Employee engagement and personality: all for one and one for all?

As some of you know, I was recently awarded a distinction for my CIPR internal comms certificate course (yay!). For my final assignment, I explored the various tactics that internal communicators can use to help employees physically, cognitively and emotionally harness themselves to their individual roles and organisation (i.e employee engagement).

But what if some people are just un-engageable?

We each think, feel and act in our own unique way, so it seems logical that we’ll react differently to attempts to help us connect with our CEO or commit to organisational change. Emerging research suggests that our personality traits the ‘relatively stable cognitive, emotional and behavioural characteristics that help establish our individual identities’ – can predict our level of engagement at work. Here’s how…

Conscientiousness

Neuroticism

Extraversion

Agreeableness

Openness to Experience

 

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is one of the five basic personality traits – or factors – proposed by psychologists Robert McCrae and Paul Costa in their influential Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality. The other traits are: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience and Agreeableness. According to FFM, these factors capture the essence of all human personalities; we differ only in terms of the amount/level of each factor, as determined by personality assessments.

Behaviours: the epitome of an ‘ideal employee’, people with high amounts of Conscientiousness are efficient, dutiful, deliberate and achievement-striving.

Evidence: Studies consistently show that employees with high levels of this trait are more likely to be engaged at work. For example, work psychologists Ilke Inceoglu and Peter Warr explored engagement levels in over 700 employees from several countries, including the UK, and found that Conscientiousness – particularly the achievement orientation subcomponent of the trait – was a better predictor of work engagement than the other Big Five factors, age and gender.

Underlying mechanism: One suggestion is that employees high on Conscientiousness are motivated by the need to achieve goals which is also a core component of the work engagement concept. It may also be that conscientious workers have a strong sense of responsibility and therefore are more likely to absorb themselves in their job tasks.

 

Neuroticism

Behaviours: people with high levels of Neuroticism tend to be tense, irritable, shy, and lack self-confidence.

Evidence: Researcher Saar Langelaan and colleagues analysed the personality and engagement survey scores of 205 Dutch employees, and found that those high in Neuroticism were low in work engagement. This finding has been replicated in several other studies.

Underlying mechanism: According to Langelaan, work engagement is a positive affective-motivational state characterised by high pleasure and high energy use. Neuroticism is strongly linked to negative affect (NA), a short-term mental state characterised by fear, nervousness and anger (or low energy use). Highly engaged employees tend to report low levels of NA.

 

Extraversion

Behaviours: people high on Extraversion are generally sociable, enthusiastic, energetic, adventurous and outgoing

Evidence: Studies exploring the link between Extraversion and engagement has produced mixed results, with some showing Extraversion to be as good a predictor of engagement or weaker. However, researchers Stephen Woods and Juilitta Sofat found that the Assertiveness sub-factor of Extraversion – characterised by being driven, competitive and energetic – was more strongly associated with engagement than the Gregariousness sub-factor (being sociable and chatty) and the broader Extraversion trait.

Underlying mechanism: According to Langelaan and colleagues, people high on Extraversion are more likely to experience positive emotions and are therefore more likely to experience the positive state that is engagement. Another explanation centres on the psychological condition of meaningfulness, an important predictor of engagement defined as the positive feeling that one’s work is worthwhile and important. According to Woods and Sofat, employees high on the Assertiveness sub-factor are more likely to be engaged because their high energy and ambitiousness leads them to attach greater meaning to their efforts at work.

 

Agreeableness

Behaviours: people high on Agreeableness tend to be forgiving, warm and flexible.

Evidence: Along with Openness to Experience, this trait has been found to be a weaker predictor of engagement than the other three factors. However, leadership expert Andrew Wefald and colleagues tested several personality-engagement statistical models using survey data, and found Agreeableness and two other personality traits – Conscientiousness and Extraversion – were linked to engagement.

Underlying mechanism: According to business psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, and colleagues, engaged employees tend to be efficient task-completers. Since most work tasks require teamwork and agreeable employees encourage teamwork, they’re more likely to be engaged.

