Embracing these people practices sounds like reasonable, advice, but there's still enough resistance in the pipeline to merit this column's take on employee engagement. Why would any business deny itself such great competitive leverage and extra profits? Especially when the necessary initiatives only enhance reputations and create such good will. My unscientific response is this: a) Control is a power most difficult to relinquish; and b) Paternal hierarchies are woven into our society at both home and work — if they were to be cut away, rather than replaced over time by a second stronger stitch, the American business cloth would disintegrate.
Are They Engaged?
The idea of creating a more engaged workforce is not new. For at least 20 years, managers have been looking at the organizational factors which engage (or disengage) employees. In many situations it is the manager himself, that is the key to building and sustaining a strong workplace. In 2006, Right Management Consultants (a Philadelphia-based HR firm) sensed a growing problem in the workplace and went about studying the role and prevalence of employee engagement. Their study showed that two-thirds of employees do not know or understand their employer's business strategy and, as a result, are not engaged in their jobs. Given these unfortunate findings there's a fair chance that some portion of your people are not engaged in their work either. If you're unsure of the answer, consider using a survey of your employees to find out. In my experience, the following questions have a good track record at eliciting helpful, candid responses from employees:
- Do you know what is expected of you at work?
- At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
- Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
- Do you have a best friend at work?
- Are your fellow employees committed to doing quality work?
Cause And Effect: Influence Of Workplace Culture
Employee engagement is influenced by many factors; however, workplace culture really sets the tone. Companies that provide a culture with the traditionally recognized conditions of meaningfulness (credible leadership, strong values and ethics, equal opportunities, developmental experiences, safety programs, supportive supervisors, strategic and timely communication, etc.) are far more likely to have engaged employees.
It's clear that employee engagement is a deciding factor in organizational success. Not only does engagement have the potential to significantly affect employee retention, productivity and loyalty, it has also been found to be a key link to customer satisfaction, company reputation and stakeholder value. At a time when everyone worth their salt has adopted a best practices/total quality mind-set, the acquisition of just a single competitive edge in the marketplace is huge!
Interestingly, it does not matter why you become known for cultivating a compassionate, communicative and conflict-free company; it only matters that you do become one. If you were to aggressively develop an engaging culture that attracts and retains a happier, more productive team just so you could handle more sales volume, that's great! If you want to help workplace relationships between yourself and your staff evolve into trusting partnerships because that might mean that, one day, you'll get to delegate more of your unpleasant duties to your "new partners" or because your customers will pay more to have such a caring group at their disposal, that's wonderful! If you want to be an enlightened manager because that's the best way to live your life, all the better! Your reasons for tuning up your company are your own. The fact is the end (a successful organization run by engaged employees) does in fact justify the means. Your motives might not cause you to be confused with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, but still, everybody wins and you're left with a stronger, more profitable company stocked with loyal and engaged employees.
The Bottom Line
What's your benefit if you do introduce meaningfulness? Over the long run, it appears highly likely that companies who implement the necessary changes into culture see an increase in engagement, productivity and profitability. The Gallup Organization went so far recently as to estimate that actively disengaged employees in the United States cost companies $254 to $363 billion annually. When companies focus on repairing disengagement, research suggests that it is possible to increase the number of engaged employees significantly, resulting in an almost corresponding increase in profitability. How much can you actually increase engagement? While there is no set number, results have speculated as much as double or triple in one year, and numerous companies have reported increases of 10 to 15 percent annually.
There are dozens of ways to enrich the bond between worker and work. Rather than attempt to capture them all and then condense them, it might be best to simply share some of the truths that power the very best organizational initiatives:
- Feeling good matters in the workplace. Bosses have the primary job of fostering a culture of engagement and, if for any reason he or she isn't up to that task, disregard the egos and the titles and appoint someone else to step up and get it right.
- Check their pulse but do it fast. There is a talent shortage in this country. If you don't feel it yet, you will soon. Think of it as a fast-moving, inverted negative wave approaching our shore — an anti-wave, if you will. Fundamental shifts in the economy are also creating the need for new and different competencies at most companies. A recent study had almost 90 percent of executive respondents saying the critical competencies their employees need to succeed are changing — nearly half said they are changing to a "high" or "very high" degree. Make people and talent management a strategic priority or you won't be able to compete.
- Find out what is working and what is not. Good surveys will help, as will one-to-one interviews. Engagement initiatives can get good traction provided you have the will and resources in place to successfully implement the results. Don't believe it?
The Gallup Organization recently concluded only 25 percent of employees in companies which conducted engagement studies said they were engaged. One of the primary reasons cited was that employees didn't believe management had any real interest in making changes based on what the employees said in the surveys. In short, the studies were actually counterproductive because the employees felt the results were simply ignored.