Thursday, July 2, 2009

Getting employees onboard and engaged

Getting employees onboard and engaged PDF Print E-mail
Tags: employee engagement | organisation | senior leader | Towers Perrin
Written by Emily Tan   
Monday, 15 June 2009 11:06
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Engaged employees can make or break an organisation, says Towers Perrin

All companies want engaged employees. The engaged employee works over and above the call of duty, actively thinks of ways to improve, and takes responsibility and ownership of his or her work.

In a downturn, a workforce of engaged employees can make all the difference to the survival, or even success, of an organisation, according to Julie Gebaur, managing director of Towers Perrin. She was speaking at a seminar on “Closing the Engagement Gap” in Kuala Lumpur last month.

She based her talk on Towers Perrin research included in her recently published book, Closing the Engagement Gap: How Great Companies Unlock Employee Potential for Superior Results, which she co-authored with fellow Towers Perrin managing director Don Lowman. 

Employee engagement, according to the human capital consulting firm, is the connection that staff have with their companies and their commitment to its success.

“It’s not just a feeling. To be engaged, it must also include the rational component — employees must understand the direction in which the company is heading. And the employee must take action. There’s little point in being emotionally and rationally attached, but doing nothing about it,” Gebaur explained.

Quoting a Towers Perrin-ISC year-long Global Workforce Study 2007-08 that surveyed 664,000 employees in 50 global companies, she pointed out that companies with high levels of employee engagement enjoyed an average increase of 13.7% in their net income.

In contrast, companies with low levels of employee engagement averaged a 3.8% drop in net income.
“And it’s a self-sustaining cycle. Higher levels of employee engagement lead to stronger businesses, which in turn lead to higher levels of engagement,” she noted.

The trick, she added, is engaging employees in the first place.

“The good news is, our studies have shown that about 80% of employees want to be engaged. They’re happier that way,” she said.

“The bad news is, in most companies, only 21% of their employees are fully engaged,” she added. “The majority, 41%, are ‘enrolled’, which is what we call getting close to engagement, but not quite having the motivation to go that extra mile.”
So what is it that companies are doing wrong?

The Global Workforce Study found that the biggest one factor that impacts employee engagement the most is the organisation and its senior leaders.

“If the senior leaders don’t care, it will take everyday heroics from immediate management to engage the people in their team,” said Gebaur.

Towers Perrin also found that companies are often clearer about measuring employee engagement than they are about increasing it. When companies do address it, they treat it as an initiative, rather than something fundamentally important to the business.

In order to engage employees better, companies must understand what drives them.

In Malaysia, the Global Workforce Study 2007-08 found that the top three drivers were excellent career advancement opportunities, an organisation’s reputation for social responsibility, and the senior management’s focus on long-term success.
However, the study said these drivers did not apply to the baby-boomer generation — those aged 40-50 years — as they tended to have other priorities.

“It’s important to start with a survey that measures what values matter to employees, and then shape your engagement programme around there,” said Gebaur.

Bursa Malaysia is a company that has recently begun to realise the importance of employee engagement.
Presenting a case study at the seminar, Bursa Malaysia chief group HR officer Siti Aishah Md Lassim said a crisis was the perfect time to push an employee-engagement agenda.

“No one is reporting good numbers, and everyone is more receptive to improvement suggestions,” she pointed out.
Describing the process as a “journey starting to show success”, Siti said the first step was to have the company surveyed by an external party.

“There is benchmarking, objectivity and less fear of honesty from participants,” she explained.

Bursa Malaysia’s survey, conducted in September by Towers Perrin, showed that the key drivers for employees were leadership, empowerment and a more customer-focused approach. The findings also showed that the employees were 17% less engaged than a prior internal survey had estimated.

Key HR initiatives shaped from the survey include improving the first-day experience for new hires, prioritising key projects, initiating a performance-improvement plan for underperformers, and improving top-team dynamics.

 “It’s a bit of a surprise to think of a regulator being customer-focused, but it’s a key driver. No longer can we think, ‘We don’t have to be popular, we just have to regulate’! Our new focus has made us more sensitive to the needs of our customers, and as a result, it helps us make better rules and push changes through more smoothly,” said Siti.

“I’m glad we started to care.”


This article appeared on the Management page, The Edge Financial Daily, June 15, 2009.

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