Employee engagement: Building a stronger, more resilient workforce

These days, it seems like Google just about runs the universe. Many of us use Google ubiquitously, including Gmail for communication, Google Maps to figure out where we’re heading and seek answers to life’s quandaries through that familiar search page.

Yet, there’s another reason to talk about Google: the workplace.

It’s the firm’s company culture and army of talent that fuels the innovative, revolutionary developments we’ve come to love. Indeed, the organization has a skilled, creative workforce, and it understands how to bring out the best in its team.

Now, imagine for a moment if Google’s employees didn’t really care about the success of their organization, the outcome of their projects, the working relationships they had with their peers and so on. Instead of the traditional image we have of a Google workplace, we’d find a company where employees do the bare minimum and watch the hour hand so they can clock out and head home.

That’s a disengaged workforce, and it’s hardly one that can consistently transform the world with the next generation of technology.

Employee engagement: The bottom line

You don’t have to be a tech company with a highly collaborative, creative culture to benefit from engaged workers. Across industries, in all roles – from blue-collar workers on the front lines to C-suite executives in the corner office to the federal government – employee engagement is one of the most pivotal factors in performance, productivity, the bottom line and organizational success.

It underlies and connects all other aspects of human resources activities. Engaged workers are more likely to stay with their employers for longer, reducing pressure on recruiting teams. A vibrant, invested workforce is also more attractive to job candidates – especially to millennials in their quest to find jobs that are fulfilling and inspiring. Focusing on engagement opens avenues to train staff, hone skill sets and develop a powerful talent base from within.

Just how big of a deal is it? Let’s look at just a few statistics from research firm Gallup that illustrate how tightly employee engagement is linked with business success:

  • Companies with an average of 9.3 engaged workers for each disengaged employee experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share than their competition.
  • Countries that double the number of engaged workers will have competitive advantage to “win the lion’s share of the $140 trillion in new customers”.
  • Engagement is linked to 12 key performance indicators, including absenteeism, safety, turnover, productivity and profitability.

In addition, Bain & Company found that stores with 30 percent greater levels of engagement were top performers in terms of revenue within a US mobile phone enterprise. Industry analyst Josh Bersin notes that “if you’re a CEO or business leader, the only thing you really have is your employees’ commitment and engagement. This is not one of the things to worry about, this is the thing to worry about.”

Much room for improvement

So, given how much of a difference an engaged workforce can make, you’d think most organizations would have a pretty committed, passionate talent base, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Gallup’s 2013 State of the Global Workforce report showed that not even a quarter of Australia’s workforce is engaged. Although Australian and New Zealand companies fared relatively well compared to other nations – ranking second after the US and Canada – a full 60 percent of the workforce is not engaged, with 16 percent actively disengaged. Worldwide, Bersin’s research shows that 79% of organizations believe they have a significant retention and engagement problem (26% see it as urgent). And the US government’s annual Employee Viewpoint Survey shows similar poor engagement results.

In the case of Australia, these results could be one of the factors contributing to the country’s soaring labor costs – Gallup’s 2014 research revealed that Australia’s relative unit labor expenses have increased 54.1 percent from 2000. Other major economies have seen a decline in labor costs, with those in the US decreasing 25.9 percent and Japan a full 46.2 percent, for example. These trends damage Australia’s competitiveness. In the United States, even the White House has instituted initiatives to address federal employee engagement and morale problems.

Strategies for boosting engagement

How can organizations start chipping away at those disengaged figures? Employee engagement is one of those concepts that can’t be extracted from related activities. We must approach it from all angles to truly foster an inspired, committed, high-performance organization.

That starts at recruitment and is carried through to retirement and succession management. Notably, Gallup recently explained that employees with higher tenure, engagement and talent perform 18 percent higher than the average worker and 35 percent better than team members with none of those attributes.

It’s not hard to see the benefit of a comprehensive approach that integrates recruiting talent, engaging workers and retaining team members. As such, employee engagement should be present in our minds every step of the way, and each activity, in turn, should fuel this characteristic in the workplace.

For instance, recruiters can start opening stronger lines of communication with candidates, finding out what their strengths, aspirations and personal goals are. This information not only assists with placing the right people, it can also drive talent management and professional development activities. Since having strong career opportunities encourages employee engagement, this kind of program can only reinforce and strengthen the workforce.

As a whole, employee engagement is something to take very seriously. But it should be exciting and fun. After all, it’s all about fostering passion and commitment while building positive working relationships and developing talent. The right tools – such as talent management software – can make it easier to integrate all of these activities that both benefit on and contribute to engagement.

Given the impact an invested workforce has on the bottom line, imagine the possibilities if we were to flip our engagement figures around.

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