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How important is employee engagement and how does it affect performance?
Studies show a strong correlation between high levels of employee engagement and company performance. But let’s take a less academic perspective. Regardless of their level, most people want to be personally successful, and are motivated to contribute to company success. So what gets in their way? If company processes don’t work, if people don’t feel appreciated, or if they feel the management is out of touch, they struggle to get work done and feel frustrated, eventually to the point of giving up. We all know these experiences and the impact they have on our contribution to company success. It is therefore no surprise that employee engagement is extremely critical to both individual and company performance – where else should performance come from than from people?

What are the challenges involved in driving employee engagement in the digital age?
Researchers say there has been a shift in the topics that show up as most critical in engagement surveys in large companies. For instance, the theme of enabling infrastructure – technology support, processes, access to information – is becoming an important driver of employee engagement.1 I suspect that these concerns are very much linked to the digital age. As employees are asked to work with more agility, more globally and constantly rely on technology, the bureaucracies and old technology infrastructures of large organisations often become frustrating to deal with and impede people’s daily tasks. In addition, people are now accustomed to easy apps and access to information in the private sphere. I think people’s expectations around simplification of processes and easy to use technology will place a new set of demands on organisations – many of which, by the way, have nothing to do with the HR department!

How are engagement, individual performance and innovation linked together?
Based on data analytics we are doing at Merck, we can answer this question very precisely for our own organisation. For instance, we identified a strong link between how performance is being managed and how engaged people are. In those parts of the organisation where performance and pay are being differentiated more strongly – and with the right discussions with employees – engagement was higher across all performance groups. This contradicts a long-standing myth in our organisation that you can best engage people by offering exactly the same incentives and rewards to all team members. We also saw that team leaders who themselves have higher engagement and score higher on innovation behaviours passed this impact on to their teams. So not only are engagement, individual performance and innovation linked, we saw how critical the role of the manager is in creating the environment for these factors to work positively together.

Is it possible to reach such conclusions only with survey data?
Not really. Such analysis first requires a careful attention to survey design. Although not in the standard catalogue of our survey provider, we added questions to our survey to measure topics related to digitalisation, curiosity and innovation. This requires organisations to think carefully about what their own critical change agendas require. Secondly, such insights only start to be generated when engagement data can be correlated on an individual employee level with other HR data sets, such as performance, potential or compensation data. This requires a high attention to both data privacy and communication, but ultimately results in a much richer and more targeted set of conclusions and interventions.

How do data analytics identify target group-specific interventions?
Once an organisation can show correlations of engagement data with other HR or company data, the differences across sectors or functions can be calculated rather than theorised based on external studies. At Merck, we were clearly able to see topics that are consistent across the group versus topics that were very specific to certain functions or sectors. For instance, it became clear that in certain sectors, better training of managers is required regarding how they manage performance.

What would you like to achieve by attending the Employee engagement conference?
All of us in expert roles in organisations have the obligation to be more advanced in our thinking than is currently required in our organisation to be able to prepare the ground for the next evolution. Different organisations develop their engagement approach in different ways, responding to dynamics that are most important in their situation at any given time. Certain topics have been critical for Merck recently, but there are certainly aspects other companies are working on that are just over the horizon for us. A constant exchange can help us all be prepared to support our organisations with the next relevant evolution.

1. The Engagement Outliers: How to Accelerate Extraordinary Improvement in Employee Engage-ment. Aon Hewitt, June 2017.

Ahead of the Employee Engagement conference, we spoke with Jennifer O’Lear, Head, HR Engagement & Inclusion, and Chief Diversity Officer at Merck about the importance of employee engagement in relation to performance and the challenges involved in achieving this in the digital age. Moreover, Jennifer sheds light on the linkage between engagement, individual performance and innovation.

Practical Insights From:
  • Erica Briody
    VP, Global Talent Acquisition
    QuintilesIMS, UK
  • Dr. Nanne Von Hahn
    Director Talent, Development
    & HR Strategy Human Resources
    Telefónica, Germany
  • Mia Vanstraelen
    Director of Human Resources
    IBM, Belgium
  • Irene Savitskaya
    Head of HR – East Europe
  • Gary Tomlinson
    Head of Human Resources
    & Facilities
    Kia Motors, UK
  • Veronica Schilling
    Head of Group Diversity and Engagement
    Allianz SE, Germany

About the conference:

This conference organised by marcus evans will provide attendees with a pan-European insight in employee engagement and its progress. It is an exclusive opportunity for Employee Engagement specialists and Human Resources Experts to examine the challenges involved in engaging employees. In addition, this event will present practical cases to highlight the association between employee engagement and the organisational performance, the impact of internal communication, leadership and organisational culture on employee engagement. Finally, this conference will also look into how employee engagement can be guaranteed in the course of the entire employee life cycle and how this can be turned into employee experience.

The Employee Engagement Conference will take place from the 27th until the 29th of September 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. 

Copyright © 2017 Marcus Evans. All rights reserved.

About the speaker:

Jennifer is responsible for driving global programs and processes to support cultural topics such as values and behaviors, engagement, corporate responsibility for employees and diversity & inclusion. She began her career at the University of North Carolina Medical Center, where she helped establish the first major publicly funded Diabetes Care Center in the state of North Carolina. In 2001, she joined Merck, where she has held a variety of positions, including portfolio manager within the pharmaceuticals division, head of learning & development, and various roles driving communications and change for major integrations and other change initiatives. Jennifer has a degree in English from the University of Colorado and received her MBA from Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina.
An Overview on Employee Engagement


An interview with Merck

Jennifer O’Lear
Head of Engagement & Inclusion;
Chief Diversity Officer
Merck, Germany
Key Practical Case Studies
  • Telefónica linking employee engagement and performance
  • Royal HaskoningDHV’ bottom-up model and its impact on Employee engagement
  • NN Group redesigning the employee experience
  • DHL Express establishing a focus strategy
  • Merck driving employee engagement in the digital age
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