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6 steps to keep employees engaged and productive

By Workplace Staff
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As the economic downturn continues, ensuring that employees are engagedis crucial to keep workplace morale and productivity high, according toWatson Wyatt, a leading global consulting firm. Findings from theconsulting firm’s WorkCanada Report suggest that employers can takespecific actions to increase engagement and productivity.

Watson Wyatt’s 2008/2009 WorkCanada Report found that when employees are highly engaged, their companies have lower turnover risk and are more likely to attract top talent.

According to the survey findings, highly engaged employees are almost 80 per cent more likely to be top performers. They also miss 20 per cent fewer days of work and about three-quarters of them exceed or far exceed expectations in their most recent performance review. Additionally, highly engaged workers tend to be more resilient to and supportive of organizational change initiatives. The report surveyed over 2,300 full-time Canadian workers in June of 2008, before the full advent of the financial crisis.

“Keeping workers engaged and productive is always a daunting challenge. However, it’s even more crucial in this type of economic environment when organizations are striving to do more with less and employees are paying closer attention,” says Debra Horsfield, Toronto practice leader for organization effectiveness at Watson Wyatt. “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee engagement. Segmenting the workforce and tailoring communication, performance management programs and other resources to specific employee groups can be the most effective way to engage workers.”

Six specific actions employers can take generally are:

•     Capitalize on “engageable moments.”  An engageable moment is a critical juncture for maintaining and building engagement. It may occur during such programs as new hires’ onboarding, performance management and benefits enrollment, or when the organization goes through particularly challenging economic times. “Highly-engaged employees are more resilient to organizational change, a key factor in today’s turbulent economy,” said Horsfield. “These employees are more likely to identify closely with the company, too. However, not all employees are immediately engaged when they are hired, it is how a company behaves at critical junctures that can elevate an employee’s performance or lower their productivity at work.”   

•     Demonstrate strong leadership and clear direction.  When times are difficult, employees want to know about their organization’s specific plans and progress. Decisive action backed by clearly-articulated rationale can build support for corporate initiatives, particularly when individual performance objectives and rewards are tied to corporate objectives.  

•     Manage organizational change with effective communication.  Effective communication from senior management directly connects employees to the purpose of the organization. This is particularly important in a challenging economy, when employees are anxious to learn the rationale behind decisions. Reviewing communication processes to ensure that information flows vertically as well as horizontally throughout the organization will be an important step to employee engagement.

•     Emphasize customer focus.  In difficult times, employees are aware that job security is strengthened by satisfied customers. Emphasizing customer satisfaction keeps employees from being too internally focused and provides a common direction to move the organization forward.  

•     Institute and communicate a system of equitable rewards.  While it may be necessary to cut back on rewards, organizations need to understand which reward programs are most important to engage their critical employee segments. Changes to rewards need to be communicated in a way that is consistent with delivering on the employment “deal”. When employees indicate that an organization effectively delivers on the employment deal, they are 23 times as likely to be highly engaged.

•     Invest in the core.  The key to driving productivity gains is increasing engagement among core contributors, who represent about 60 per cent of the typical workforce.  Highly engaged employees are already working at or near their peak but are often limited by their less engaged co-workers. Focusing on engaging core contributors can improve both groups’ productivity.

“Improving employee engagement will help drive business results in the long run by improving employee commitment to corporate goals and generating exceptional individual performance and productivity,” said Horsfield.

Watson Wyatt has 7,700 associates in 32 countries and is located on the web at www.watsonwyatt.com.

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