An Engaged Workforce

Is it an unrealistic ideal in the current business climate?

Yet another survey on employee engagement (available with registration) was published in December last year, by YouGov commissioned by Engage Group). Polling 23,600 directors, managers, and employees, they found that employee engagement is seen as one of the top three factors that drive an organisation's success (it ranks higher than strategy) and 75% of board members believe that it improves bottom-line performance. In these times, when the news is full of redundancies (layoffs), re-organisations, and failing businesses, I’m not sure if employee engagement is high on the business agenda.

I believe it should be; the constant changes in these potentially traumatic business conditions are forcing businesses to constantly review and change how they organise themselves to be more innovative, productive, and customer-focused—in both the products they make and the services they offer. Becoming innovative and productive relies on having the right people engaged with what the organisation is aiming to deliver; with the capability and freedom to anticipate and respond to changing market requirements. These times are uncertain; engaged employees are more likely to not only cope with the changes, but also to contribute to how the business can survive (and maybe thrive).

It seems to me that, although we must pay attention to those people who are losing their jobs, we must also pay attention to the people who are staying in the business. Even before the current economic conditions hit, we found it difficult to "engage" employees; surveys reveal that only about one-fourth of the workforce is engaged and about the same amount are actively disengaged.

In my work I have seen pockets of excellence where employee engagement seems to be occurring, and many places where it is obviously not! I have been asking questions about what is happening where engagement is prevalent. A pattern appears to be taking shape in the responses I get; engagement is more likely to occur when managers purposefully include, and share power with, people within the organisation, co-creating a way of working together with their teams. There is a sense that the diverse range of people within the workplace community (not just the managers and leaders) are involved in, and feel accountable for, finding the solutions that are right for them, the business, and the future.

Is employee engagement seen as a priority in your organisation? And, if it is, how are you going about creating an environment that encourages engaged employees?

[Ruth Smith is a consultant working with Tom Peters Company in the UK (you guessed that from her spelling), and she's contributing to the blog for the first time. Welcome, Ruth!—CM]