Employees Willing to Go Above and Beyond—for Now

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Mar 17, 2009
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According to the online survey company Modern Survey, the percentage of U.S. workers who report a willingness to "go above and beyond" their normal job duties to help their company succeed is on the rise. But experts say such dedication might disappear when times change, particularly if organizations take their employees for granted.

Modern Survey’s latest Employee Engagement Index figures, released March 11, 2009, showed some improvement over the previous six months in all five of the employee satisfaction measures tracked: pride in their company, a willingness to recommend it to others as a great place to work, belief in a promising future, their intention to stay, and their willingness to go above and beyond for the benefit of the company.

The most dramatic improvement Modern Survey found, however, was a 6 percentage point increase in workers willing to put in extra effort for the good of their company, a finding that they noted was “statistically significant.”

According to Modern Survey's president, Don MacPherson, there has been a major shift in how people view their employment. “Right now many people feel very fortunate to have their jobs. The surge in cuts and general employment uncertainty is real enough to change perceptions and behaviors.”

“Most of us know good, hard working people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” said Bruce Campbell, a senior consultant at Modern Survey, in a statement. “Perhaps more than ever, employees are feeling a real sense of gratitude that they still have jobs and have come to understand that the best thing they can do to improve their chances of keeping their jobs is to do whatever they can to contribute to the near-term success and long-term viability of the organizations they work for."

Employee Confidence Wavers

A majority (63 percent) of U.S. adult workers feel confident in the future of their current employer, according to the latest Spherion Employee Confidence Index results, released March 6, 2009, but that has declined 4 percentage points since January 2009. At the same time, 70 percent believe that the economy is getting weaker, up from 67 percent in January.

Still, most U.S. workers (71 percent) say it is unlikely they will lose their jobs in the next year. But if they do, they are not optimistic about their chances of finding employment.

According to Spherion, the percentage of U.S. adult workers confident in their ability to find a new job decreased 4 percentage points from January to February 2009, to 38 percent. And the vast majority (79 percent) believe there are fewer jobs available, an increase of 3 percentage points from the previous month.

That’s why employees may choose to stay put—for now.

However, experts say employers should not be overly confident of their ability to retain workers. Despite the gloomy economic prospects, Spherion reports that nearly a third of workers are likely to look for a new job in the next year.

"The last thing you want to do as a manager or senior leader is to take your employees for granted now,” MacPherson said in a statement. “Companies will have fewer people taking on greater responsibilities. Those organizations that neglect their employees by failing to provide recognition or developmental opportunities risk losing people as the economy improves and other opportunities present themselves.”

Measure Employee Satisfaction

Overburdened and unmotivated employees can further exacerbate business challenges, experts say.

"When employees witness corporate downsizing and start to fear for their own jobs, they often lose their motivation, which in turn affects their job performance, thereby causing them to become less productive and less of an asset to the company," said Greg Harris, president of Quantum Workplace, a market research company that surveys employee engagement, loyalty and retention.

That’s why he suggests that employers “check the pulse of employee engagement” by asking employees to respond to a brief Economic Sensitivity Survey, developed by Quantum Workplace. It measures the degree to which employees say:

  • Management is providing good leadership and guidance during difficult economic conditions.
  • My job is stimulating mentally.
  • I understand how my work contributes to the company's performance.
  • There are opportunities for growth at my company.
  • My company affords me the opportunity to develop my skills.
  • I receive recognition and reward for my contributions.
  • There is open and honest communication between employees and managers.
  • I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization.
  • I know how I fit into the organization's future plans.
  • Considering the value I bring to the organization, I feel I am paid fairly.

"During tough economic times, managers are doing more with less. So you've got to understand each employee individually,” Harris said in a statement.

"Now, more than ever, employers should be helping employees know how they're part of the future of the company,” Harris said. “You need to quell any negative or fatalistic attitudes that might be present and educate the staff that this isn't something that's going to last forever, and that we need to be prepared for better times once the economy turns around."

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

“Employees who are not engaged tend to feel their contributions are being overlooked and their potential is not being tapped,” said Dr. Maynard Brusman, a consulting psychologist, leadership coach and president of Working Resources, a strategic talent management firm.

“The best way to get people to become a part of an organization is through relationships,” Brusman said in a statement. Employees who feel disconnected emotionally from their co-workers and supervisor are more likely to hang back and do the minimum amount of work because they don’t believe that anyone cares, he added.

“Leaders who spend too much time in management meetings behind closed doors risk alienating employees who want to know more and who can offer ideas and support,” said Gayle Lantz, president of WorkMatters, Inc., in a statement. She says the best way to improve employee involvement is by fostering meaningful dialogue—at all levels—about key business issues.

Seth Kahan, president of Performance Management Group, suggests that organizations make it easy for employees to see the positive impact of their contributions. His suggestions:

  • Choose initiatives that really matter to the organization. Everyone wants to make a difference where it counts.
  • Make it easy for them to see that their participation has real, positive impact.
  • Set them up for success. Solicit their input in ways that allow them to be candid and constructive.
  • Share resulting success. If there are significant cost savings or revenue increases, provide a perk at an appropriate fraction of the accrued worth.

“The manager who takes the time to have a dialogue about an employee’s strengths and how these can make a difference forges essential ties and connections that lead to employee commitment,” Brusman added.

"No management team wants to struggle during these challenging times only to lose those people who got the company through it because they were ignored,” MacPherson said.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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