“Success in business requires an understanding of all sorts of intangibles, especially the most enjoyable parts of work, like cooperating as a team and keeping morale high. The goal of making businesses more profitable by helping employees to achieve their full potential is a great one, and could be very rewarding.”
Sir Richard Branson
Mention the phrase “Employee Engagement” to most senior managers and business owners and you will be greeted with blank stare and a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders . . . fact.
Fact, also, is that companies in more developed markets such as the UK and USA are investing great resources in the development and improvement of their employee engagement practices.
They are doing so because, time and again, the proof has been in the pudding – with companies reporting high levels of employee engagement also reporting sharp increases in profits and productivity, and sharp declines in staff attrition rate (thereby reducing costs associated with brining new employees on board and up to speed with desired performance levels).
What is Employee Engagement?
In short: An engaged employee is one that positively and proactively influences business operations. They are innovative, they are problem solvers and, as research from around the world shows, they contribute massively to the productivity and profitability of their companies.
An engaged employee is not one that is happy to sit at work all day and who is socially well integrated into the organisation – it is a person who understands their role, with the desire, drive and tools at their disposal to get the job done to the best of their ability.
No Fluff . . . Real Numbers
Ignoring the concept and writing it off as “fluffy stuff” is to the detriment of companies and the economies in which they operate, with research by Gallup estimating that unengaged (unproductive) employees cost the UK economy $64.8 billion a year.
That’s over 770 billion rand, every 365 days.
For a glimpse of the cost on a local scale, take into consideration that last year’s Numsa strike cost in excess of R300m a day, with total cost to economy estimates in the R10b range . . . caused by one union, in just a few months.
This does not even touch on the economic costs of hundreds of thousands, or millions of South Africans, just going through the motions and being at work solely to collect a paycheck.
Considering that 85% of respondents (in 2014s State of Employee Engagement in RSA Survey Report …view CNBC video) revealed that their companies could do significantly more to engage more openly, actively and frequently with staff . . . this number could be staggering.
The 2014 report also revealed that 67% of South Africans were unsatisfied with the clarity and overall quality of leadership at their organisations – pointing to consistent communication failures between management and staff.
Examples of Strategies to Boost Employee Engagement?
It largely boils down to leadership (not management) and how your company’s leaders communicate with staff in general. Building an engaged workforce is a long-term and ongoing initiative that encompasses 5 key aspects:
- Senior leadership must articulate a clear vision to all employees.
- Employees should be encouraged to communicate openly and influence the company’s vision through their input.
- Direct managers should foster healthy relationships with their employees.
- Senior leadership should continuously demonstrate that employees have an impact on their work environment.
- Managers should show employees that they are valued as true contributors, giving them a sense of empowerment.
From Good to Great – What’s Stopping Us?
“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace”
Currently the biggest obstacle to enhancing engagement in local companies is management buy-in.
South African executives do not recognise employee engagement as a real factor that impacts their business. As long as those attitudes remain in place it will be nearly impossible to affect the positive change required.
This year’s survey on the State of Employee Engagement in RSA will be made available soon, with the report due toward the end of July.
It will be certainly be interesting to see if South African businesses, like their global counterparts, are heeding the call, showing initiative, being innovative and motivated to make employee engagement count . . . in all spheres of business.