Experts Suggest Practices to Boost Employee Engagement

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Sep 20, 2011
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Employers looking for signs of stabilization in the economy and their workplaces will be pleased to learn that at least one study finds that a majority of U.S.-based employees are highly engaged and happy in their jobs. Even so, actions are recommended to retain top performers.

According to the Randstad Employee Attachment Index released Sept. 13, 2011, 78 percent of the more than 4,400 employees interviewedonline in March and June 2011, said they feel inspired to do their best at work, while 76 percent are proud to work for their companies and 66 percent enjoy going to work every day.

Better yet, 60 percent of employee respondents said they would not consider accepting a job offer in the next six months.

Randstad segmented employee respondents based on the level of engagement they reported. Thirty-one percent were at low engagement levels, while 33 percent were moderately engaged and 37 percent were highly engaged.

Employers concerned about losing key talent will want to note that even those who are highly engaged think about exploring other options. According to Randstad, 29 percent of the high engaged respondents are likely to consider seriously a job offer within the next six months and one in five said they would accept a new job, if offered, in the next six months.

“If an organization is going to be able to compete and be profitable in this economy, companies need to look out for those indispensible employees first,” said Eileen Habelow, Randstad's senior vice president of organizational development. “These top-notch people are too valuable to lose,” she said, so knowing the warning signs that they might leave and what to do about them are critical.

Employer-Employee Disconnects

The Randstad Attachment Index compares the perspectives of employees and employers, looking closely at the gap between what employees say about their engagement levels and employer perceptions of those levels. Employers tend to overestimate how their employees feel about their jobs, the index reveals, particularly when it comes to feeling that the company shares their values (an 18-point difference between employers and employees), trusting the leaders of their organization (an 18-point difference) and enjoying going to work every day (a 15-point difference).

These disconnects help explain why51 percent of employers said they are struggling to keep their best employees from leaving.

“We’re entering the era of the disengaged as many employees seek alternatives elsewhere,” said Bob Kelleher, CEO of The Employee Engagement Group, in a statement. “Companies of all sizes will start hiring again soon, employees will again believe that it is okay to be someone’s low man on the totem pole, and the musical chair aspect of job movement will take root.”

CFOs Say Morale Is Up

Yet some business leaders remain optimistic. According to a survey released Aug. 24, 2011, 42 percent of the 1,406 U.S.-based CFOs surveyed by Accountemps, a temporary staffing firm for financial professionals, said employee morale had improved at least “somewhat” over the 12 months preceding the survey. Eight percent said the improvement had been significant, while 5 percent said morale had gotten worse.

The majority said their employees’ moods were unchanged.

“Companies have been taking steps to increase job satisfaction and boost employee motivation,” said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Motivating Employees For Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2001), in a statement. “Businesses that recognize and address the concerns of staff members during the extended recovery can instill greater loyalty over the long term.”

According to Accountemps, employers are likely to “bust” employee morale if they:

  • Act as if employees are lucky to have a job.
  • Fail to answer e-mails and voicemails from employees in a timely manner.
  • Ignore rumors about the business.
  • Create a “no” zone where new ideas languish because they lack support.
  • Fail to recognize staff accomplishments.

However, they can “boost” morale by:

  • Making sure that employees have the support and tools needed to be successful.
  • Communicating promptly, even if that means providing a time frame for a later response.
  • Sharing information about how the company is performing, even if the news isn't positive. “Have an open-door policy to answer staff questions,” Accountemps suggested.
  • Encouraging staff to be creative. “If you can't immediately implement a proposed initiative, explain why and let the team know you value their input,” the company said.
  • Acknowledging employees for their contributions to the organization's success.

In his book, Louder Than Words - 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps … that Drive Results!(BLKB Publishing, 2010)Kelleher offers related tips, such as suggesting that employers:

  • Link engagement efforts to high performance. Employee engagement is not about employee satisfaction. “The last thing you should want is a team of satisfied but underperforming employees,” he said.
  • Start at the top. Leaders must demonstrate support for an engaged culture by personally living their company’s values,” according to Kelleher. Leaders have large shadows, he said, and employees keep a close eye on what they do.
  • Engage and train front-line leaders. Studies show that when a line manager is disengaged, their direct reports are four times more likely to be disengaged.
  • Create feedback mechanisms. Ask employees what they think and check the organization’s “pulse” regularly, Kelleher suggested, using tools such as employee engagement surveys.
  • Reinforce and reward the right behaviors. Rewards should be tied to the results the organization is seeking.
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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