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NIGHTMARE #1: INDIFFERENT EMPLOYEES



I once asked a friend of mine—the CEO of one of the largest grocery sector employers in Denmark—what his biggest challenge was. His immediate response was, “indifferent employees.” In his business, he was faced with the challenge that the bulk of his customer facing employees were young, low-paid people who saw their current job as a temporary, transitional stepping-stone to a meaningful next job. These employees suffered from “chronic disengagement” as they encountered low well-being and low engagement in their job.


In the article “Fostering Employee Involvement and Engagement through Compensation and Benefits”, Gerald E. Ledford Jr. (Ledford Jr., 2011) claimed that engagement overlaps three heavily correlated and researched concepts:


· job involvement,

· job satisfaction and

· organizational commitment.


The latter (organization commitment) implies an employee’s attachment to an organization as a whole—hereunder feelings of loyalty, pride and shared values. The first two concepts—job involvement and job satisfaction—encompass intensity of feelings and connection towards a job. High performers often are highly involved in their jobs, and research indicates that high involvement leads to high employee engagement. Moreover, high employee engagement (and involvement) seems to lead to better performance—or organizational outcome. The key link between the two (employee engagement and organizational outcome/performance) is customer satisfaction driven by improved customer experience ignited by stronger employee engagement – e.g. employees taking a genuine interest in their customers (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: The link between Employee Engagement and Organizational Performance. Based on the article, “Employee Engagement and Talent Management.” In “The Talent Management Handbook by Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, 2011. 2nd edition.


High employee engagement (and involvement) seems to lead to better performance - and organizational outcome.

Engagement can be optimized when: 1) leadership, 2) structure, roles and capabilities, and 3) systems and processes are aligned with the overall strategy and embedded in strong values and a positive work culture. These elements also become the drivers of engagement.


All research points to the fact that organizations and their leaders have critical roles in driving employee engagement. When leaders seem to value their employees, communicate to them, provide the necessary support to them to do well and lead by example, they create a strong foundation for employee engagement. People believe it is important to be treated with respect and that they are empowered to make decisions and encouraged to bring new ideas to the table. Finally, research shows that employees who believe that their organization provides career opportunities are six times more likely also to feel engaged. The same goes for wellbeing in the workplace. In fact, the psychological and physical wellness of employees is a key driver of engagement. Research indicates that employees are likely to be more engaged, and thus, more productive if their workloads are appropriate, the work pressure is reasonable and some acceptable level of work-life balance is stroked. Furthermore, employees are eight times more likely to be engaged when health and wellbeing are actively promoted in a company.

Concretely, employees will deliver and feel increasingly engaged when their company prioritizes good physical health for their employees, supports their employees in managing stress and when they obtain work/life balance in their lives.


Employees who work in a physical, psychological and socially healthy environment, and at the same time experience high engagement, are significantly more inclined to become high performers. They will go the extra mile and often are highly productive—long-term.

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