Category Archives: employee engagement

Survey: It Pays To Be Fair

Employers are keenly aware that employee engagement and satisfaction have fast become two of those seemingly elusive culture goals. Surveys from a variety of sources over the past few years peg engagement levels in the low-to-mid thirties.

Gallup, for example, which follows employee engagement closely, reports that in 2016 employee engagement remained stagnant from the previous years, barely budging from 31.4 in 2014 and 32 percent in 2015. Of course, there are many factors that go into high levels of employee satisfaction.

Now, a study out this week reveals that the pay process at an organization, in terms of fairness and transparency, is 5.4 times more impactful on how satisfied employees are than how they are paid relative to their market value.

PayScale, Inc., a cloud-based compensation data and software provider, designed the survey to identify the drivers of employee engagement. It queried more than 500,000 employees for its employee engagement research on various aspects of their job that could potentially contribute to both employee satisfaction and potential attrition.

“This research aims to shed new light on employee satisfaction and intent to leave in an era where engagement is at an all-time low,” Lydia Frank, vice president of Content Strategy at PayScale, said in a news release. “Our study shows that just by having an open dialogue about the pay process and employees’ contributions at the company, employers can ultimately drive better outcomes for their businesses.”

Another interesting finding is that when employees feel appreciated by their employer – and believe their company has a bright future – they are far more likely to be satisfied at work and remain at the company.

Other findings include: employees don’t know whether they’re paid fairly. Of the respondents who felt they were paid below market rate, nearly 90 percent were actually paid at or above market rate. That means only 11 percent of people who felt they were underpaid were correct; also, paying fairly really matters. The research shows 75 percent of respondents who think they are paid at or above the market rate said they were satisfied with their job, compared to only 59 percent of workers who felt they are paid below the market rate.

“This is provocative research that comes at a time when more and more companies are looking for ways to increase satisfaction with employees so they can get the biggest return from their talent investments,” said Pete DeBellis, research leader at the analyst firm Bersin by Deloitte. “The results are surprising and show us just how crucial it is for employers to make the leap and start talking more openly about pay in order to build more trusting relationships with their employees.”

M&As: Keeping Talent Long-Term

Mergers and acquisitions are hard, but post-merger success can be harder: Up to 90 percent of mergers end up failing, according to the Harvard Business Review. While mergers are complicated and the factors that can contribute to failure are many, one of the biggest impediments to success is when talented employees from both organizations decide not to stick around post-merger.

Willis Towers Watson’s 2017 Global M&A Retention Study finds that, while acquiring companies have been increasingly successful in retaining at least 80 percent of their employees who’ve signed retention agreements through the end of the retention period, only about half retain at least 80 percent of such employees a year after the retention period ends.

“It’s a tale of two results,” says Mary Cianni, WTW’s global M&A practice lead. “Acquirers have made good strides at keeping key talent for an initial period, but there’s room for improvement one year later.”

Companies are failing to use the retention period to capture these employees’ “hearts and minds” for the long term, she says. Retention bonuses — the primary financial award used by companies — are important, but are only part of the equation, says Cianni.

“Personal outreach by leaders, strategic promotions and employees’ participation on task forces are also beneficial and will pay dividends in the years ahead,” she says. Total rewards (learning and development and career opportunities for hi-pos, in particular) can also be key.

The report (based on data from 244 respondents in 24 countries) finds that companies which prioritize early communication with senior leaders — 24 percent of the acquiring companies asked senior leaders at their target companies to sign retention agreements prior to the initial merger agreement signing — tend to have better luck at retaining those leaders than those that do not.

Of course, culture is also important: Nearly half (44 percent) of the employees who left prior to the end of their retention period blame the new or changing culture of the combined organization as the reason for leaving. Other top reasons for leaving include being aggressively pursued by competitors (36 percent) and not liking their new role (25 percent).

“The most successful acquirers realize retention agreements can buy time, but not loyalty,” says Scott Oberstaedt, WTW’s director of executive compensation. “And by not using their arsenal of tools to build loyalty during what can be tumultuous periods, companies often lose talent that would serve them well in the long run.”

Women’s Workplace Engagement Gap

Despite the fact that workplace gender equality is getting the media attention it deserves, women continue to be less than enthused about their current work situations when compared to their male co-workers.

