthand as his own career progressed: "When I was on the other side of the table and I had to develop employee engagement activities, when I thought it through I wanted to do it so that I was taking a little bit more than what I myself was getting and giving that back to the employees."
Why Does Employee Engagement Even Matter?
From there Litwin and Bora moved on to the real question: who cares?
After all, for all the talk about what employee engagement actually is, there's not much to accompany it that helps explain why organizations should bother. According to Bora, it's another good question with more than one answer that boils down to this: when you work to create a culture of engagement, everyone benefits: the employees you hire, of course, but also the organization as a whole and – critically – the clients the organization serves.
"Engaged employees are proven to be productive," Bora told Litwin. "They're efficient for sure and put in 100 percent for the betterment of business. It definitely improves the bottom line for any organization through higher retention and continuously improved performance." It's a ripple effect, essentially, he explained, saying that: "Due to all of this, there is the huge factor of building trust for our customers and the clients we work for." From a vantage like that, it's easy to see why employee engagement has to be a priority and why it all starts with the employees themselves.
Of Personiv's engagement culture, Bora is frank: "It means a lot [to Personiv] because to us, employee engagement is defined as a genuine effort from the organization to make employees a part of our professional family. It's a response to the emotional commitment they have to the organization and its goals."
See Why it Matters: Personiv Wins Comparably's Top Companies for Diversity / Inc.'s Best Workplaces 2020
If you're not used to discussing the professional workplace in the same sentence as an emotional commitment, Bora is happy to explain why you should. "These are employees that truly care about their work and the company they work for. They aren't just there for the paycheck or even the next promotion but working toward the company's goals – engaged employees care and that creates discretionary effort."
Employee Engagement in a Worldwide Pandemic
It would be impossible in 2020 to not discuss how global stay-at-home orders early in the year and the subsequent near-universal shift from the office environment to a remote workplace have changed the way we all approach employee engagement, so Litwin and Bora didn't attempt to avoid it.
The real question in this case, Bora emphasized, isn't how to keep employees engaged in a pandemic, but how to keep them engaged as a remote team. "Pandemic or non-pandemic," he explained, "it's a net new model for business, especially in the outsourcing world, and so there's a massive need for a mindset shift." He recommends using online platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and even games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) to host get-togethers, create team-building activities that resonate and send out accolades and awards (and accompanying gift cards, certificates and swag) for work well done and employees that go above and beyond.
Read About Global Employee Engagement: We Are 'One Personiv: How 50 Employees Spread Across The Globe Came Together To Give Back
Bora insists there's nothing stopping leadership from going full steam ahead with regularly scheduled check-ins and team-wide accolades, and that it's crucial to continue to do so. He also recommends using this sea change as an opportunity to implement things like one-on-one coaching and look for new ways to foster professional development, telling Litwin that: "Face-to-face coaching is also a point of engagement, but you need to see it differently, because previously you may have had 14 or 15 people assigned to one supervisor but here you need to change the mindset and move into a mentor-mentee program instead of everyone relying on one supervisor."
Get More From Vishal: Tech-Driven CX + Live Support: 4 Ways to Get it Right [eBOOK]
When it comes to the pandemic itself, Bora wants leaders to remember that employees are as vulnerable to the same anxieties as leadership can be and that viruses don't care where you're working from, urging them to remember the human element in all of this.
"Leadership is in a decentralized setup and that goes for engaging people, too," he summarized, pointing out that there is an upside to the sudden shift to remote work, like the "improved frequency of continuous and transparent communication. [Your team needs] to know: 'where is the organization moving?' 'how's everyone doing?' and you should cover that in your daily, weekly and monthly connects. Health-checks need to happen. You need to show your genuine care and that goes beyond the educational and informational communication."
The Easiest Way to Engage Your Employees is by Listening to Them
For leaders looking to carry the employee engagement initiatives and communication strategies that have worked well for them either back into the workplace or into a new normal where remote work is a permanent solution, Bora has very simple advice. "The biggest part of stitching a plan of employee engagement together – whether it's working from home or out of the office – is listening to your people," he concludes, suggesting online forums and virtual suggestion boxes to help gather feedback.
"Collect those suggestions and you can pick it up from there," he advises, because that's the only surefire way that your employees, "get the sense they're being heard. Then the engagement level automatically increases, instead of you forcing people into an engagement activity that you have planned for the organization. The baseline for everything is going to be listening to your employees – what they actually need and then plan based on their suggestions."
It's as simple as that.