Category Archives: employee engagement

A Finger on the Employee Pulse

employee pollWe all know that employee surveys provide very usable and valuable data. But how much employee input do you need, and how often should you be asking for it?

If a recent Wall Street Journal article is any indication, some companies are searching for the sweet spot by taking a “more (and more often) is better” approach to employee surveys.

In the piece, the paper’s Rachel Emma Silverman examines the rise of “so-called ‘pulse surveys,’ ” highlighting a few employers relying on short monthly, weekly or daily polls to “provide data on how their teams actually feel and catch problems before they fester.” (Short and frequent surveys are even replacing annual employee surveys at some organizations, says Silverman, although she notes that others—Google Inc., for instance—use a combination of both.)

For example, Limeade Inc., a Seattle-based corporate wellness firm with 115 employees, sends it people quick, one-question surveys each week, seeking feedback on issues ranging from customer service improvements to holiday party ideas.

Workers answer anonymously, and the results are discussed at bi-weekly company meetings. Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht told the Journal these polls revealed that the firm’s remote workers were generally less happy than those working from headquarters, and the company has since invested in more teleconferencing tools to “reconnect [remote workers] with the mother ship,” according to the article.

As many as three times a week, Boston-based public relations and marketing firm Metis Communications asks employees what they are most proud of and whether they feel their managers listen to them. Rebecca Joyner, director of content services at the company, told the Journal that a pair of standing desks appeared at Metis HQ within two weeks of one such survey, which asked employees if they were happy with their office chairs.

It’s worth noting that these organizations—as well as most of the other firms included in the Journal article—are on the small side, in terms of number of employees, and pay about $50 a month or anywhere from $15 to $100 per employee for pulse-survey tools delivered by companies such as knowyourcompany.com, TinyPulse, BlackbookHR and Gallup.

We’ll see if more large companies go this route, but it seems at least some are already taking similar steps to get a handle on how employees are feeling.

Sears Holding Corp., the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based owner of Sears and Kmart, has launched Project MoodRing, an initiative designed to “record store employees’ moods at the end of their shifts,” according to WSJ.

Workers choose a color-coded emoticon on a screen, to describe how they’re feeling when they clock out, be it “unstoppable,” “so-so,” “exhausted” or “frustrated,” for instance. The article notes that Sears anticipates it will receive about 28 million daily mood responses a year, and has already found “a correlation between slightly higher sales and customer satisfaction at stores where employees are in positive moods rather than neutral or negative moods.”

While conducting surveys—even short ones—with such frequency can get repetitive and eventually begin grating on employees’ nerves, keeping the questions fresh may be one of the keys to successful employee polls.

Quirky Inc., for example, asks its approximately 150 employees about the challenges they’re facing at the moment, and who at the New York-based invention company has demonstrated great leadership in the past week, according to the Journal. Rochelle DiRe, chief people officer at Quirky Inc., told WSJ that the company has begun rotating questions more frequently, as a way to maintain employee participation and interest.

“Without some kind of variation,” says DiRe, “it can get a little bit like homework for some people.”

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Americans: Overworked Yet Positive

The latest Heartland Monitor Poll from Allstate and the National Journal is out and it contains some very good news for the nation’s employers. The poll of 1,000 employed Americans finds that the overwhelming majority think very highly of their employers, with 82 percent saying they believe their employer has a positive impact on their community and 87 percent saying they’d recommend their place of employment to others. Americans are also highly satisfied with their jobs: 93 percent said they’re satisfied and 54 percent said they’re very satisfied.

So here’s the less-positive news: Only 31 percent say they’re very satisfied with their pay. Just 43 percent are very satisfied with their job benefits, 45 percent with the amount of paid vacation and sick time offered and 38 percent with opportunities for advancement.

Finally, many Americans will be putting in time on the job that they’d rather be spending with their families this holiday season: Just under half (45 percent) say there’s “at least some chance” they will be working on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. More than half (55 percent) say it won’t be by their own choice. At least 25 percent of American workers will be required to work during at least one of these major holidays.

Working Americans’ personal time is increasingly impacting their personal time: 81 percent say they are required to be in contact outside of working hours, with 41 percent saying they’re required to be in contact frequently. More than half (56 percent) say they checked email or otherwise checked in with work during their last vacation.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans are looking for more flexibility and more personal time. If given the choice between jobs based on the balance between work and personal time, two in three (67 percent would choose “more flexibility and shorter hours … but less pay” while only one in four (26 percent) would choose “more pay … but less flexibility and longer hours.”

