Firms must work harder to engage employees: survey

Canadian employees dissatisfied with how employers handle pay for performance, feel workload is increasing

Canadian organizations are missing a golden opportunity to gain a competitive advantage, according to a survey by consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

Too many employers aren’t doing enough to effectively build engagement in the workforce. The Watson Wyatt WorkCanada 2004/2005 survey states employers must work harder to engage and enable employees to drive productivity and business results.

“In an increasingly competitive environment, it is vitally important that organizations take full advantage of the considerable potential inherent in their people,” said Graham Dodd, Canadian practice leader, human capital group for Watson Wyatt Canada. “Utilizing a productive engagement model that ensures employees are both engaged in and enabled to do their jobs can provide organizations a significant competitive advantage, helping to enhance performance, drive productivity and create maximum value.”

Alignment improving, but work still remains

Alignment — the extent to which employees know what they need to do to make their organization successful — improved by 14 percentage points between 2002 and 2004. More than three quarters (76 per cent) of employees said they understand their employers’ business goals, compared to 62 per cent in 2002.

But four out of 10 employees (39 per cent) said they did not understand the steps they must take to achieve these goals.

“While many Canadian organizations have done a good job communicating big-picture messages to employees, they tend not to follow through at the manager-to-employee level,” said Dodd. “Managers and supervisors are vital to the employer-employee relationship, and they must be better equipped to communicate on a one-on-one basis with staff in order to clarify and discuss day-to-day roles and actions.”

Motivation: Accountability and performance management continue to be trouble spots

Employees are satisfied with some of their employers’ motivation efforts, but accountability and performance management continue to be major concerns.

“Creating a high performance culture, in which top performers are rewarded and developed, is an important element of motivation,” said Dodd. “Participants cited rewarding performance, managing poor performance, receiving feedback and encouraging high performance as significant challenges. This should be a cause for some concern.”

Employees also gave low marks for linking pay and performance. Only 27 per cent of all employees said there is a clear link between their job performance and pay. Further hurting motivation is the fact that only 40 per cent of employees said they have opportunities for growth, development and advancement and receive managerial support for career and skills development.

“While not every organization has room to move people up, providing growth and learning opportunities is crucial for employee engagement, retention and succession planning,” said Dodd. “When baby boomers start retiring and labour shortages become more apparent, organizations will be hard pressed to find employees to fill these positions. By combining effective development programs and strong talent management systems today, organizations can help ensure a smooth transition and be in position to continue to attract the best and the brightest employees.”

Employees lack confidence in their skills

According to the survey, employees seem to lack confidence in both their own abilities and those of their co-workers.

Less than half (49 per cent) of employees said their companies hire workers with the right skills and knowledge, while only 52 per cent feel they have or are supplied the training and learning materials they need to do their jobs or to develop their knowledge and skills.

Adequate resources, but workload could be problematic

According to the survey results, companies are doing a good job providing employees with adequate resources to perform their jobs.

Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of employees said they have the resources needed to do their jobs. Specifically, that means adequate tools, equipment and supplies, efficient electronic systems, strong support services and safe working environments, among other things.

But the survey did indicate potentially problematic issues for employers relating to workload and stress. Almost a quarter (22 per cent) of employees said the amount of work they are expected to do is unreasonable, compared to only 16 per cent in 2002.

Survey methodology

Conducted in mid-2004, the survey asked more than 3,000 Canadian employees across all job levels about their attitudes toward their workplace and their employers. Results are considered accurate to within plus or minus three per cent.

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