Never has a high level of commitment and engagement been needed more than right now. With the dislocations, uncertainties and bad economic news of the day, and the lowering of expectations, keeping a high level of engagement and commitment requires a conscious effort on the part of organizations.
In a report by Modern Survey on the results of their most recent Employment Engagement Index of the Finance Industry, they found that in mid 2008 23% of the employees surveyed were disengaged and 13% fully engaged. By May 2009 those numbers had changed to 11% disengaged and 16% fully engaged. Their studies conclude that highly engaged employees outperform the disengaged by 20 to 28%. Their research also shows that few companies really work at engaging their employees.
While the changes from 2008 to 2009 are encouraging, they still show the great majority of employees are either disengaged or only partially engaged. That’s scary.
What are the costs of disengagement? Let’s say a person spends an hour a day at work disengaging – doing non work activities – surfing the net, calls to friends, looking for another job. Based on a 22 day work month, that’s 22 hours per month – almost 3 workdays – 13% of work time – with full pay and benefits, and no return. That should be unacceptable – but it’s amazing how many organizations put up with it.
One thing is certain – the organizations that work to keep commitment and engagement at a high level will survive and prosper. It’s a challenge – it’s hard work – but the cost of disengagement is so great, and the value of full engagement is so high, it’s worth striving for.
In working with a wide variety of organizations and observing what organizations do to engage their people, a number of behaviors and characteristics stand out. Behaviors and characteristics that are found regardless of the industry, the economy, profit or non profit, charitable or entrepreneurial. The following eleven are core to success in engaging and gaining commitment in the organizations we have worked with.
1 – They are seen as worthy enterprises – people are proud to be part of them – mission statements accurately express what they are about.
2 – They work hard to get the right people in the right jobs, and then work hard to help them succeed.
3 – They are demanding, challenging places to work, but rewarding for those who contribute and meet their goals.
4 – They know that to get commitment they must give commitment – and they show it through actions.
5 – They create, communicate, share and align goals throughout their organizations.
6 – They share information – the good, the bad and the ugly, and tell the truth as fast as they can.
7 – They work hard to see that equity in the way people are treated is maintained – in terms of pay, opportunity and development.
8 – They provide group and individual recognition for the value of all the work done – and make that recognition ongoing.
9 – They maintain a system of due process – a well known, effective and respected way of dealing with workplace issues.
10 – They realize that commitment and engagement are dynamic. Forces such as competition, new technology, changes in leaders and in pay and benefit systems – to name a few – impact the level of commitment and engagement. But they don’t let those forces impact the maintenance of the characteristics required to maintain high commitment and engagement.
11 – They weave these characteristics into their day to day work and behavior – they are part of how they do their business – they are not treated as exceptions – they don’t require the “behavior police” to keep them operating.
There is nothing soft or easy or blue sky about these behaviors and characteristics – they’re tough. But the payback is huge. Think of engaging just one disengaged hour a day – and what the resulting 10% increase in productive time can mean to a business.
So what to do if these eleven characteristics and behaviors appear to exist – at least on paper – but there are still high levels of disengagement – with symptoms ranging from low productivity to customer commitments not being met, to union organizing attempts? Most often the answer is that there is a disconnect between intent and practice. The organization wants these characteristics to be part of the way things are done, but, in fact, the translation of intent into practice results in something very different at the operating level. Every time that happens, opportunities for commitment and engagement are lost – often replaced by a cynicism that becomes harder and harder to deal with.
To guard against those lost opportunities, many organizations use periodic surveys of employees to get a measure of how closely intent has been turned into practice. The first time many of these surveys are done the reaction from the leadership at the results is one of surprise at how different the perceptions of their people can be from what the leaders had intended. But by identifying the disconnects and taking action, organizations can preserve the high level of engagement they have worked so hard to get.
Use the eleven behaviors and characteristics as a checklist – add to them to reflect cultural differences from one organization to another. Then use surveys as a reality check of where your organization stands. Be prepared to be surprised at the results – and be prepared to take action where issues are identified. These steps to committing to greater engagement will help your organization gain competitive advantage through greater employee engagement.