What Really Happened to Employee Engagement?

Oct 12, 2009 by Brian Morgan

Many of those who forged ahead with surveys during the current recession were pleasantly surprised with the results. They found that as management and employees worked closely together to meet the challenges of lean times, engagement improved. It’s true that those who did not manage cutbacks and redeployment of resources effectively found that their employees were less engaged, but better to know and take action than to assume “in hard times, our employees will be glad to stick with us”.

Also, those who communicated effectively about business challenges and the company’s priorities in addressing them found that their employees were better aligned with the mission and direction, while organizations that elected to pull back on communications rather than share news of difficult conditions found that alignment had declined. Those who have elected not to survey have had to fall back on management’s impressions of the work climate, gleaned from qualitative and perhaps unrepresentative sources.

Now, as conditions begin to improve, and as organizations gear up to lure away their competitors’ top performers, companies need to know what their employees are feeling. I believe that those who have kept close watch on the mood of the workforce–not just with impressions, but with a sound quantitative assessment, will be much better positioned in the recovering economy.

Organizations considering surveying in 2010 need to overcome several common objections to moving forward. Below, I want to share some of the most common objections that I hear, along with why I don’t believe that these objections have merit.

  • Employees are bound to respond unfavorably given what we’ve been through. As noted above, the reverse may actually be true. If employees have been enlisted as partners in facing adversity, engagement may have increased. If instead, the relationship between employees and the company has worsened, it is important to know how much, with what groups of employees, and what needs to be done to address the issue.
  • The job market is poor. Employees have nowhere to go, so listening to them is a luxury, not a necessity. While the early phases of the recovery may be jobless, high performers often have options that others do not. You cannot afford to have your top talent walk out the door. Also, an engaged work force will do a far better job of directing its energies to help the company improve business results.
  • We have limited human resource dollars to spend, and a survey is not the best way to spend them. Return on investment in a well-targeted strategic survey is positive in the near term. Opportunities to make quick improvements in productivity in such areas as coordination of effort, eliminating unnecessary work, and improving information flow will be identified if the right questions are asked. And longer term, decisions about how to set HR investment priorities can be identified through a thorough assessment of employee views and perspectives.
  • If we ask, we open the floodgates and raise expectations for action. No one expects management to address every issue identified in a survey. But if the right questions are asked, a few strategic imperatives that warrant action will rise to the surface. Employees will understand and welcome a response to their input that makes good business sense.

The alternative to an effective survey is setting HR initiatives and investment priorities based on soft information. It is not a viable alternative as companies strive to improve results with still-scarce resources.

Let us know what your experience has been. Did you survey throughout the recession? If so, did you see a drop in engagement like the common wisdom suggests, or did you buck the trend?

Bookmark and Share
by Brian Morgan | Categories: Engagement |

Share with others

No Comments So Far | Leave Your Comments!

Comments are closed.