Employee engagement and the productivity gap

Four actions to address Employee Engagement and the productivity gap

Sigmund Freud

Productivity is falling in the UK and slowing in the US. According to Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, this is down to a number of factors, with low quality managers singled out as a root cause. Haldane calls for a return to “policies which improve the quality of management within companies” to turn the situation around.

I’d argue that it will take more than policies to make a difference.

Research has shown that engaging employees results in a happier, more productive workforce. They deliver better service, become better business advocates and have a better impact on business results.

The 2017 Aon Hewitt Global Employee Engagement Survey found that employee engagement dipped in 2016 for the first time in four years, falling from 65% in 2015 to 63%. Increasing political and economic uncertainty is blamed for creating anxiety in the workplace. According to Deloitte, business leaders are aware of the importance of engaging the workforce and employee experience was cited as one of the top five most important trends in this year’s Global Human Capital Trends Study. However, worryingly, the ability of businesses to address engagement has fallen by 14% over the past 12 months.

Enhancing engagement is about more than simply improving reward and recognition, it means strengthening the emotional connection between employees and employers.

What are the priority actions employers need to consider to boost engagement and drive an uplift in productivity?

1.      Manage your managers

Middle managers are often cited as an obstacle to engaging employees. They have been described as the “marshmallow layer” in more than one of the businesses I’ve worked with.

First things first, understand them. Are they clear on their responsibility to engage employees? Do they understand the impact their action or inaction can have on overall company productivity? Do you know where their skills lie in terms of rallying a team and driving action through comms? And does the business give them the support they need and encourage positive behaviour?

Train managers to actively support leaders and engage employees, don’t assume this will happen by chance. Empower them, give them content to get excited about, encourage them to start discussions internally and get employees on board. The more comms teams can provide the tools, content and platforms required to support open communications between employees at all levels, the more they should be able to step back and allow the conversation to flow.

2.      Prioritise employee experience

Think about what your employees bought into when they joined the company – is their experience living up to the promises of your Employee Value Proposition? Being conscious of perception gaps between what attracted new recruits and what they actually experience on the job is important for getting engagement right. Understand how employees feel about the work they do through ongoing feedback. Are they clear on the company purpose? How aligned do they feel with the business strategy?

“A productive, positive employee experience has emerged as the new contract between employer and employee.”
[Deloitte 2017]

Take a good look at your employer brand. Ensure it’s authentic and is exemplified through working practices and day-to-day employee experiences. What really differentiates the experience of working inside your business to that of competitors? How well is that articulated inside the business and out?

3.      Respect personal goals

As the term “work-life balance” is increasingly replaced by “work-life integration”, employers must be mindful of the impact an “always on” culture has on employees. Having access to tools and platforms that support remote working can indeed be a positive, however the fall out of being constantly connected can be detrimental to corporate culture.

Enabling employees to fulfil personal goals alongside professional goals can enhance motivation and strengthen the connection between individuals and the company. Prioritising flexibility, as well as celebrating and encouraging the achievement of personal ambitions, helps build trust and strengthens engagement.

4.      Be clear on the context

We’re living in uncertain times. As the data shows, employees looking for guarantees of stability may be feeling unsettled. Be conscious of this and address uncertainty through communications. Having all the answers is not necessary nor realistic, but recognising the challenges facing people in different roles and of different generations across the workforce is an important starting point. Understand employees’ areas of concern and tailor communications to address them.

Bridging the productivity gap

Strong leadership, effective line managers and a transparent, supportive culture will help build engagement. Supporting employees through open, non-hierarchical communications, taking regular pulse checks within the organisation while being mindful of the world outside, and truly putting employees at the heart of your business and comms strategy can have a transformational effect on productivity.

What’s your strategy to enhance productivity? Contact me to book an Employee Engagement Healthcheck for your business. The two-hour Discovery Session will explore the challenges you currently face in engaging employees, including a follow-up summary with recommendations.

Written by Claire Rudall, Managing Director, Corporate & Brand.

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