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TMBC Welcomes Averbook, Secures Funding

Jason AverbookJason Averbook has designs on reinventing workplace performance and employee engagement.

Earlier today, Averbook—recognized HR technology expert and former CEO of Knowledge Infusion—was announced as the new chief executive officer of The Marcus Buckingham Co. In the new role, Averbook plans to help the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based provider of leadership development training and tools “create an organization uniquely positioned to turn the world of talent and leadership inside out,” according to a statement announcing Averbook’s arrival at the company.

Averbook, who officially took over as CEO at TMBC on Oct. 31, won’t be alone in this task, of course. The same press release highlighted TMBC’s completion of a $5 million Series A fundraising round led by SurveyMonkey, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based online survey development company.

With Averbook at the helm and this funding secured, TMBC has lofty goals, according to founder Marcus Buckingham, a best-selling author, researcher, motivational speaker and business consultant.

The firm aims to “fix what is broken in the process of talent performance assessment and management,” says Buckingham. “TMBC’s vision is to deliver companywide and individual team leader visibility into employee strengths, engagement and performance; and its content aims to help the team leader build on the strengths of each employee.”

At the moment, “no such tools—designed explicitly for team leaders—exist,” according to Buckingham, who says the funds provided by SurveyMonkey will go toward “serving this pivotal but unserved market segment of true talent engagement, performance and real-time progress tracking.

On the eve of the announcement of his arrival at TMBC, Averbook echoed those sentiments in a chat with Human Resource Executive, during which he discussed the role of the company’s StandOut integrated performance and engagement platform in rethinking how workplace performance is measured and improved. The first round of funding from SurveyMonkey, he says, is tied to enhancements to StandOut, a strengths-based performance management system that includes a strengths profile for employees, pulse surveys designed to gauge employee-engagement levels and trends in real time, and talent reviews geared toward workforce planning using local talent data.

“The challenge has always been getting [the right] technology into the hands of team leaders,” says Averbook. “We want to [enable] real-time team building and measure engagement at a team level. We want to look at employee performance and engagement in a new way.”

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Ford Fouls Up

Editor’s note: Correction appended below.

Will they ever learn?

Amid all the talk recently about the need to re-engage employees and strengthen your employment brand against the backdrop of an improving economy and tightening labor market, Ford Motor Co. decided to downsize 90 workers from its Chicago assembly plant — via a robocall (and on Halloween, no less).

Many of the workers assumed the call — which they received at home –was merely a prank, and showed up at the plant for their Saturday shift only to learn that their badges no longer worked: They were barred from their plant. Because they really had been fired. And that robocall had not been a prank.

In a statement to AOL News, Ford said that it did not normally fire workers via robocall and that it expected the layoffs to be temporary: “As part of our business process, we have temporarily adjusted our workforce numbers at Chicago Assembly Plant by approximately 90 team members. Our goal, as always, is to return the workers back to their positions as soon as possible based on the needs of our business.”

And to think, those workers had probably assumed they’d be getting a welcome break from annoying robocalls, now that the mid-term elections are finally over.

Ford is hardly the first company to bungle a layoff announcement, of course. Just a few months ago, Microsoft executive Stephen Elop received plenty of well-deserved criticism when he announced a massive layoff near the end of a long, rambling email to Microsoft employees within his division. Layoffs are often a necessary evil, of course, frequently dictated by business cycles over which the company may have little control. But a company — HR, in particular — does have control over the manner in which the announcements are made, and the remaining employees won’t soon forget how their ex-colleagues were treated.

In summarizing his thoughts about the Microsoft email, Bill Rosenthal, CEO of New York-based Communispond, explained it to reporter Jill Cueni-Cohen this way: “It’s tough to make hard decisions, and I don’t think what Microsoft did was a bad decision; it was the message that was bad. It was the way he delivered it.”

Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Stephen Elop as the CEO of Microsoft Corp. Satya Nadella is the CEO; Elop is an executive vice president.