According to a recent survey from Mercer Sirota, female employees are significantly less satisfied and engaged with their organizations compared to their male counterparts. Measuring employee happiness based on three factors — achievement, camaraderie and equity – Mercer Sirota found that 43 percent of women are satisfied with their organization in matching pay based on performance, while slightly more than half of men (51 percent) are satisfied with their pay based on performance.

(Mercer Sirota is the result of Mercer’s December 2016 acquisition of Sirota Consulting LLC, a global provider of organizational assessments, surveys, technology and analytics.)

The Mercer Sirota research surfaced three major areas with significant gaps for women in the workplace: fair and transparent pay, defined career paths, and inclusive work environments. The survey also found that keeping employees engaged not only leads to long-term employment, but also growth within an organization.  Women have a focus on longer term career and collaboration not seen in men, according to Megan Connolly, senior associate with Mercer Sirota, which is something employers need to realize.

“Although the drivers of engagement and satisfaction may vary from company to company, our research clearly illustrates that fair and transparent pay, defined career paths, and inclusive working environments are the key to engaging women employees,” Connelly says.

Other findings found trust to be the key factor in terms of sharing ideas and innovations. For example, one in four female employees is apprehensive to report an ethical concern without fear of repercussions, which creates mistrust between employees and employer.

“Understanding the unique needs of women and taking proactive steps to create more fulfilling work experiences may be the key to solving the puzzle that continues to confound organizations, which is how to increase performance through gender parity,” says Pete Foley, principal at Mercer Sirota.

Salesforce’s Efforts to Engage

Most employers are looking for better ways to engage employees—and Salesforce is no exception.

Speaking a mega-session on Tuesday afternoon (“Building and Maintaining an Engaging Company Culture”) during the opening day of the HR Technology Conference and Exposition®, Salesforce’s Senior Vice President of Employee Success and Operations David Kingsley described employee engagement as the secret sauce for achieving the tech company’s principal goal of “improving the state of the world.” (You thought I was going to say something like generating greater profits or satisfied shareholders, right?)

Kingsley recounted the story of Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff, who learned about the concept of ohana—the idea that family, in the broadest sense of the word, are bound together—during a sabbatical he took in Hawaii. Benioff, he explained, has since made ohana part of Salesforce’s DNA.

As you might expect, Salesforce—which now employs about 28,000 employees globally—has made a concerted effort to leverage technology to better engage its employees.

While the world outside has become more app-centric, Kingsley said, employers are continuing to use the same playbook in the workplace. “Employees are asking, ‘Why can’t work be more like my personal life,’ ” he said.

Everything comes down to whether or not “we can create a better employee experience,” Kingsley said. He cited the way Salesforce previously onboarded new hires as a prime example of a process that was in disrepair.

“When you started working at Salesforce,” Kingsley said, “you received a printout with 17 IT tickets you had to submit on the first day that gave you access to all of the systems you would use. We’d say, ‘Here’s your laptop [and] here’s your Wi-Fi, now go online and stay there for an hour-and-a-half to fill out these tickets … .

“We were making the employees do the work on behalf of the organization,” he said.

In response, Kingsley and his team looked at the data to identify ways to streamline that experience and change it from being organization-centric to being employee-centric.

Later in his talk, Kingsley shared a related story of an employee who joined Salesforce three years ago. “He came in for orientation and his laptop wasn’t ready, his phone wasn’t provisioned and, worst of all, his boss didn’t know he was starting that day,” he recalls.

By the end of the day, he said, the employee sent an email from his personal account informing the recruiter who hired him he was resigning.

That email, Kingsley said, was sent around the globe with the subject line: “ ‘New World Record,’ ” referring to the fact that Salesforce had lost a new hire after just one day.

“That was our Apollo 13 moment,” he said.

Today, he said, Salesforce is using the cloud, social, mobile and the Internet of Things to create an experience in the workplace that mirrors the one employees are having outside of work.

Are You Lonely Today?

Loneliness is a growing epidemic in society at large and the workplace, writes Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in the Harvard Business Review. Murthy, who served as Surgeon General in the Obama administration, cites recent research finding that 40 percent of Americans report feeling lonely (a number that in reality is probably higher, he writes) and that many employees and half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their jobs.

