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Engaging Talent in Life Science Organisations


By Jennifer O'Brien

From an organisational perspective, engagement is the ‘engine of the vehicle’. It begins long before the employment contract is signed and continues right throughout the employee lifecycle. To give an overarching view on employee engagement, it can be carved into three areas; cognitive, emotional and behavioural. Employee engagement is individual, stemming from both psychological and behavioural states. Engagement is mostly demonstrated by employees positively verbally advocating the organisation, wanting to remain part of said organisation and showing a willingness to provide extra discretionary effort to aid the organisation in succeeding.

A recent Oracle report outlines engagement as the emotional journey of the employee and stresses the need for organisations to be in control of this and to change, if necessary, to influence the outcome. It has also been widely reported that managerial effectiveness is a top driver of engagement. Additionally, engagement can come from employees knowing their company is investing both in them and in their future. Ultimately, employees that are involved and engaged are seen to be more productive and motivated. While discussing the areas of attracting, managing and developing talent in my previous articles, it is clear to see that all of these factors, among others, affect the level of engagement within individuals and teams alike. There is no one overarching activity that solely affects engagement but rather the entirety of a Talent Management Strategy. In this article, I am going to touch on two topics affecting engagement that we have not yet discussed: Corporate Communication and Employee Wellbeing.

Corporate Communication

Corporate communication involves effective communication with all key stakeholders, internal and external, to maintain strong relationships and to allow for organisational success. It has been argued that alignment is needed between all messages communicated to various stakeholder groups, employees included, to reduce communication fragmentation and increase organisational reputation. It has also been contended that the level to which an individual employee will be motivated and engaged by different factors will be dependent on their own needs and perceptions and is, ultimately, subjective, meaning communication needs to be tailored to the individual. This message is also clear with the group of Senior HR Professionals interviewed as part of my study, as one person noted:

There is nothing worse than being in an organisation where you are doing your job and you don’t realise the impact of your job or how it contributes to the overall. We want people to be directly connected and have a sense of purpose and know why they are doing what they are doing.

The respondents to my study also emphasise the importance of effective communication and the risk of ineffective communication if this is not conducted, noting:

Communication needs to be face to face. Otherwise, we are diluting the information as it reaches various audiences.

It appears that the disparity here between the literature and viewpoint of the employer is whether or not the employee has heard the message communicated to them. The possibility here is that this message has been diluted having been passed through various management layers on its way to the employee and the impact is lost in translation. To counteract this, three of the five respondents to my research mentioned the importance of having an internal resource dedicated to communications, and their actions to create new roles to support this.

Effective corporate communication is vital for building internal trust and transparency and linked to this is the concept of Employee Voice, a mechanism to allow for two-way communication between the employee and employer and for the thoughts and opinions of employees to be heard. It has been suggested that organisational integrity and employee voice are key drivers of employee engagement. This sense of involvement and having a say is crucial to employees yet three-fifths of employees do not feel satisfied with the amount of involvement they have in decision making in their organisations and only one-third were proud of their organisation.

Although the importance of a consistent and clear communications strategy for organisational success is evident, recent CIPD research suggests that two-fifths of employees believe they receive very little or no corporate communications detailing organisational strategy. Effective corporate communication will link the Talent Management strategy to the organisational strategy, outline a vision the organisation as a whole can visualise and set expectations as to the desired outcome. Overall, integration and alignment of HR aspects and communication can create a sustainable competitive advantage for organisations. Ultimately, communication is a core aspect of employee engagement which results in increased performance, retention and wellness.

Employee Wellbeing

There is a very strong link between organisational culture and the success of wellbeing initiatives. A supportive organisational culture where individuals feel valued and respected will, in themselves, exude feelings of wellbeing, whereas, organisations where there is little trust and engagement will result in lower levels of wellbeing. These organisations with high levels of employee engagement outperform their low-engagement competitors.

Research has proven that organisations who invest in effective wellbeing programmes outperform those who do not in the market. If employee wellbeing is not supported internally, the risks associated with the employer include; absenteeism costs, presenteeism, turnover costs and the impact of potential legal action and reputational damage as a result. Alternatively, if the organisation does invest in wellbeing, it will reap the benefits, including employee engagement, increased performance and ultimately increased productivity.

Again, strong links between the wellness of the workforce and overall individual performance have been identified, and, interestingly, almost a quarter of the variance in employee productivity is linked to wellbeing. Even though this is the case, a recent CIPD survey highlighted that only one-third of respondents indicated their organisation invested in a wellbeing strategy, and only 1 in 10 organisations have a stand-alone wellbeing strategy. Linked to this is the fact that wellbeing is quite subjective and individual, leading to the need for wellbeing strategies and activities to be tailored to individual wants and needs. Wellbeing is not an area that can be addressed overnight, but rather an ongoing initiative evolving over time.

Demand for employers to claim accountability for the health and wellbeing of their employees is increasing. In Ireland, there is a consensus among employees of becoming healthier and these employees believe their employers should play a part in this change. The introduction of The Keep Well Mark and Work Positive CI initiatives reinforce this. The outcome of increased employer involvement significantly strengthens both the relationship between the employee and employer as well as the relationships between employees, having a positive knock-on effect on engagement. Fundamentally, research conducted by Towers Watson concluded that highly engaged employees with high levels of wellbeing are the most productive, therefore adding the most value to the organisation. Additionally, engaged employees who enjoy their work are capable of working for longer periods without risk of burn out, a term which has a significant link to lack of mental wellbeing.

Supporting this, multiple respondents to my study highlight the pressure on employees working in the Life Science sector and therefore the importance of managing the wellbeing of their staff, noting:

Being a pharmaceutical manufacturer, we do have tough times where we need people to work a night shift or crazy hours. We need to make sure we are minding these people and that these busy times are brief periods and not sustained. It’s a challenge for us as an organisation where we demand a lot from people but we get it because we have the loyalty and commitment and they do know they can put up the hand and say stop when they really need to.

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