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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Engagement makes all the difference

A staggering 62 percent of employees have no passion for their work, according to a Gallup worldwide survey. RobynReilly describes how to solve this problem and reap the benefits of higher employee engagement.

Engaged employees are rare. According to Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report, which highlights findings from a study of workplaces in more than 140 countries from 2011 through 2012, only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work. New Zealand has one of the highest levels of engaged employees among countries surveyed, at 23 percent. Australia’s engagement rate is similar, at 24 percent. But both countries fall short of the United States where 30 percent of employed residents are engaged at work.

“Engaged” workers stand apart from their “not engaged” and “actively disengaged” counterparts because of the discretionary effort they consistently bring to their roles day after day. These employees willingly go the extra mile, work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They are the people who will drive innovation and move your organisation forward.

Contrast this with actively disengaged employees, who are more or less out to damage your company. Not only are they unhappy at work, but they are intent on acting out their unhappiness. They monopolise managers’ time and drive away customers. Whatever the engaged do—such as solving problems, innovating, and creating new customers—the actively disengaged will work to undermine their efforts. Sixteen percent of workers in New Zealand are actively disengaged.

Not engaged employees are perhaps the greatest untapped opportunity for organisations to improve their performance and profitability. Not engaged workers can be difficult to spot—they are not hostile or disruptive and are likely do just enough to fulfil their job requirements. They sleepwalk through their day, uninspired and lacking motivation. They have little or no concern about customers, productivity, profitability, safety or quality. They are thinking about lunch or their next break and have essentially “checked out”.

The majority of New Zealand’s workforce is not engaged: 62 percent of New Zealanders reluctantly head to work, lacking energy and passion for the jobs they do. Converting this group of employees to become engaged workers is the most effective strategy that any organisation in New Zealand can implement to increase company performance and long-term sustainable growth.

Why increasing the number of engaged employees should be a strategic priority

Measuring employee engagement is important. Measuring the right things—the things that matter most to performance and provide a framework for positive change — are critical. Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement measurement tool is designed to initiate companywide transformation to create sustainable growth. This tool is backed by rigorous science linking it to nine integral performance outcomes.

Predicting key performance outcomes

Every two to four years, Gallup completes meta-analysis research—a statistical technique that pools multiple studies—on the Q12. In 2012, Gallup conducted its eighth meta-analysis on the Q12 using 263 research studies across 192 organisations in 49 industries and 34 countries. Within each study, Gallup researchers statistically calculated the work-unit-level relationship between employee engagement and performance outcomes that the organisation supplied. Researchers studied 49,928 work units, including nearly 1.4 million employees. This eighth iteration of the meta-analysis further confirmed the well-established connection between employee engagement and nine performance outcomes:

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    Customer ratings;
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    Turnover (for high-turnover and low-turnover organisations);
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    Safety incidents;
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    Shrinkage (theft);
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    Patient safety incidents;
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    Quality (defects).

Gallup researchers studied the differences in performance between engaged and actively disengaged work units and found that those scoring in the top half on employee engagement nearly doubled their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half.

Work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10 percent on customer ratings, 22 percent in profitability, and 21 percent in productivity. Work units in the top quartile also saw significantly lower turnover (25 percent in high-turnover organisations; 65 percent in low-turnover organisations), shrinkage (28 percent) and absenteeism (37 percent) and fewer safety incidents (48 percent), patient safety incidents (41 percent) and quality defects (41 percent) (see graph).

The 2012 meta-analysis verified once again that employee engagement relates to each of the nine performance outcomes studied. Gallup also finds that the strong correlations between engagement and performance are highly consistent across different organisations from diverse industries and regions of the world.

Building a constituency of engaged employees

Although important at the organisational level, engagement starts with each individual and is subjective to each employee. It is therefore important that organisations do not forget the person. Employees are humans who don’t check their personalities at the door when they come to work. The sense that they are respected as individuals at work can have a significant impact on how employees view their overall lives.

Each individual’s potential extends well beyond his or her job description, but tapping that potential means recognising how an employee’s unique set of beliefs, talents, goals, and life experiences drive his or her performance, personal success, and well-being.

Managers and leaders should know their people—who they are and not just what they do. Every interaction with an employee has the potential to influence his or her engagement and inspire discretionary effort. How leaders manage their employees can substantially affect engagement levels in the workplace, in turn influencing the company’s bottom line. Here are five strategies organisations can use to help build their constituency of engaged employees:

Use the right employee engagement survey. When a company asks its employees for their opinions, those employees expect action to follow. But businesses often make the mistake of using employee surveys to collect data that is irrelevant or impossible to act on. Any survey data must be specific, relevant, and actionable for any team at any organisational level. It should also be proven to influence key performance metrics.
Focus on engagement at the local and organisational levels. Real change occurs at the local, workgroup level, but it only happens when company leaders set the tone from the top. Companies realise the most benefit from engagement initiatives when leaders weave employee engagement into performance expectations for managers and enable them to execute on those expectations. Managers and employees must feel empowered by leaders to make a significant difference in their immediate environment. Organisational leadership should work in partnership with employees to identify the barriers to engagement and the opportunities that exist to effect positive change. Employees are more familiar with the company’s processes, systems, products and customers. They are also experts on themselves and their team. So it makes sense that they will have the best ideas to maximise these elements, delivering improved performance, business innovation and better workplace experiences.
Select the right managers. The best managers understand that their success and that of the organisation relies on employees’ achievements. But not everyone can be a great manager. Great managers care about their people’s success; they seek to understand each person’s strengths and provide him or her with every opportunity to use them in his or her role. They empower their employees, recognise and value their contributions and actively seek their ideas and opinions. It takes talent to be a great manager, and selecting people who have this talent is important. Whether hiring from the outside or promoting from within, organisations that scientifically select managers for the unique talents it takes to effectively manage people greatly increase the odds of engaging their employees. Companies should treat these roles as unique, with distinct functional demands that require a specific talent set.
Coach managers and hold them accountable for their employees’ engagement. Gallup’s research has found that managers are primarily responsible for their employees’ engagement levels. Organisations should coach managers to take an active role in building engagement plans with their employees, hold managers accountable, track their progress and ensure that they continuously focus on emotionally engaging their employees. The most successful managers view the Q12 engagement tool as elements for great managing, rather than questions for measuring. By doing so, they have a powerful framework to help guide the creation of a strong, engaged workplace.
Define engagement goals in realistic, everyday terms. Leaders must make engagement goals meaningful to employees’ day-to-day experiences to bring engagement to life. Describing what success looks like using powerful descriptions and emotive language helps give meaning to the goals and builds commitment within a team. Ensure that managers discuss employee engagement at weekly meetings, in action-planning sessions and in one-on-one meetings with employees to weave engagement into daily interactions and activities and make it part of the workplace DNA.

Leaders in the best organisations take a strategic approach to aligning their employee engagement communication efforts. They find ways to communicate engagement’s effect throughout the year and share engagement tools and best practices in the organisation. They use every opportunity, touchpoint and available communication channel to reinforce and recognise the organisation’s commitment to employee engagement. Employee engagement is fully integrated into the organisation’s lexicon.

If employees truly are a company’s best asset, then their care and support should be a priority. Organisations in New Zealand have a valuable opportunity to help transform the majority of their employees’ work experiences to ones that are fulfilling, motivating and allow workers to bring their best to work every day.

RobynReilly is a senior consultant with Gallup New Zealand.

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