It’s bad for the workplace and bad for our health, Murthy asserts in the piece, titled “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” During his work as a physician and as Surgeon General, he witnessed firsthand the ravages that chronic loneliness can have on people’s mental and physical health. “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness,” Murthy writes. Loneliness is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety, while in in the workplace it reduces task performance, limits creativity and impairs reasoning and decision-making.

Humans evolved as social creatures, depending on the cooperation of others to help fight off predators, find food sources and create shelter. We’re hardwired for socialization, Murthy notes, but in today’s society opportunities for socializing seem to be ever scarcer. The rise of telework, short-term gigs and screen-focused work — in which we sit in front of computers for most of the day, often with headphones stuck in our ears — means it’s increasingly likely we know next to nothing about the people we work with or sit next to.

That’s not just a sad state of affairs; it’s harming productivity and innovation, Murthy asserts.  He cites research by Gallup that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work. People with strong work connections can handle stress better and enjoy better health,  he writes, while workers who feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher healthcare costs than low-stress employees.

What to do? Murthy cites an example of what he did during his time as Surgeon General, where he oversaw a fast-growing staff of people who didn’t know each other very well. To bring people together, Murthy instituted “Inside Scoop,” in which staff members would take five minutes during weekly meetings to tell their colleagues something about themselves. In one case, a former Marine officer spoke about his complex relationship with his father and how his children’s musical talents reminded him of his dad. “As he spoke, his eyes glistened,” Murthy writes. “I felt a deep connection to him in that moment and was inspired by his honesty and compelled to reflect on my own relationships. Even though we were close before, my relationship with him became even stronger that day.”

Small steps can make a difference in making a workplace feel more warm and hospitable, and less lonely, Murthy suggests. On a deeper level, he writes, an organization’s leaders can make strengthening social connections a priority by modeling this behavior through building stronger connections with other team members and examining whether a company’s culture and policies support the development of trusted relationships.

Murthy’s own strong bonds with his colleagues eased his path through the many difficult and stressful moments of his medical residency, he writes, and helped make him a better doctor. The stakes are high, he warns, for the workplace and society at large:

If we cannot rebuild stronger, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and society. Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges before us, we will retreat to our corners, angry, sick and alone.”

Are Employers Too Powerful?

It’s not often that a philosopher’s book makes even a small splash in the business world. This one may be an exception: Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It) by University of Michigan philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson. The book, published earlier this year by Princeton University Press, has attracted attention in Forbes, on the daily public-radio business show Marketplace and elsewhere.

It’s not hard to see the interest for business leaders. Anderson argues that despite our faith that the nation is rooted in freedom and egalitarian values, many Americans work in oppressive conditions, with bosses who exercise tyrannical control over their lives both at work and home.

Anderson sketched parts of her thesis in a 2015 lecture at Princeton, according to a university transcript [pdf here]:

“Most workers in the United States are governed by communist dictatorships in their work lives. Usually, those dictatorships have the legal authority to regulate workers’ off-hour lives as well—their political activities, speech, choice of sexual partner, use of recreational drugs, alcohol,smoking, and exercise. Because most employers exercise this off-hours authority irregularly, arbitrarily, and without warning, most workers are
unaware of how sweeping it is. Most believe, for example, that their boss cannot fire them for their off-hours Facebook postings, or for supporting a political candidate their boss opposes. Yet only about half of U.S. workers enjoy even partial protection of their off-duty speech from employer meddling.”

“Far fewer enjoy legal protection of their speech on the job,
except in narrowly defined circumstances. Even where they are entitled to legal protection, as in speech promoting union activity, their legal rights are often a virtual dead letter due to lax enforcement: employers determined to keep out unions immediately fire any workers who dare mention them, and the costs of litigation make it impossible for workers to hold them accountable for this.”

Employment lawyers might challenge some of Anderson’s claims, and most HR executives likely would say they don’t recognize the business world she describes.

But Anderson’s book comes at a volatile time in America, and it’s difficult to predict which public-policy issue will next catch fire. If the nation’s recent populist anger swings in a new direction, it’s not hard to imagine Anderson’s work providing intellectual fuel for a left-wing presidential candidate such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in 2020. Private Government provides a sneak peak at possible stump-speech talking points.