 

Openness to Experience

Behaviours: the quintessential creative, people high on Openness are intellectually curious, imaginative, artistic and excitable.

Evidence: Pakastani economist Nayyar Zaidi and colleagues found that employees with high levels of Openness were more likely to be engaged than their conscientious counterparts. Likewise, Dr Chamorro-Premuzic and colleagues (2015) found that openness was the second best predictor of engagement.

Underlying mechanism: According to Zaidi, William Kahn, the so-called ‘godfather of employee engagement’, saw engaged employees as innovators within their organisation; therefore, employees high on Openness – who are naturally innovative – are more likely to be engaged.

 

Implications for internal communicators

At first glance, it’s not good news for us IC bods. If, as the abovementioned research suggests, an employee’s unique and enduring personal characteristics significantly influences their level of work engagement, the task of driving up employee engagement (a staple in many IC job descriptions) may be trickier than we thought. Personality traits are thought to be consistent across time, and so if people who are low on Conscientiousness or high on Neuroticism are recruited into an organisation and then become disengaged, attempts by internal communicators to help them connect with their roles and the organisation may prove futile.

However, before we all tear up our engagement strategies and go on a well-deserved holiday, it’s important to note that while the findings presented suggest that some personality traits are better predictors of engagement than others, none of the studies concluded that having high levels of one trait would prevent you from being engaged full stop. That’s because, even though our personalities cause us to view our work, colleagues and employer in a unique way, we’re all capable of being engaged at work.

Professor Brad Shuck and colleagues propose that communication within an organisation can help engagement develop in each employee, irrespective of their personality make-up – via two routes:

  • It can motivate employees to be engaged by aligning their values with the organisation values
  • It can give employees the freedom to engage, achieved by creating trust and integrity within the organisation through transparent and consistent communication.

This cuts to the heart of what we do as internal communicators. We live for providing line of sight to employees and removing communication barriers between senior leaders and employees.

So there you have it. We’re all engageable. But we’re also brilliantly unique, with our own life experiences, views and set of personal characteristics which influence our behaviour at work. As internal communicators, it’s important that we remember this when trying to help our people engage with our organisation.

Studying Internal Communications – my story


Last Friday, I graduated for the second time. It was noticeably different to my first graduation ceremony for my undergraduate degree. No cap and gown, no crying mum and no worrying about what I’ll do with the rest of my life. However, unlike my undergrad, I joined the CIPR Internal Communications (IC) certificate course not really knowing what IC was or whether I’d be any good at it. In fact, I applied for the course only a few months after ‘discovering’ IC, and I was only two months into my first general comms role when I started the course last October (when you know, you know, I guess!).

I remember feeling nervous as I travelled to my first lesson; multiple doubts churning in my head. Am I ready to return to academia? Do I even like IC? Is this going to be a waste of my money and precious Saturdays?

The answers turned out to be simple – ‘yes’, ‘yes’ and ‘absolutely not’ – and here’s why:

The lessons
The course consisted of four all-day Saturday sessions over four months. While this may sound painful, the engaging and informative course topics meant that it was anything but. On the course, I learnt how to help employees become more engaged at work; how to implement internal social media into a company and how to write a strong corporate narrative. I particularly enjoyed exploring organisational tone of voice and learning how to create a robust communications plan (FYI: setting SMART objectives is not as easy as it sounds!). It was a steep learning curve for me, and there were a few times when I felt overwhelmed by all the information. However, this soon faded once I took time to assimilate my new knowledge and do some further reading.

IC Certificate Course

The assignment
At the end of the course, I had to write a 3,000-word critique examining one aspect of IC theory in the context of a real-life organisation. Having thoroughly enjoyed learning about engagement, I chose to focus on the interplay between IC and employee engagement at my workplace. On the advice of a friend who had recently completed my course, I began preparing for the assignment as early as I could. The preparation process was reminiscent of my uni days, not least because I spent hours researching and writing the assignment in my old uni library! In the end, I got a distinction, so all my hard work and sacrifices were not in vain.