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Keep on (Food) Truckin’

Here in the Philadelphia area, we love our food trucks. Maybe it’s due to the large number of colleges and universities here (with their hordes of students and underpaid adjunct professors looking for a quick, cheap and tasty meal) — whatever the reason, Philly food trucks can offer you delights ranging from kebabs, Chinese food, falafel sandwiches and gyros to cupcakes, gourmet ice cream and water ices with flavors you’d never dreamed existed. food truckTheir popularity has spread well beyond the collegiate crowd: My town’s school district recently sponsored a food truck fair to help raise money for extra-curricular activities; the organizers were expecting about 1,000 people to show up — ultimately, more than double the number came, leading to hour-long lines at some of the more popular vendors.

So I’m not terribly surprised that the food-truck crowd is targeting a new demographic: office-park workers. A company called Roaming Hunger bills itself as a “hub” for organizing food truck events at companies. The company says it tracks 5,000 of the country’s “best and most popular food trucks” and that it has organized food-truck catering events for clients like Google, Nike, Geico and Ford Motor Co. Another vendor, Food Truck Caravan, also specializes in organizing these sort of events (their food-trucks vendors include ones with names like The Lobster Lady and Wok n Rolls). Then there’s Food Trucks 2 Go, which includes a “quote” from Orson Welles on its website: “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” (I’m not sure whether he really said that.)

Bottom line: If you’re looking to spice things up at your workplace, consider a food-truck event. I’m pretty sure you’ll have some happy employees.

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The Wellness Journey Continues …

Earlier this month, the Economist Intelligence Unit released a study (sponsored by Humana) of 255 executives. It found that roughly 70 percent of the respondents believe their organization’s wellness programs are effective, even though only 31 percent deploy some sort of “rigorous evaluation methods.”

Kevin Volpp, founding director of the Leonard Davis Institute Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, is quoted in the report saying he believes asking whether wellness [programs] have value based solely on return on investment is a mistake. Instead, the question should be, “Do we improve health at a reasonable price.”

185998025At this year’s Benefits Forum & Expo at the Boca Raton Resort in Florida, there seemed to be ample evidence that the business community’s commitment to wellness is very much alive and well, even if the data isn’t nearly as visible as some might like.

As might be expected, many of the employers featured on the program are, with the help of the vendor community, applying tools such as biometric screenings, health coaches and gamification in their attempts to improve the well-being of their workforces and, in turn (hopefully), reap meaningful productivity gains. (Such approaches will also be explored at HRE‘s Health and Benefits Leadership Conference next April.)

During a session titled “Domino’s Pizza: Evolving Wellness Strategy into Business Strategy,” Domino’s Director of Benefits Sandra Lollo shared some of the outcomes her company has achieved through the use of Quest Diagnostics’ Blueprint for Wellness tool, which has served as the cornerstone of its wellness efforts for quite some time. Lollo noted that Domino’s uses four key performance indicators to gauge its progress: participation, a health-quotient score (including a wellness scorecard combined with HRA), metabolic-syndrome risks (targeting BMI) and tobacco use.

Eight years into its effort, Lollo reports, Domino’s has seen discernible improvement on each of these fronts. In the case of the tobacco-use KPI, for instance, the percentage of tobacco users has been cut in half, dropping from 26 percent to 13 percent over that period.

The company’s benefits team is currently in the process of rebranding its effort (“dusting it off,” Lollo says) and pursuing a more holistic approach to wellness, including adding components that address issues such as financial wellness.

As might be expected, gamification found a decent amount of air time at the conference. In a session titled “Gamifying Wellness: How to Challenge Employees to Lead Healthier Lives,” Goldenwest Credit Union Assistant Vice President of HR Ashley Shreeve co-presented with hubbub Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Berchtold and shared some of the ways her 421-employee firm has used the hubbub platform to drive engagement and change behaviors.

Through simply named challenges such as “Walk the Dog” (a 14-day challenge that involves, yes, dog walking) and “Home Cooking” (a 14-day challenge aimed at eating healthier foods), Goldenwest is getting employees to take a small but valuable step in a better direction. (In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew?)

One of the goals, Berchtold said, is to get employees to understand that wellness doesn’t end at 5 p.m.; it’s something that needs to be 24/7.

Goldenwest is attempting to undo the fact that “we’re asking our employees to be unhealthy by having them sit behind a desk all day,” Shreeve said.

For the 421-employee credit union, encouraging participation has not been a problem. All of its employees are currently on the platform and have, last count, completed more than 18,440 challenges.

(Here’s another interesting stat I jotted down from the session: There are more than 43,000 weight-loss/fitness apps out there today.)

Of course, gamification may not be the answer for every organization.