In longer-range terms, this book also could influence the common perception about business as did Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger & Me, or Nickle & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book about her attempt to live on a minimum wage.

Asked in a Q&A with Princeton University Press editors how she would prefer workplaces to be organized, Anderson says this:

“I argue that workers need a voice in how the workplace is governed. Other measures, such as making it easier for workers to quit, and laws protecting workers’ privacy and off-duty activities from employer meddling, can certainly help. But these can’t substitute for workers having a say in how the workplace is governed. Labor unions once gave voice to more than a third of American workers. These days, outside the state sector, few workers are represented by a union. Yet unions are not the only way that workers can have a say in workplace governance. In Europe, so-called co-determination, in which workplaces are jointly managed by owners and workers, is common. I make the case for exploring different ways workers could have a say, to open up a topic that is hard to frame in today’s impoverished political discourse.”

 

Who’s Happiest at Work?

When it comes to happiness in the workplace,  the youngest workers may have something to teach the oldest.

According to research carried out by Happiness Works for Robert Half, only 8 percent of 18-to-34 year olds consider themselves to be unhappy at work, less than half the number from the 35 to 49 bracket and those over 55.

Sixteen percent of those in the 35-to-49 bracket considered themselves to be unhappy, while 17 percent in the over-55 category did.

Robert Half’s survey, which included input from 24,000 working professionals across eight countries, found that workers tend to get more jaded as their careers progress, which could have a negative impact on the companies they work for.

“Employees that are aged over 35 have valuable experience that the whole organisation can learn and benefit from,” Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half UK said in a statement.

“It’s important that their happiness is not neglected, so businesses need to take the time to invest in their staff at all levels.”

Factors contributing to declining happiness in the workplace include the pressure of taking on more senior roles within a company, a lack of creative freedom, and struggling to strike a healthy work-life balance, the study showed.

Happy workers, the research finds, are more likely to be productive and do good work, with the company citing research from the University of Warwick, which found that happy workers are as much as 12 percent more productive than those who are miserable.

“Happier people tend to care more about their work,” said Nic Marks, the head of Happiness Works. “So they put in greater effort. This also means they are quicker to notice when things are not going right and take action to prevent negative outcomes.”

The Rise of ‘Side Gigs’

Have you ever taken a stroll through your company’s parking lot and noticed an Uber decal here and there on some of the vehicles? It may be that the employee drives for the ride-share service during nights or weekends, and if so he or she is far from unusual: Nearly a third of all U.S. workers (32 percent) have a “side gig” — a job outside of their regular work hours — to supplement their income, according to a CareerBuilder study released today.

Side gigs are prevalent throughout the workforce, the study finds, although women are more likely than men to have them (35 percent vs. 28 percent) as are workers younger than 35 (41 percent to 27 percent). African-American workers (46 percent) and Hispanic workers (40 percent) are more likely than Caucasian (29 percent) and Asian-American (26 percent) workers to have a “side hustle.”

Selling Amway or performing some consulting work after (or even during) work hours has long been a way for Americans to supplement the take-home pay from their regular job, but the ease of downloading an app such as Uber, Instacart (which lets you sign up for jobs delivering groceries and the like on your own time) and TaskRabbit have made it easier than ever to find side gigs. Plus, record-high levels of student debt and stagnant wages are also contributing to the allure of side gigs.

“While we continue to be at what is considered full employment, the quality and pay of jobs isn’t always what workers want, causing them to seek out new ways to supplement their full-time income,” says Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s CHRO. “We’re no longer in a world where there’s just one employee-employer relationship. It’s easier than ever to download an app that allows you to drive around passengers, pick up babysitting gigs or sell your unwanted furniture, and employees are willing to take on these extra responsibilities for cash.”

Although they’re more common among relatively low-paid employees, the appeal of side gigs spans all pay levels: One in four workers making more than $75,000 annually hold side gigs as do 19 percent of those making in excess of $100,000. Thirty five percent of workers making less than $50,000 and 36 percent of those making below $35,000 are working side gigs.

