Engaging in Employee Engagement: Why Start Now?

“You can have the best strategy and the best building in the world, but if you don’t have the hearts and the minds of the people who work with you, none of it comes to life.”1

   The subject of Employee Engagement as a critical business initiative has continued to gain momentum since it was first defined in the early 1990s. Companies have poured time and money into researching exactly what it means for an employee to be engaged, and yet employers still hesitate to adopt new practices aimed at increasing levels of engagement in the workplace. Concerned with rising healthcare costs and a myriad of other more tangible corporate objectives that have made the top of list, companies are seemingly dropping the ball on the main thing keeping them in business: their people.

  Considering that only 32.1% of the U.S. workforce is engaged, it’s safe to say that NO employer is exempt from exploring this issue.2 So why are organizations hesitating to adopt new practices or implement innovative strategies aimed at increasing employee engagement? It’s true that 2016 brings a lot of change to the table, with rising healthcare costs and a diverse generational population being only two of the many obstacles facing employers today. What companies need to start realizing, however, is that employee engagement encompasses almost every other goal on their list – especially if one of those objectives has anything to do with revenue.

   Let’s explore some definitions of employee engagement, shall we?

  According to Forbes, employee engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals. Ah, there’s that word emotion. Employers may be wondering at this point, “How can I possibly prioritize the emotional state of my staff?” It’s true, with the cost of healthcare on the rise and ongoing reforms resulting in compliance nightmares for HR – a disengaged workforce may not sound so scary. Besides, how would you even go about measuring or quantifying something like engagement? If there’s no potential ROI involved, managers have a tough time communicating the immediate need to corporate leadership – and there is an immediate need. In fact, Gallup estimates the annual cost of disengagement due to lost productivity at over $450 billion.

   So, to the employer who may still be questioning the significance of an employee’s emotional commitment to the organization – I pose a question of my own. If you’re content to maintain an indifferent corporate culture, why offer benefits or value added programs of any kind? You’re clearly cultivating an environment that demands and expects the bare minimum, so why bother extending additional incentives to employees? After all, everyone gets a paycheck and that should be enough motivation to keep the company going, right?

  Wrong. Maybe once upon a time a paycheck got things done, but corporate America has since evolved. Companies offer benefits like healthcare and a 401(k) in addition to a regular salary because they’re willing to go the extra mile to support the wellbeing of their employees. When these programs are executed properly, employees are healthy, happy and emotionally committed to the company they work for. These individuals recognize and appreciate their employers for the investment they’ve made and consequently, they adopt the organization’s goals as their own and exhibit discretionary effort as they work toward accomplishing those goals. These are the people who change the game; who innovate, who create, who exceed expectations and deliver results.

   Undoubtedly employers need to be cultivating employees’ emotional commitment to the organization, but what does this mean exactly? Companies are moving in the direction of healthcare consumerism, shifting costs and responsibilities over to employees in an effort to maintain medical costs while still offering a competitive benefits package. Employers may pause in adopting new engagement strategies because they don’t have room in the budget or they don’t want to put a strain on their already limited resources. Engagement activities and initiatives tend to fall to the HR department, but this is where organizations need to be branching out and reconsidering their strategy. Engagement isn’t simply about employee survey results anymore and companies should be exploring outside solutions that offer a fresh take and a creative approach to improving engagement.

   A disengaged workforce does not necessarily mean that employees aren’t getting enough from their employers. Chances are, employees aren’t even fully aware of the benefits that are already being offered to them. The first step of a truly effective engagement strategy involves communication. Leadership must strive to understand the personal needs and concerns of each and every employee. This will allow for corporate goals to be aligned with employee objectives in a personal and meaningful way. Another strategy in engagement can involve educating employees on the value of total compensation, giving them a chance to understand the impact of their benefit choices so that they make more informed decisions. Communicating openly with employees, especially in a one-on-one setting, will present opportunities for employers to learn more about their staff. In turn, employees feel recognized and appreciated for the work they do, reaffirming their personal commitment to the organization’s goals.

Just as it’s not enough for an employer to simply provide a paycheck in today’s environment, it shouldn’t be enough for employees to simply show up for that paycheck. 

  When employees are engaged, they use discretionary effort to get things done. They go above and beyond, working toward the greater goals of the company and not just toward the end of the work week. Companies with highly engaged employees reap the benefits that are only produced from such high levels of commitment and dedication. If you’re still skeptical that employee engagement should be a principal area of focus in 2016, let’s take a look at some very real statistics that have come from years of studying levels of engagement within different organizations.

Offices with engaged employees are up to 43% more productive.3 

If improving workforce productivity isn’t a concern at your company, you must be the only employee and you should probably consider going into business as an expert in work efficiency because the world could certainly use your level of genius right now.

Companies who score highest in engagement achieve 2.5x revenue growth compared to those who rate lowest.4

So if you’re looking for some additional revenue growth in the new year (and who isn’t??), why not make improving employee engagement a top priority? It’d be a lot more attainable to write that goal down at the top of your list than to write “increase revenue.” 

   If the case for employee engagement as a strategic priority isn’t strong enough for you yet, then consider these business outcomes, defined by Gallup, that result from improved engagement…

  • 65% lower turnover
  • 48% fewer safety incidents 
  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 22% higher profitability

So maybe at this point you’re convinced that employee engagement isn’t just important, but essential to achieving organizational goals and long-term objectives. Maybe you were already convinced, but it’s not within your budget to implement any programs aimed at engagement. Maybe your company is already actively trying to increase employee engagement, but you’re just not sure that your efforts are working. The truth is that you don’t need a huge budget to improve employee engagement because you really can’t purchase it. What you can do is make sure that your organization’s entire leadership team supports the concept of employee engagement as a strategic initiative in 2016 and beyond that, you’re all willing to take the leap in considering innovative strategies and solutions that can help engage your staff without it having to cost you anything.

Improving engagement isn’t just about surveys and incentives, so if you think your organization is currently doing enough, think again. It’s a long-term commitment that requires you to abandon the “wait and see” attitude that’s crushing your bottom line and causing your company to fall behind its competition. It’s time to be open and relentless in your pursuit of trying to understand each and every individual employee working for your company.

2016 promises many more changes, advancements and opportunities that can all be supported and achieved by improved employee engagement. Companies who take the time to understand employee needs and objectives will be better suited to communicate organizational goals in a way that motivates employees on a personal level, ultimately increasing their level of commitment to the organization. In other words, they won’t just be working for a paycheck because that won’t be the only thing they care about. Engaged employees have a personal stake in driving the success of the company and they’re willing to go the extra mile to pursue it.

In the coming months, we will continue to shed light on the subject of employee engagement as we explore different strategies and techniques to consider. In our next post, we will discuss the importance of effective and open communication – especially between the different levels of an organization. We will introduce a rather unique, but essential form of communication that companies should be adopting as they prepare for a multi-generational workforce and the new wave of healthcare consumerism. Stay tuned and remember…a mission statement is a combination of meaningless words until it is given meaning and brought to life by the people who believe in it. So, what will your organization do in 2016 to engage those individuals who bring meaning to your mission?

 

 

 

  1. Renee West, former President & COO of Luxor & Excalibur Hotel
  2. Gallup’s Current State of the American Workforce
  3. Hay Group Research
  4. Hay Group Study of Professional Svcs firms

 

 

 

 

 

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