Employee Engagement in Age of Peril

Employee Engagement in Age of Peril

Paul M. Sanchez, ABC, IABC FELLOW, APR

These are perilous times for most organizations of all sizes and in all sectors; but even more perilous for employees, who know that their employers may choose–out of necessity or precaution–to reduce employee ranks at any time. Thus probing the question of employee engagement may at first thought, seem a bit off the mark. One manager said "people should just be working hard for survival's sake. But in fact, considering how to engage employees could not be more timely. No doubt that fear can be a strong motivator, but is this the kind of optimal positioning that will elicit the most productive working relationship, the highest quality of customer service, or a truly engaged work force? The answer is not only no, emphatically no.

First, it has been established in academic and business research that an engaged workforce produces positive results in an array of positive outcomes from quality products and services, to customer satisfaction and retention, improved safety performance, and of course ultimately, profitability. Generally, levels of employee engagement can be determined through assessing employee perceptions around five key areas:

  • Willingness to go above and beyond in work duties
  • Intent to stay with the organization
  • Recommending the organization to others as a good place to work
  • Expressed pride in the organization and its products and services
  • Manifested sense of commitment to the organization

Every leader worthy of the title worries over how to create an engaged workforce. Every organization creates, in its strategy, structure and processes, a unique culture–and in the interplay of these elements, the drivers of engagement are formed–and these are indeed unique to each organization. Engagement drivers can be identified through careful employee research and professional analysis of the results.

While the drivers of engagement are unique to each organization, a pattern has emerged that supports the concept that there are quadrants one foundational elements of engagement that relate to the drivers of engagement, in a way that yeast relates to the ingredients of bread. These quadrants are: 1) Leadership, 2) Recognition and Rewards, 3) The Work Itself, and 4) Communication. A brief look at these quadrants, can serve as self-administered engagement audit:

  1. Leadership
    Leaders must act in accord with the expressed values of the organization.
    Leaders must be visible to all levels of the organization.
    Day-to-day decisions, projects and programs need to be grounded in the expressed strategy of the organization by the leaders.
    Resources must be allocated in accord with the stated strategy of the organization.
  2. Recognition and Rewards
    How people are recognized and paid must be perceived by employees as internally fair and externally competitive.
    Employees must be recognized in immediate ways by supervisors and managers for actions "above and beyond."
    Recognition can be developed around (particularly now) non-cash rewards Base and variable pay must be wrapped into a total compensation message including the benefits offered by the organization.
  3. The Work Itself
    The work performed by each employee must set in context and valued within its overall contribution to the organization.
    Employees at all levels must be treated with respect and dignity Jobs should be positioned (explained by all leaders) to align with the success of the organization. Opportunities to grow in the job and move laterally must be made apparent and accessible; and in times like these, acknowledged that such programs may be less available in the near term.
    Supervisors and employees should work together to prepare a developmental plan for each employee–either as part of a performance management program or as a separate initiative.

  4. Communication
    A planned communication program must be thought of as a process tool to shape and guide the formation of an engaged workforce as well as a principal tool for shaping the culture.
    In this difficult environment, there is a great need and a handsome opportunity to communicate with the workforce with transparency and mutual respect. Such communication, has been shown to create a sense of teamwork and trust.
    Communication must be planned and managed as a function and process, as are other staff functions, that are regarded as critical success factors.
    Supervisors and managers should receive training and guidance about what is expected in regard to their communication responsibilities.

Organizations should develop communication programming that includes a full range of media across the spectrum of face-to-face to electronic and web, to print applications. This full-spectrum is necessary to reach all employees. So in these times when organizations are forced to restructure work, people and processes, there is ample risk of alienating the workforce rather then actually engaging employees.

The threats of down sizing, work relocation and plant closings, are all too palpable. Reaching out to employees with candor and transparency can be an opportunity for creating substantial positive outcomes. When organizations are asking more from employees, these organizations should be taking steps to assess levels of engagement, identify the drivers of engagement, and undertaking steps to increase levels of engagement–engagement that will benefit ALL stakeholders, internal and external– for the near term and long term success of the enterprise.



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