Money is not the only attractant for side gigs — dissatisfaction with one’s regular job is also a factor. More than eight out of 10 of the 3,696 full-time workers (82 percent) who participated in CareerBuilder’s survey say they’re not in their dream job, and 33 percent of those workers have side gigs. With that said, most of those with side gigs (67 percent) say they’re not looking to turn their side hustle into a regular full-time job, while 42 percent say they’re more passionate about their day job than their side gig (32 percent).

For employers, the reality of employees with side gigs would seem to be a bit of a double-edged sword: Working a job on the side leaves less downtime for the employee and could lead to greater stress and exhaustion, not to mention distraction. Then again, the nimbleness and initiative required for successfully managing a side gig could ultimately lead to a more-valuable employee, not to mention the chance to pick up more skills that can be applied to one’s regular job. Regardless of the ultimate impact, this is clearly a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Reconsidering Your Office Layout

Gallup survey results  reinforce a key point of my recent story about the distracting acoustical problems of open offices: In the workplace, privacy matters.

Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace (full report is  here) finds that while an estimated 70 percent of U.S. offices use open floor plans to encourage collaboration, “people still want a personal space at work,” according to Annamarie Mann, who is Gallup’s employee engagement and well-being practice manager.

Her  sensible recommendations are summarized on Gallup’s site in an article titled “How to Make an Open Office Floor Plan Work.”

Mann’s suggestions include:

  • “Allow every employee to have a home base, even in a flexible, collaborative office.”
  • “Provide a variety of types of spaces—big group tables, booths, comfy chairs, soundproof areas, large and small meeting rooms— that allow employees the freedom to choose how they work best.”
  •  “Start a conversation about how your organization understands collaboration in relation to productivity.”

Analyzing the responses to Gallup’s surveys, Mann finds a link between office environment and employee engagement. The research found “employees who have a personal work space are 1.4 times more likely to be engaged at work” than other workers, Mann notes. (Gallup found only 52 percent of responding workers have a work space with a door they can close.)

And “employees who have the ability to move to different areas at work are 1.3 times more likely to be engaged than other employees,” she writes. (Gallup found 74 percent of respondents said they have that freedom.)

The Trouble With Leadership

Unless you’ve been hiding under a fairly large rock lately, you’ve no doubt heard that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was asked to resign from the company he co-founded, which went from a mere prototype in 2009 to a monster with a market valuation of $70 billion earlier this year. Of course, along with that (paper) wealth generation a whole lot of other things went on, including a series of ethically questionable decisions and allegedly rampant harassment and disrespect of workers by managers, including Kalanick and his direct reports.

Mr. Kalanick has plenty of company: Senior leaders in general are failing the grade, at least according to the employees who work for them. Less than half of U.S. employees (45 percent) have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organization’s top leaders, according to Willis Towers Watson’s latest Global Workforce Study. That’s down from 55 percent who expressed trust and confidence in their organization’s C-suite denizens for a similar study in 2014. Only 47 percent believe leaders have a sincere interest in employees’ well being, while just one in four (41 percent) think their organization is doing a good job of developing future leaders.

These low scores don’t bode well for an organization’s long-term success.

“The fact that a significant percentage of workers don’t believe their leaders are as effective as they can be is worrisome, given that strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement,” says Laura Sejen, WTW’s managing director for Human Capital and Benefits. The Global Workforce Study includes survey responses from 3,015 U.S. employees from 441 American companies, out of a total of 31,000 employees and 2,004 companies from around the globe.

Employees tend to view their immediate managers much more favorably, the survey finds: 81 percent of U.S. workers say their managers treat them with respect, 75 percent say managers assign them tasks that are well-suited to their skills and abilities and 60 percent say their managers communicate goals and assignments clearly.

Unfortunately, there’s much room for improvement as well: Just a bit more than half (56 percent) say their managers make fair decisions about how performance is linked to pay and only half (50 percent) say managers have enough time to handle the “people aspects” of their job. Only 40 percent say their managers coach them to improve their performance.

What’s the solution? No clear-cut one, obviously, but it might be wise for HR leaders to help their organizations get serious about building a stronger pipeline of future leaders and helping current managers become better coaches.

“Given the increasingly important role that managers and supervisors are playing in defining the work to be done, motivating workers and ensuring a sufficient talent pipeline, many organizations are taking a keen interest in how manager behavior affects engagement and how managers can build more engaged teams,” says Patrick Kulesa, WTW’s director of employee research.