Intranets and Enterprise Social Networks make a positive contribution to employee engagement and happiness at work in a number of different ways. These include:
- Informing employees about company strategy, values, culture and community-focused efforts
- Making employees jobs easier
- Enabling choice in when and where employees work
- Creating and building connections between employees across different locations and divisions
- Allowing employees to get to know leaders and senior managers better
- Encouraging a culture of transparency, giving employees a voice and enabling related processes
- Facilitating employee recognition programmes
- Enabling learning and personal development
- Making work a more enjoyable place
- Supporting strategies which ultimately result in happier employees
Employee engagement is a slippery beast
However at the same time employee engagement as a concept, and particularly as a metric, is a somewhat woolly, unpredictable and ultimately elastic beast. Most of the contributions the intranet or ESN makes to employee engagement is indirect or peripheral, and extremely hard to prove. Can a significant rise in employee engagement be attributed largely to an intranet platform or social network? I don’t think so, but I’d be very happy to be proved wrong.
Perhaps the only time this might be possible is when enabling a new ability for employees to work from anywhere or any time, and giving them choice over working patterns. I know that some surveys have suggested that the quality of digital experiences for millennials is a factor in selecting employment but I believe this is far more to do with the ability to work autonomously rather than the quality of UX.
The intranet can also accentuate tensions. If an employee has a disengaged mindset due to whatever reason then sometimes any corporate initiative can be perceived negatively. And the intranet does deliver corporate initiatives. For example have a look at some of the comments in this thread in the Guardian in response to what was probably a well-meaning initiative delivered via the intranet.
As variable as the weather
Employee engagement is also variable. Factors way beyond the control of the intranet team or community manager can have a more direct and profound effect on employee engagement that can easily trump and undo years or solid work in this area. A redundancy programme, a strategic move that is considered unethical or a CEO perceived as dishonest can send those happiness stats plummeting South.
Moreover local issues to a particular division, location, team, job grade or role type means engagement can vary dramatically within organisations. Also because the relationship between an individual employee and their line manager is key for employee engagement, individuals within the same function can have very different experiences.
In short, employee engagement is as variable and changeable as the weather. There is complexity here.
Demonstrate value via your intranet survey not the main employee satisfaction survey
If you’re lucky enough to work for an organisation where employee satisfaction is above average and sustained, or is growing, and other positive statistics such as a low employee turnover support this, then that’s great. I’m sure the intranet and social network is making a contribution to this, but those enterprise-wide stats are not the ones to quote. The links are too tenuous and ambiguous in my view.
To demonstrate value use some well-selected anecdotes, and address the engagement question specifically framed with the intranet’s contribution. So for example you may ask in your annual intranet satisfaction survey whether they agree or disagree with the statement “The intranet helps me feel more engaged at work” or “The intranet helps me do my job more efficiently and contributes to the happiness of my working day”. I’m sure you can think of better wording but you get my drift. Any metric that emerges here is more convincing because it specifically references the intranet’s contribution.
Other statistics such as the growth of systems which are around employee engagement (the use of the employee recognition system, people signing up for CSR initiatives via the intranet) may also be some good supporting evidence.
Don’t overlook the thing about making people’s jobs easier
Another thing to remember is that enabling people to work more efficiently and eliminate some of the more dreary and mindless processes or routines, or ending digital frustration, can be an influence on engagement as much as communications can. Sometimes intranet teams within internal communications or HR functions who are trying to work to improve employee engagement overlook this as part of their remit and focus on communications only. But if they own the corporate digital channels enablement and process improvement is something they may actually be able to influence.
Finally one thing to remember about employee engagement is that for many users the intranet and a decent UX is just hygiene. It’s a little like the staff toilets and doesn’t consciously contribute to engagement apart from the time finding something on the intranet got them out of a sticky situation, or lead to a eureka moment.
When it comes to demonstrating value of your internal digital channels, the employee engagement piece is always going to be a bit fuzzy, but hopefully your stakeholders who take an active interest will know the contribution it makes everyday.