What is the variation between the terms 'engagement' and 'marriage'? A naïve but an important query. In a practical sense, there is a thin line difference. The 'engagement' formalizes the resolve of two concerned people to eventually get married and live together (happily) afterwards. Whereas the 'marriage' denotes conversion of the resolve into a reality.
I find an intriguing and interesting analogy between the 'engagement' and 'marriage' and 'recruitment & the employee's psychological engagement' in her organizational life. When the HR Pro recruits the prospect, the intention is to formalize the relationship and convert this relationship into an elongated one, if not a lasting one, over a period.
The HR Pro probably doesn't know that the conversion process is not preprogrammed; it requires navigation through the 'rough & tough' weather of the organization for safely reaching the destination, i.e. employee's psychological engagement. The Human Resource Department possibly also is unaware that when the organization's climate is 'rough & tough', there would be some casualty.
Which are the identifiable stations on the employee's journey starting with her recruitment and ending with her (relatively) permanent association with the organization? There are apparently 6 stations, some obvious and some not so obvious, in this stimulating and an eventful journey. Let us get down to knowing these stations and their features.
(Note: The time range mentioned in the parenthesis in the ensuing text refers to the joining date. The upper side of the range refers to the younger employees, who are more vulnerable to the 'exit stimuli' than their experienced counterparts.)
Station 1 - Induction & Stabilization (8 to 12 months)
This is cognate to the first few months in any convergent relationship (of course, excluding the inimical ones). On this station, each party re-validates the assumptions it held at the start of the relationship, starts exploring more about each other, and looks for the bridge to connect well. On this station, the organization makes the efforts to help the employee stabilize and settle down.
Station 2 - Acceptance of the Employee by her Functional Superior & Colleagues (12 to 24 months)
Of the 100 employees who started from Station 1, about 80 reach this station. How does the Functional Superior support the new employee in her day-to-day work, how do immediate & functional colleagues treat her, how do inter-functional colleagues respond to her, etc. show the degree of acceptance or adoption of the new employee in her immediate environment. The higher the level of acceptance, the more is the comfort level of the new employee with the organization.
Station 3 - Bonding (24 to 36 months)
Of the 80 who had reached Station 2, some 20 disembark the train. The employee's Functional Superior goes to meet her family members when they are in town or speaks to her father on his birthday on the employee's mobile or the employee throws a party for immediate colleagues on her birthday or the colleagues pool the fund to buy a birthday gift for the employee or the colleagues visit her when she is not well. Sounds all too familiar these days, right? These are some indicative behaviors of the employee or her Functional Superior or her immediate colleagues on the Station 3. These are the signals of what the HR Pros call, 'bonding' of the employee with the organization.
Station 4 - Rationalization (36 to 48 months)
From the first strength of 100, about 40 employees reach here. The employee is reasonably settled in the assignment & her department and has developed cordial relationships with all concerned. However, the employment market is real smart and starts exploring the employee's interest in a new opportunity that has better compensation and/or better benefits and/or better title or all. The employee is in a dilemma and this is the crucial point where the 'HR informers' play a pivotal part. The employee's dilemma has emotional as well as rational elements and the HR Pro ought to deal with both simultaneously. While the employee is on this Station, the key task of the HR Pros is to 'catch the signals on the exit radar' and attend them on priority to make sure that employee's journey continues uninterruptedly.
Station 5 - 'Psychological Engagement' (48 to 60 months)
Of the 40 who reached Station 4, 10 more disembark and say good-bye to the organization. This is the one but the last Station where the employee starts identifying herself with the organization and tends to become large-hearted or sympathetic towards the organization. This is when the organization should be careful of not taking the employee for granted. In fact, the rule of reciprocity requires that the organization shows more grace and a sense of obligation to the employee who has 'survived' successfully to reach this Station. What is commonly called the 'ownership', is the hallmark of this Station.
Station 6 - 'Mutual Advocacy' (60 months onwards)
The 'final fifteen' reach this Station. This is the zenith point where the employee and the organization get 'engaged' (in HR parlance) undisputedly. Check this out - the employee becomes a self-appointed advocate of the organization; she gets annoyed if someone badmouths 'her' organization; the organization goes out-of-the-way to help the employee when needed; the employee's name is taken in the management's discussions for her performance, contribution, commitment, and professionalism; and the employee enters the 'good' books of the management. These are the definitive features of Station 6.
Any relationship goes through several stages, some joyful & some painful, while developing, maturing, and acquiring permanency. The role played by each interested party in the growth of the relationship determines its direction, depth, and longevity. Staying together till retirement is definitely an exaggerated expectation in an organizational setting in current times. But acknowledging each other's limitations and enjoying the mutual company is the real charm of any relationship, even if the relationship doesn't last too long.
The challenge, therefore for the HR Pros is to find and remove (or cut) the obstacles in the employee's journey towards Station 6. The ways to do this are (1) stay in constant 'touch' with the employee and her well-wishers, (2) listen to the 'HR informers' intently, (3) act at the right moment, and (4) view 'employee engagement' as a strategic initiative and not a tactical one.
After all, aren't the HR Pros advocates of the employees? Well, there is no doubt that they are. Don't the HR Pros hope that most employees hang on with the organization for a long period? When can it happen? Only when the employee is 'psychologically' coupled or engaged with the organization.