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Bettering the bell curve with engagement
The work place and the paradigm of work has changed over the last few decades. Besides the faster pace and new technology, there is a growing consciousness amongst employers that the previously accepted business model for employee satisfaction, and even customer satisfaction for that matter, is no longer acceptable if companies have aspirations of staying relevant and in the game.
The LR Management Group’s MD, Natalie Maroun, explains that the models taught over the last 20 years was based on the accepted norm that the majority of people in an organisation ranged from unhappy to, at best, happy-ish. This model is based on a bell curve whereby, in any given company, there will always be a significant, though small group of people who are unhappy at work and, balancing this out, a similarly small group who are very happy at work. The vast majority of the workforce, however, are just going through the motions – happy enough, but certainly not ecstatic.
How can this be healthy, Maroun asks? “Within this traditional model, an organisation runs the risk of the majority of its employees (i.e. the unhappy and the happy-ish) defecting as soon as they find a better alternative. Only a very small quota of employees are therefore genuine advocates of the brand or the company. Surely a better distribution would be to have the larger part of your employees fully engaged and passionate about their work and the brand they are serving.”
This traditional bell curve of largely somewhat-engaged employees offers another worrying reality for companies – these non-advocates often share their unhappiness with others. A few years ago this was not such a problem; but these days a negative message on twitter, Facebook or YouTube can go viral in minutes and that is not good for the company. As damaging as this kind of negative messaging can be, it is almost impossible to contain. “The only real remedy is prevention, to create passionate and fully engaged employees,” says Maroun.
In her book The Essential Guide to Employee Engagement Sarah Cook shares Maroun’s view and suggests that in general, employee engagement can be broken down into four components which she calls the WIFI model:
well-being, information, fairness, involvement.
Well-being at work encompasses many things, she says; but essentially it means that employees care about their company and it cares about them. Cook lists the five factors that keep employees engaged and motivated:
- By feeling that their jobs matter
- Having a sense of responsibility and the autonomy to make decisions
- Feeling connected to their co-workers and being part of a larger cause or mission
- Believing that their company utilises their knowledge, skill and experience
- Gaining recognition from their superiors and colleagues for worthy achievements
Maroun adds that employee well-being also stretches to physical and psychological health. “Today’s workplace has become a lot more stressful and demanding and it has become more difficult for employees to separate themselves from the office. These realities should be factored in when consulting well-being strategies.
Information: Many disengaged employees complain that they don’t have a clear idea of their companies’ direction.
“Formalising strategies regarding your company’s goals and the behaviour or performance expected from employees is very important,” says Cook. “It may take years to achieve a company vision, but a vision leads your organisation to where it wants to be and it demands that employees maximize their potential. This mind-set requires employee engagement. Leaders need to clearly identify strategic goals and aspirations, focus on a handful of realistic and achievable initiatives, and strive to create a culture where there is clear line of sight thus connecting and aligning all employees in the organisation. The 30 year old case study on NASA, where the janitor stated that his job was to put a man on the moon, is the perfect case-in-point,” says Maroun.
“Fairness implies treating people properly throughout their entire employment experience – from recruitment and hiring to professional development to rewards and promotion. Good managers are careful not to throw new employees straight into the fire but rather allow for a gradual transition to become acclimated to their new corporate environment,” says Cook.
Maroun agrees and adds that performance management and feedback is often the most effective way to help employees assimilate. The reality though, is that performance management practices are for the most part not what they should be. Part of the problem is that managers find performance reviews annoying and time-consuming,” she says. “A re-orientation to performance management may serve organisations in a way that has not yet been fully comprehended.”
Involvement means keeping lines of communication open throughout an organisation.
According to Cook managers and employees should interact constantly. “Managers must give employees the autonomy and authority to make independent decisions. Empowered employees are more productive, creative and energetic. They feel more responsible.”
It is important for companies to cultivate meaningful relationships between senior managers and employees, Maroun stresses. “Managers who spend the majority of their time locked in their offices quickly lose touch with the basic needs and concerns of their staff. On the other hand, leaders who spend time in the trenches, send a positive message to their employees and generate engagement at the highest level.”