12/12/2012 06:21 GMT | Updated 10/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Employee Engagement: Not Just a Buzzword

The term 'employee engagement' might sound like something that an average worker would roll their eyes at being subjected to -- another meaningless management tactic without genuine feeling behind it. But it isn't quite that simple and it certainly isn't meaningless.

By definition, employee engagement is a measurable way of calculating an employee's emotional attachment to their role, co-workers and company; and by extension, their willingness to learn and perform at work. It goes much deeper than measures like employee satisfaction or motivation, and has concrete outputs in terms of productivity, company turnover and reduced sickness absence. For both employees and employers, high workforce engagement is undoubtedly a 'win-win.'

A government-backed panel called 'Engage for Success' led a campaign launch earlier this month in which business heads from some of Britain's top companies, from Sainsburys to Lloyds Banking Group, discussed Britain's problem with employee engagement. The group is calling for every leader and manager across the economy to play their part in tackling the UK's employee engagement deficit, which is estimated to be costing us all £26bn in productivity each year.

As the only leader of a small or medium sized business (SME) invited onto the panel, I felt we had both a unique story to tell about engaging employees, and some different ideas about what other company leaders need to do in order to achieve a similar effect in their workplaces. Nampak's journey to engage our workers began four years ago. Our starting point was a survey among our staff in 2007, which found that 80% would not recommend Nampak as a great place to work to their family and friends.

We introduced a new ethos to encourage innovation and ideas at all levels of the company, right from the very bottom. We also wanted our staff to feel part of their local community, especially as most of our factory sites are located some way from the main centre of the local town. Workers were encouraged to take part in a variety of schemes, such as Young Enterprise and other work with local young people. Back at the office, we brought in leadership behavioural training to teach these crucial qualities to our staff and empower them to make decisions. Simple tactics like an 'Employee of the Month' scheme and annual Excellence Awards made everyone feel like they were valued members of the company and helped create a sense of collaboration.

For us, the initiatives have paid off in a very tangible sense. A survey among staff carried out in 2010, identical to the one three years earlier, found that 80% of the company would recommend Nampak as a great place to work to their family and friends. We were also delighted to find that our sickness absence rates dropped by 28%.

As the UK faces up to the challenges of recession and global competition, improving productivity and performance among the UK workforce has to be a national priority and central to the country's growth agenda. It's not something that any company leader can be complacent about, given the difference it can make even on a small scale.

It's not just about increasing the success of organisations, however. At a time of economic difficulty, individual workers and their overall wellbeing will benefit from employers that value them and take steps to discover their potential. There's a huge opportunity that is lying dormant in the UK workforce and should be acted upon now.

I want to use my experience to show other companies that employee engagement is meaningful and valuable at all levels and to by any measure will benefit a Company's performance over time. Engage for Success is a voluntary movement, which has launched a free to use website to help organisations engage better with their employees. We need practical action to make this a reality.

Visit to find out more.