Improving Employee Engagement in Further Education

It is well known that teaching – of any kind, at any level – can be extremely stressful. It can also be very stressful for the other staff, those without teaching roles but still heavily involved in the provision of education, even in an admin capacity. It is also quite common to discuss the importance of learners’ engagement and commitment to their learning, but what about staff’s engagement and their commitment? It is of equal, if not higher, importance as without it, how will you adequately support and encourage your learners? Employees who are not committed or engaged are more likely to be absent, to be poor performers, to not pull their weight and work as a team, and to leave the organisation.

There has been a lot in the news over recent years around teaching; issues such as workload, retention, recruitment, staff shortages, low numbers of trainee teachers, standards, etc. which makes employee engagement even more vital.

Why is employee engagement important?

Employee engagement is the positive emotional connection an employee has to their work and/or their organisation. Most teachers feel a calling to teach others, to inspire learning, and so have an emotional connection to their work. But if they don’t have a similar connection to their team or their employer then they are more likely to leave.

Improving employee engagement can have the following positive effects:

  • Improve retention
  • Improve performance
  • Reduce absenteeism
  • Inspire employees to go above and beyond, which can include:
    • Helping others
    • Volunteering for additional duties
    • Working towards more effective performance of job roles

This means that if you have teams of engaged individuals, they’re going to work together to ensure learners get the best possible classroom experience, support and learning opportunities. They’re going to work harder and more effectively to ensure everything runs smoothly, to create effective resources, to put procedures in place that support the learner journey and lead towards success. They’re going to make sure they are doing the best job they can and work towards maintaining or reaching Good/Outstanding grades and high success rates.

How do we get it?

The Corporate Leadership Council produced a report in 2004 on this very topic (see here) after carrying out research into employee engagement within businesses. They claim there are two types of commitment experienced by employees: rational, where they believe doing their job and working for that organisation is in their best interests in terms of financial, professional or developmental interests; and emotional, where they value, enjoy and believe in their jobs, managers and employers. They believe this emotional commitment leads to improved performance while rational commitment encourages employees to stay or leave, affecting retention rates. Therefore, both are very important and should be fostered.

They identify a very broad range of ‘levers’ which impact an employee’s levels of engagement. These include items such as basic pay satisfaction, health schemes, sick leave policy, parental leave, the effectiveness of initial onboarding (such as introducing the new hire around and ensuring they understand their role and its importance), the ability to easily access the information required, the access to training, and many, many more.

From their report, it does seem very clear that line managers and senior managers play a very important part in employee engagement, as “almost all manager activities drive employee effort”. Which makes sense because no matter how effective the teachers and non-teaching staff are, if the senior staff further up the hierarchy aren’t fulfilling their roles effectively and supporting those below them on the ladder, then the service/ organisation will struggle to reach its potential and aid their learners achieve theirs. Therefore, it is essential that effective mangers are hired or trained well in order to effectively and efficiently support and inspire maximum engagement, success rates and overall performance.

The report recommends the following managerial characteristics as having a positive effect on effort, engagement and emotional commitment:

  • Being open to new ideas and innovation
  • Helping to find solutions
  • Setting realistic expectations
  • Encouraging development
  • Trusting employees
  • Respecting employees as individuals with their own style
  • Communicating expectations clearly
  • Recognising and rewarding achievement
  • Being friendly and approachable
  • Working hard
  • Holding people accountable
  • Possessing relevant job skills and knowledge

Beware

They do warn, however, that improving employee engagement is not seen as a cure-all. A high-performing workforce also depends on the recruitment of high-quality employees. But, once a system of encouraging employee engagement is in place, it can account for up to 40% of performance improvements.

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