The students
I’ve written elsewhere about how friendly and enthusiastic internal communicators are and my ‘classmates’ were no different. There was a real sense of camaraderie in my teaching group and everyone was up for sharing successful techniques, funny employer stories and course notes. We were an eclectic group in terms of professional backgrounds, seniority, geography and industry. As well as IC officers and managers, there was a Dutch consultant who flew in for the lectures and an employee of the Royal Household! As the most junior communicator, I initially felt that I had little to offer the group, so I kept quiet. But after reflecting on my previous work experience and psychology studies, I realised that I had some great insights to share and I began actively participating in class discussions.

The opportunities
Although I’ve only just officially completed the course, I believe that it has already opened up many doors for me. Since applying for the course last summer, I’ve been offered two comms jobs, been highly commended as a future leader at the CIPR #InsideStory Awards and have won a staff award for innovative comms. This recognition is a testament to the knowledge and skills that I acquired on the course, which I’ve reinforced with work experience and further reading. Moreover, I self-funded my studies which shows that I’m committed to my professional development; a key competence for many IC jobs.

The contacts I made while on the course have also been invaluable. As an in-house internal communicator, it’s easy to become detached from the profession. By connecting with keen learners from industries different to my own, I’m able to learn new ways of working which I can apply to my organisation (and vice versa).

Final thoughts
I’d highly recommend studying IC academically, particularly if you’re a career-changer like me. Signing up for the course was a big leap of faith for me; thankfully, it was a worthwhile investment. I’m now a more confident and effective IC practitioner. I’ve decided to postpone further academic studying for now so that I can continue to embed what I’ve learnt into my practice. That being said, I’m a nerd at heart, so I reckon it won’t be too long before I’m back studying again!

**P.S. I’m looking for a mentor – ideally a senior IC professional – who can help me move into an IC management role. If this sounds like you, I’d love to hear from you.

All Things IC blog

This blog post was first published on Rachel Miller’s All Things IC blog (9 July 2017) – http://www.allthingsic.com/how-to-study-internal-communication/

Five lessons I’ve learnt as a communications assistant

After 10 months as a communications assistant in an NHS hospital trust, I’m leaving to take up an internal communications (IC) executive role at a large professional services firm. To mark this special occasion (and my first blog post!), here’s five important lessons I’ve learnt as an assistant:

1. Comms is much more than writing – one of the reasons I switched to a career in comms is because it seemed the closest job to journalism – one of my lifelong dream jobs. Thankfully, comms is so much more than just drafting online articles. As a comms assistant, I got to take corporate photos; help organise staff events; analyse social media statistics; create videos for YouTube and commission print design work. And I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I also got to write numerous articles for the trust’s intranet and website which was fun too. That’s the beauty of comms – there are so many tactical and strategic skills to learn and use. Yes, writing is an important piece of the comms puzzle, but it is by no means the only one. I look forward to learning and using more comms skills as my career develops.

2. Internal and external comms benefit from working closely together – as an assistant, I supported the internal and external comms teams which gave me a detailed and helicopter view of the comms team’s activities. I used this position to share updates between the teams and to ensure that both teams considered the trust’s internal and external comms channels and key messages when planning projects and campaigns. Both teams have said that they found my dual perspective useful and I can see how our team outputs were enriched by internal and external comms being closely linked. You only have to look at the recent controversies at United Airlines and British Airways to see what can happen when internal and external messages do not align. Digital technology is steadily closing the gap between internal and external comms, so teams working in these spaces need to align if their organisations want to be trusted.

3. Comms teams are bad at internal self-promotion – as a business function, communications – especially the internal kind – still remains a mystery to many. Try telling an old school friend or a distant relative what you do for a living and watch their reaction (I’m guessing blank stares and excessive nodding). Colleagues can be just as oblivious, believing you have the power to extend their email recipient limit or resolve their pay issues (genuine queries I’ve received). But can we really blame them? The central purpose of comms is to share information with different audiences, yet too often comms teams seem reticent to tell their colleagues who they are and what they can (or can’t/won’t) do. My team received more relevant requests for support (compared to irrelevant requests) after we launched a team intranet page (with photo) and went out and talked to key staff groups about the work that we do. Who’d a thunk!