Elkay Manufacturing Co. Corporate Manager of Compensation and Benefits Carol Partington offered me a preview of a session she was slated to present later in the day with Interactive Health Senior Wellness Strategies Sandi Eskew: “Elkay Manufacturing: Tune Up Your Wellness Program.”

Elkay is entering its third year of on-site screening through Interactive Health. Under the program, employees who participate in the screening and independently declare they’re not tobacco users pay 20 percent less for their healthcare than a person who doesn’t do either of those things. From a financial standpoint, Partington said, that translates to about a $1,000 per year.

As with most things, the success of these initiatives often hinges on how well they’re communicated.

“We need to get employees to understand what we’re doing and that there’s a partnership; they’re not in it all by themselves,” Partington said. To that end, Partington and her team have worked hard to get the messages out into the workplace and employee homes. “You’d have to have your head in the sand if you didn’t know what’s going on,” she said.

What’s proven to be the most effective way to get these messages out there at Elkay? Through the organization’s plant managers, says Partington, because “it’s not corporate giving the message” … it’s coming from someone the employees know and trust.

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Employees: Pay Matters Most

payWe routinely feature, in our print edition and on our website, stories about the vital role played by leadership training, wellness programs, communication strategies and even office design in creating and sustaining employee engagement. But it shouldn’t obscure the fact that, for most employees, the bottom line is the bottom line — when it comes to engagement, pay is the most important factor.

The new Workforce 2020 survey, which queried more than 5,400 employees and executives in 27 countries and was conducted by Oxford Economics with the support of SAP, is the latest report to confirm this. The survey finds that two-thirds of the respondents cite competitive compensation as the most important attribute of a job. And it’s cross-generational: millennials and non-millennials alike cite comp as the most-important benefit, while 41 percent of millennials and 38 percent of non-millennials say higher compensation would increase their loyalty and engagement with the company.

This isn’t to undermine the importance of things like manager training and corporate culture: Studies have repeatedly shown that while competitive pay and benefits can lure employees to companies, having a positive work environment and a good boss play crucial roles in keeping them there. But if they feel under-compensated for the value they provide, it’s only a matter of time before greener pastures — or at least, the appearance of greener pastures — lure them elsewhere.

Do companies get this? The trucking industry doesn’t appear to. According to HREOnline columnist and Wharton School Professor Peter Cappelli, real wages for truck drivers apparently have fallen by almost 10 percent during the last 10 years — and even a critical shortage of truck drivers so severe that some trucking companies are unable to accommodate their customers’ needs hasn’t led to an increase in wages. Companies cite customers’ unwillingness to pay higher fees as a reason for not raising wages, Cappelli writes — and yet, trucking firms are perfectly willing to pass along higher fuel costs to their customers, he adds.

Cappelli ends his column on this provocative note: The trucking industry will either have to raise wages to attract the drivers it needs, or “we start hearing that we need to import more foreign drivers because ‘no Americans want to drive trucks.’ “

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‘The Death of Customer Service’

Came across an interesting blog post with the same title as my header here,  written by Rick Conlow, leadership expert and CEO/co-founder of Minneapolis-based WCW Partners. He believes telephone operatorcustomer service has been ailing for some time now and employers need to put the function on “life support” and “invest heavily in bringing it back to health” before it fells you at your knees.

Customer service, he writes, “passed away quietly [and] the wake is at the next quarterly meeting, and the funeral will follow shortly.” Each year, he writes, “companies worldwide struggle for sales growth and profit, yet a conservative estimate of their loss from poor customer service comes in at a staggering $338.5 billion a year.”

He sums up the problem pretty convincingly:

“Excellent customer service is seriously lacking in most places we spend our money. Think about it — can you recall a recent experience where the customer service was really bad? Sure you can. Think of other places you have spent your hard earned paycheck: grocery store, bank, restaurant, a fast-food chain, a department store, a gas station, a hotel, an airline, an online merchant and the list could go on. How many of these had poor to average service? Probably most of them. How many really stood out and had outstanding service? Very likely, it was only a few.”

Here are the top four reasons why Conlow thinks customer service is essentially dead, as itemized in this release about his blog post:

1.    A Lack of Civility — People have accepted poor manners and have become used to rude behavior. “The general perception by most adults is that people are less civil than in days past,” Conlow says.
2.    Employees Treated as Commodities — “Many companies treat employees as commodities,” he contends, “not as valuable partners. Most employees don’t get the training and support they need to deliver superior customer service. Company leaders have little loyalty to their employees, and, in return, employees have little loyalty to them and their customers.”
3.    Public Accustomed to Poor Service — The public’s expectations have become lower as mediocre service has become rampant. Conlow points out that many big companies with poor customer-service ratings still thrive.
4.    An Increase in Technology — The increase in technology today means a decrease in personal interaction. “Service technology loses the human touch — the empathy and compassion that is vital to creating loyal customer relationships,” he says.

