Employee engagement – killers and cures

Development and training, gratitude important for boosting satisfaction
By Chris Bart
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/09/2011

Regardless of economic circumstances, having an engaged workforce — that is enthusiastically willing to give more than just what is required — contributes to better business performance. An employer’s consistent, flawless execution requires a dedicated and committed workforce passionately focused on achieving the aims and aspirations contained in the company mission statement.

Conceptually, this all makes sense. But, practically, it’s very difficult to do. Why? Because 55 per cent of employees are dissatisfied with their jobs, according to a 2010 survey by the Conference Board of Canada.

Since the onset of the recession in 2008, the percentage of organizations with declining engagement steadily grew, according to a 2010 report from Aon Hewitt. In 2009, companies with low engagement (less than 40 per cent of employees engaged) had shareholder returns that were 44 per cent lower than the average. In contrast, when 65 per cent or more of employees were engaged, shareholder returns were 19 per cent higher than the average.

Engaged employees provide better results because they are not only passionate about their jobs but emotionally bonded to their organizations. They are willing to give that elusive discretionary effort.

Companies that engage employees’ hearts and minds have a more intense strategic focus, higher efficiency and better productivity. They beat out competitors that aren’t able to produce the same level of commitment.

Let’s take a look at some engagement killers and how to combat them.

The killer: Ignoring opportunities to perform simple acts of gratitude. Everyone is busy.

The cure: Say “Thank you” — and mean it. At the top of the list of practices that increase employee engagement is the simple act of regularly and sincerely thanking employees and praising them for their work.

Publicly acknowledging exceptional work is considered especially important, though rewarding routine and commonplace activities is also encouraged, such as good attendance.

For example, one auto dealership gives each team leader $100 per week for informal team-building activities, as long as these occur outside normal working hours. The idea is that if a team leader can strengthen the personal non-work bonds among team members during off-hours, then asking for job-related favours at work will not seem as such an imposition, because it’s now a friend — someone you’ve grown to like — asking for help.

The killer: Ignoring the corporate mission statement. Employers may be tempted to dismiss the mission statement as corporate window-dressing, with little relevance to day-to-day business life, but they do so at their peril.

A well-crafted mission statement provides both specific guidance regarding the actions and behaviours of employees and brings a more focused allocation of organizational resources. If this guidance is missing, workers fill in the blanks with their own interpretations, which drive their behaviours.

The cure: Being extremely clear about organizational goals and showing employees how their work contributes to their organization’s success — especially its mission and vision — is critical to employee engagement. Everyone wants to feel important and feel what they do matters.

That can be hard to do, especially for persons performing boring, routine and repetitive front-line jobs. But it is the responsibility of an immediate supervisor to help those individuals see the higher purpose in their work — such as customer service having an impact on an employer’s reputation. The company is depending on each employee to do his job with excellence or else the whole organization could fail.

The killer: Ignoring employees’ goals and dreams. It’s far too easy for managers to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of meeting a quarterly quota or finalizing budgets. Often, short-term issues prevent them from focusing on long-term partnerships with employees.

The cure: Development and training — rewards they value. Most employees want to know they have avenues for advancement. This means there must be career development and training opportunities available at every level in the company and supervisors should be required to regularly discuss ways to help interested employees achieve them.

Chris Bart is a professor of strategic market leadership at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton. He is also the author of A Tale of Two Employees and the Person Who Wanted to Lead Them. For more information, visit corporatemissionsinc.com.

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