Are social intranets the digital answer to employee engagement?

Are social intranets the digital answer to employee engagement?

Humans are inherently social beings – a characteristic that has remained steadfast throughout history. And as we move into a future increasingly influenced by digital media, a case can be made that new technology at its core is responding to this fundamental need. Throughout this digital literacy series, I’ve examined the ways social media, with its ability to unite and give voice to the masses, is causing waves in just about every industry you can think of.

Engaged employees = good employees

No matter what your business is, your employees are the foundation of your success. And if their basic need for human connection is met during their interactions on Twitter, Facebook and other popular forms of social media (and let’s face it, most of them are on social media sites often), it would be a mistake not to consider the benefits of social media for employee engagement.  After all, research has shown that engaged employees are good for business: they’re more productive, loyal, take fewer sick days and often are enthusiastic and vocal supporters of their employers. Where can social media fit into this equation? One avenue seeing a rise in popularity is the social intranet.

Like social media, social intranets meet human needs and satisfactions

That’s the topic discussed in the white paper Social Intranets & Employee Engagement: An HR Solution for Meaningful Morale Building, put out by ThoughtFarmer, a Vancouver based social intranet software provider. Of course it’s wise to remember that they’re in the business of selling social intranets, but this paper makes some really interesting points.

ThoughtFarmer defines social intranet as: “An intranet where employees can author content and connect easily.”

The paper centres on Gallup’s Q12 Meta-Analysis, which examines the relationship between engagement and performance at the business/work unit level through questions designed to measure human needs and satisfactions. The paper explores the potential for social intranets to meet many of these needs, including:

  • Feeling heard

Employees want to know that employers value their input and respect their opinions. ThoughtFarmer points out that interactive social intranets feature employee and management authored blogs, with comments enabled, forums and online polls – all of which follow the fundamental conversational style of social media and encourage employee response.

  • Feeling appreciated

The Gallup Q12 asks employees if they’ve been praised at work. Human beings like to feel recognized for the job they’re doing. A highly social intranet is a great place for managers to express appreciation for employees and give kudos for a job well done. ThoughtFarmer notes that with a social intranet it’s possible to praise employees publicly, instead of privately in an email or closed-door meeting. This allows employees to congratulate each other. Much like Facebook, many social intranets give employees the option to “like” things. All of these things lead to employee happiness – a key to high employee engagement.

  • Finding friendship

ThoughtFarmer cites that Gallup research has found people need as much as six hours a day of social interaction for a strong feeling of wellbeing. Since we spend a large part of our day at work, it follows that some of this interaction should be taking place there. Social intranets encourage conversation between employees and their peers and managers on forums and through blog post comments.

  • The right tools to get the job done

Engaged employees want to do a good job but they need the proper tools and knowledge to do so. A social intranet is the perfect place to house instructional manuals and videos, as well as a place to submit administrative forms for things like expense claims and time sheets. Employees can also turn to forums to ask coworkers for help and to discuss industry issues and news. And employee blogs give people the option to position themselves as experts and share their knowledge with others.

The risks of poor employee engagement

ThoughtFarmers’ paper points out that engaged employees are good for business, while those who aren’t engaged can hurt the bottom line. They note that “unengaged” employees simply bide their time, often doing as little work as possible. And “actively disengaged” employees actually work against their employers and are often disruptive. Their white paper makes a convincing case that social intranets may just be the digital answer to this problem.

Key points for social intranet success

Two final important points made in this white paper:

  • Social intranets need to have the backing of those in management roles, including CEOs. If employees see management participating in blogs and forums, it provides credibility to the entire initiative.
  • The development of a social intranet can’t be left solely to the IT department. Instead, the HR department should play a key role. After all, HR is generally the department that’s tasked with improving employee engagement and morale.

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