A recent study conducted in the Ontario public service elaborates our understanding of the role of employee engagement (EE) in the enhancement of client satisfaction (CS) in the public sector. These findings are important since the Canadian Citizens First studies over the past decade have shown that while public perceptions of service quality have increased by 14 percent over this period, the level of client satisfaction and the service reputation of the public sector have remained flat-lined.
The Public Sector Service Value Chain shows that there is a mutual relationship between EE and CS.
Led by the Modernization Division in HROntario in partnership with the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Ontario study focussed on the first link of this service value chain and explored the interplay between the drivers of employee engagement and client satisfaction for internal I&IT services. While the study focused on internal IT services, a key intent of the study was to contribute to our understanding of the interplay of EE and CS drivers for both internal and external services for the public sector in general.
The data used to investigate the linkages between these drivers was derived from the 2007 OPS Employee Survey and the 2007 I&IT Internal Business Client Satisfaction Survey. This combined database was analyzed employing the OPS employee engagement model drivers and the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service’s Common Measurement Tool (CMT) drivers of CS.
The study looked at the impact of EE drivers not only on employee engagement, but also on client satisfaction. The results provided a revelation. While priority drivers for improving employee engagement in its own right are associated with “Organizational Culture” – namely “Leadership Practices” and “Opportunities for Career Growth” – those that have the greatest impact on client satisfaction are associated with “Work Environment.” These drivers include “Job Fit,” “Job Design,” “Support & Tools” and “Orientation and On-boarding.”
This is a qualitatively new insight that requires us to re-think the basis on which we identify priority areas for the improvement of employee engagement. To date, in the OPS and elsewhere, employee survey analyses overwhelmingly identify organizational culture issues alone as priorities. Based on this finding, however, approaches to improve employee engagement should also include a focus on EE drivers associated with work environment.
The study also looked at the impact of the Common Measurements Tool drivers of client satisfaction on employee engagement as well as on client satisfaction. While the key drivers affecting client satisfaction were confirmed to be transactional in nature, specifically “Accessibility” and “Timeliness” (confirming the findings of Citizens First studies), those client satisfaction drivers affecting employee engagement were significantly associated with the interpersonal “emotional” dimensions of the service experience, notably “Going the Extra Mile” and “Information.”
This is a paradigm shift that has fundamental implications in identifying priority areas and in framing action plans related to service improvement. A focus on drivers that have an emotional dimension (e.g., extra mile) should be emphasized in addition to transactional drivers such as timeliness.
A new approach
In the past, efforts related to the understanding and improvement of employee engagement and client satisfaction have been largely addressed as separate and distinct issues. This study reveals that if the linkages identified in the service value chain are to be effectively leveraged, they need specific and deliberate attention within an integrated framework. Employee engagement and client satisfaction cannot remain siloed organizational priorities but must rather become inter-connected dimensions of a holistic approach.
Recent literature argues that it is the emotional level of engagement that leads to real impacts on employee engagement and client satisfaction. Engaging employees and satisfying clients is an act of bonding at an emotional level that simultaneously promotes both EE and CS.
The insights provided through the Ontario study help open the door to simultaneously improving employee engagement and client satisfaction in a holistic framework that leverages their “emotional” as well as “transactional” dimensions. This is a journey upon which the Canadian public sector must now embark.
Nicholas Prychodko is the Service Excellence manager at Modernization Division, HROntario, Ministry of Government Services.