What employee engagement means for new PR pros

It's an old joke. When a company president is asked how many employees work at his company, he responds, "About half of them."

It's an old joke. When a company president is asked how many employees work at his company, he responds, “About half of them.”

But employee engagement is no laughing matter today. Many companies are deeply involved in internal branding or other initiatives to help staffers unleash their talents and energy. Engaged employees give greater discretionary effort, produce more, and are highly motivated and proud of their companies. Yet, there's a long way to go for most companies. A Gallup survey several years ago found that 29% of employees are actively engaged in work, 54% are not engaged, and 17% are actively disengaged. 

What does this crucial issue mean for PR pros just entering the workplace? How can they fully engage in their work? I turned to three experts for their insights.

Gray Grates, president and global MD of Edelman Change and Employee Engagement, says: “Engagement is how one experiences the organization. It's really a state of mind: how I approach my position, my company, my career. Learn all you can about the business and your function, be curious, ask to join teams or task forces, offer ideas, and don't miss deadlines.”

Sue Neumann, VP of corporate communications and PR for Praxair, believes PR teams can best drive engagement efforts by clarifying and advancing the company's brand. “A strong brand drives pride and engagement,” she says. “New PR employees can demonstrate engagement by establishing partnerships, learning the business, offering new ideas, and challenging the status quo.”

Frank Ovaitt, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, says: “Organizations survive and thrive when employees care about their customers and care about their work.” He counsels young professionals to “listen closely to the boss and to everyone around you in the organization. This will help you understand culture deeply. When you do that, you won't need to do much to demonstrate your own engagement. It will be obvious.”    

Bottom line: engaged employees make a huge difference. They produce competitive advantage for companies, greater financial returns, higher rates of employee retention, and customer satisfaction. And there are real payoffs for employees, too: enriched teams, greater enthusiasm and motivation, and new opportunities to grow and advance.   

Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously, he was VP of PR at Whirlpool Corporation. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at berger@apr.ua.edu.

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