4. Networking is everything – Before I moved into internal comms, I’d never really experienced the benefits of networking. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now seen the light. That I’ve secured a more senior IC role after 10 months as an assistant is partly due to the contacts I’ve made through attending and helping organise IC events and taking part in IC debates on social media. My IC network has also given me some handy comms tips and career advice, and has shared job vacancies with me – including my new role. My enthusiasm for IC – as evidenced by my networking – was one of the main reasons I was nominated for a 2017 CIPR #InsideStory award. In some ways, I’m fortunate because IC folk are some of the warmest and helpful professionals that I’ve met. However, had I not been brave and thrown myself into the world of IC, I would never have known.

5. Comms can help improve people’s lives – Over the years, certain sections of the UK media have accused NHS communicators of being a ‘pointless’ drain on an already cash-strapped system (See The Sun and The Telegraph). This could not be further from the truth. I won’t go too much into the vital role that communication teams play in the NHS – Amanda Nash, head of comms at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, covers this brilliantly in her recent blog post. My personal experience is that effective communications complements the amazing work carried out by NHS staff every day. For example, my team created promotional material and online content for an eye drop awareness event run by the trust’s Pharmacy team which helped raise the event’s profile and increase patient attendance. It is hoped that the campaign will help improve patient health outcomes and satisfaction ratings and the available data looks promising so far. So there you have it; comms can indeed improve lives.

Ultimately, I’ve learnt over the past 10 months that a) I love working in internal communications; and b) I’m actually quite good at it! This is partly due to the wonderful people who have supported me on my journey so far – thank you! I look forward to starting my new role and the next chapter of my IC career.

What were the most important lessons you learnt when you started out in communications? 

Let me know by leaving a comment below or connecting with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

CIPR Inside AGM: my thoughts

First published on LinkedIn on 14 March 2017.

Chartered Institute of Public Relations Internal Communications group banner

Yesterday I attended the annual general meeting (AGM) for CIPR Inside, the CIPR sectoral group for internal communicators and employee engagers.

The AGM is a great opportunity to discuss the current state of the sector, chat to fellow internal communication (IC) bods from across different industries and learn more about the fantastic work that CIPR Inside does for its 800-so members.

Here’s a rundown of/some of my thoughts about last night’s meeting:

  1. The group’s conference in October was a resounding success. A whopping 180 people attended the event – entitled ‘Closing the Gap’ – and explored how IC can help connect people and departments within their organisation. I’m gutted I didn’t go, not least because the panel of non-comms bods sharing their experiences and thoughts on IC sounded like my kind of session!
  2. Last month’s #InsideStory awards was another jewel in the CIPR Inside’s crown. The team received a record-breaking 100 award entries this year from a variety of brands, big and small. I feel very honoured to have been nominated and highly commended in the Future Leader award category. Well done to all the other nominees, winners and CIPR Inside for organising a brilliant event that even Storm Doris couldn’t beat!
  3. Four new executive committee members were selected in a short and uncontroversial election (a seemingly rare phenomenon these days!). See the CIPR Inside website for more details.
  4. The new committee chair outlined some of their priorities for 2017/18, which included developing resources to help members do their best work, including case studies and toolkits, and participating in more Task and Finish Groups for CIPR projects which impact IC professionals
  5. IC professionals are some of the most passionate, resilient, funny and friendly people I’ve met. I find networking within the IC pool easy – everyone is always up for a chat and willing to share their own experiences in order to help you develop professionally and personally.

I look forward to writing for the CIPR Inside blog, joining a Task and Finish Group (my #insidestory award prize – yay!) and attending more of the committee events in the coming months.

If you’re planning to go to any events but aren’t sure about whether it’s for you, I’d be happy to have a chat about it. I’m not a CIPR member so my opinion will be based purely on my own – very positive – experience.

SOPPY MOMENT ALERT: Yesterday’s AGM was extra special for me, as it was a year ago at the last AGM that I fell in love with IC and decided to pursue it as a career. It’s been a fun and eventful 12 months and I look forward to seeing where this journey will take me!