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18 January 2019
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Engaging the audience

18 May 2015

If you’re reading this sentence, then for the next few seconds at least I can be certain of achieving one thing today: I’ve engaged you.

At this moment you are fully engaged in the process of reading this comment column (well, until the end of this paragraph).

Still here? Thank you. Because as it happens, engagement – the state of being enthused, involved and ‘in the now’ regarding what you do, your work and your working relationships – is a critical element of business productivity. 

Now, OK, that should sound pretty obvious. But for three reasons it bears repeating. Firstly, if the workplace isn’t full of engaged workers, how the hell can any survey of workplace effectiveness result in meaningful, actionable data with which FMs and workplace designers can plan? Secondly, recent pronouncements from the governor of the Bank of England have made clear that this country seems to have its work cut out to improve our levels of productivity compared with five of our fellow G7 competitor nations. And thirdly, surely we should all be concerned if the people around us aren’t engaged in the work they do with or for us?

A couple of years ago, Dr Craig Knight at the University of Exeter conducted experiments showing that when you give employees control over their working environment it can result in as much as a 30 per cent boost in productivity. Knight’s work was referenced at ThinkFM last week by the organisational behaviourist Monica Parker, who put the problem of disengaged employees in perspective. 

Two of the three reasons for people leaving their jobs, she says, are culture and motivation. Lost productivity through ‘actively disengaged’ employees costs the UK economy £106 billion annually. Billion, mark you. And, get this, there’s a study out there that suggests businesses that give their teams greater control of their work and workplace grow four times faster than those that don’t.

So engagement means giving individuals as much freedom as is practically possible to work how and when they want. But it’s also a deeply social thing. The collaboration that organisations want from workers is, says Parker, the output of community – primarily the people they work with, not necessarily the places they work in. Allowing workers to develop this sense of community is key, with individual workers developing it rather than having it imposed upon them.

So if a sense of community is what workers crave, and that a sense of community breeds collaboration, and that addressing those issues leads to engagement? Then it surely follows that the primary focus of any workplace should be the support and development of that community feel.

Parker’s firm’s own research suggests that 89 per cent say of workers rate relationships with their colleagues as the primary contributor to their sense of engagement in the workplace. That’s pretty powerful stuff – and surely something that should generate a healthy debate.

Martin Read is managing editor at FM World