An enterprise’s digital tools, leadership, and company values are now the top drivers of employee engagement, according to a recent study from Oracle Corporation and Kantar TNS.

The Global Engagement Study collected data from nearly 5,000 full-time employees across 20 countries, working at companies with 250 or more personnel. Only 44% of employees said their company uses the latest technology to enable them to effectively perform in their role. That means that more than half of employees don’t have the tech that they need to be successful at work. And just 38% said their company supports causes that are important to them.

“What we found is employees want the same modern digital technology that they are accustomed to at home in the workplace, accessible leadership, and a strong company culture that aligns with their personal values–often trumping monetary compensation,” said Gretchen Alarcon, group vice president of HCM product strategy at Oracle.”These factors are all influencing the degree employees feel engaged and committed to a company.”

Employee engagement is now one of the most frequently measured variables in organizations, according to Tjai M. Nielsen, director of executive education and an associate professor of management at High Point University.

It touches on several issues that organizations find critically important for success, Nielsen said, including trust in senior leadership, organizational culture, career support, development opportunities, employee recognition, and alignment of values. “If employees feel positively about these issues, they are significantly more likely to be motivated, committed, and perform successfully,” Nielsen added.

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Today’s workforce cares more about personal alignment to a business than ever before, the report found, and company values and culture have a large impact on engagement.

“What is clear from our research is that engagement has moved from a transactional relationship, based on individual roles and commitment, to a deeper relationship that is based on the fit between the organization and the individual, and is founded on opportunity, values, and culture,” the report stated.

Better tech and improved onboarding

Just 39% of employees reported that their company uses online and collaborative learning tools to fuel development, the report found.

In terms of tech purchasing, “the difficulty is that it competes with a lot of other priorities,” said Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor at the Columbia Business School whose research focuses on organizational strategy and innovation. “It’s strategically important, but not urgent. Once it gets brought to the surface, you’re more likely to see action on it.”

Along with the need for newer, better tech, the report highlighted the problems many companies face with onboarding procedures: Just 41% of respondents said they believe that company onboarding practices set them up for growth and success.

Typical onboarding includes some training and a lot of HR information, but doesn’t give much insight into how a company actually works, Gunther McGrath said.

“Part of the struggle with onboarding a new employee is all those unwritten rules, codes, and culture that are not in a binder somewhere,” Gunther McGrath said. A more effective way to onboard people is to set aside a large amount of time for them to get socialized to the company. For example, Accenture regularly sends cohorts of new employees to a training center to get content and lectures, but also to have social time with current employees and senior leaders, Gunther McGrath said.

More effective onboarding requires an investment of time and resources, she added. Nielsen agreed. “However, for those organizations who are truly committed to their most valuable resource–their people–the investment required to increase employee engagement can create significant ROI.” Nielsen said.

The leadership issue

Leadership also has a large impact on employee engagement, the report found. Only 47% of those polled viewed their leaders as visible and approachable, the study found. The same percentage also said they receive recognition when they do a good job. Meanwhile, 44% of employees said they have confidence in the leadership of their company.

These results suggest that an accessible, approachable leader inspires greater confidence and has a larger impact on performance recognition, the report stated.

One of the top reasons people leave a company is because of difficulties with a manager, according to Bob Hewes, senior partner at Camden Consulting. “A leader’s visibility and approachability directly impact if people feel engaged and connected to an organization,” he said.

In times of pressure, leaders in the tech field sometimes tend to retreat, Hewes said. But those are the times that it’s most important to stay out front and in communication with your employees. Even when things are uncertain, it helps to tell your employees what management is doing to solve the problem, Hewes said.

In terms of approachability, as a leader you need to make sure that you are welcoming people to talk to you, even if they are bringing bad news, Hewes said. “You want to make sure that as a leader, you tell people ‘Thanks for bringing this up,’ and set up an environment where, when something tough comes up, they want to go talk to you,” Hewes said.

Advice for tech leaders

The report lays out the following six steps for leaders to directly impact and improve engagement:

1. Get more involved with employees directly. Those interactions can have a big effect on an employee’s feelings of wellbeing at your company.

2. Communicate the importance and value of each individual’s work. This helps employees better understand where the work that they do fits into the big picture, and shows them the impact their efforts have on business success.

3. Set an example of how best to communicate with those who directly report to you. Conduct reports on their performance, and deliver recognition.

4. Remain extremely accessible. This way, people at the ground level, or those in large companies, don’t feel disconnected from the leadership, or that their voices can’t be heard.

5. Be actively involved with new employees from the day they start. Leaders can set the pace for a new hire’s success more effectively than any other team member.

6. Use technology to stay in touch. Take advantage of tools like instant messaging, videoconferencing, and mobile collaboration apps to better stay in contact and provide needed information.

“Employees want to feel they are valued, that the company is a good fit, and that they are being given the tools and mentorship needed to grow and progress. They want to feel they are connected to the company goals,” Alarcon said. “Active leaders that get involved not just from Day 1, but maintain ongoing dialogue with employees, are critical. This will eventually lead to higher employee retention and a healthy culture within the workplace.”

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. The largest factors driving employee engagement have shifted from those that involve the individual and their role to company-wide elements such as leadership, digital tools, and company culture, according to a recent study from Oracle Corporation and Kantar TNS.
  2. For better employee engagement, companies should have visible and approachable leaders, use the digital tools that best enable an individual to do their job, and rethink onboarding practices to highlight paths for growth and success in the enterprise.
  3. While increasing employee engagement requires an investment of time and resources, it pays off with happier employees and less turnover, experts said.