Conlow warns that “consumer discontent is a sleeping giant. It will only take so much, and its wrath can go viral today in minutes.” He also says customer service is becoming more important than ever, and companies need to put more effort into improving it.

Such as? Well … a leadership mind change, for one. As he describes:

“Maybe the real issue is that too many business leaders don’t value delivering better service and don’t buy into the bottom-line benefits. So most organizations do just enough to get by. The American Customer Satisfaction Institute at the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan rates some 240 companies across 34 industries on a monthly basis. The airline industry has a 67 average, which is awful. The average rating for all companies is 76.8, which is a C average. This means only two of 10 companies have a significant level of highly satisfied customers. Those few companies with excellent ratings have discovered that excellent service is really their leading product that drives everything else.”

Conlow cites a Customers 2020 report saying the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the future. Those organizations that adapt will survive and thrive, he says. Then he issues this warning:

“As more companies begin to ail painfully, customer service must be resurrected as it becomes more important than ever.”

So … better customer-service training, perhaps? More money in the customer-service-training pot? Conlow’s take: By all means.

Maybe this news analysis we posted in June gets to a better solution for today’s workforce (which now includes many younger workers, and they’re only going to increase). Invest in the things these workers believe in, including corporate-social-responsibility initiatives, and watch your customer-service ratings climb.

Share your CSR visions and values with them, make sure they reflect some of what these younger workers are passionate about, encourage them to connect with like-minded customers on the same issues … and, that story indicates, you really can right this customer-service ship.

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Increasing Pay, Increasing Challenges

Not sure how you’ll read this, whether you’re the full-glass or half-glass sort, but this latest survey from Mercer shows pay raises are growing steadily … albeit in .1-percent increments.

180274674 -- pay raiseAccording to the New York-based global consulting firm’s 2014/2015 U.S. Compensation Planning Survey, the average raise in base pay is expected to be 3 percent in 2015, up slightly from 2.9 percent in 2014, 2.8 percent in 2013 and 2.7 percent in 2012.

No leaps and bounds, certainly, but indicative — we’d all have to agree — of a steadily improving economy and job market, no?

Granted, .1-percent increments may not give your employees the wow factors they’re looking for as they mull whether to stick around or try out greener-looking pastures. And this can be especially worrisome when you consider what it will take to keep your highest-performing workers on board and happy.

Which leads me to another survey finding: that the range between increases to high-performing employees and those given to lower-performing employees continues to widen. Specifically, the survey shows, the former received average base-pay increases of 4.8 percent in 2014, compared to 2.6 percent for average performers and 0.1 percent for the lower performers.

“Differentiating salary increases based on performance has become the norm,” says Rebecca Adractas, principal in Mercer’s rewards consulting business. “Investing in those employees [who] are driving organizational performance has become a necessity.”

So has making sure the good ones have more than one reason — pay — to stay.

Mary Ann Sardone, partner in the firm’s talent practice and regional leader of its rewards segment, says employers are also “continuing to provide rewards beyond compensation, in the form of training and career development.”

“Employee engagement and retention continue to be a top priority,” she says.

So, on the glass-half-empty end, if you’re not doing everything you can to figure out who your top performers are, what they want and how you can provide it, you will inevitably be caught with your proverbial pants down.

On the glass-half-full side, at least things are looking up … ever-so slowly but surely.

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About to be Asked for a Raise? Feed the Source

A paper is being presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Philadelphia, which ends tomorrow, that I thought you might find interesting.

167422861 -- crazy hungryIt seems, according to researchers Emily Zitek of Cornell University and Alexander Jordan of Dartmouth College, the hungrier an employee is, the more entitled he or she feels and the more effective he or she can be in asking for a raise.

Their study, I Need Food and I Deserve a Raise, based on two experiments involving about 270 college students, finds that “hunger leads people to feel more entitled,” according to the report. “Hungry people think about themselves instead of others and focus on their own needs, which leads them to feel and act entitled,” it states. (Here’s the AOM press release about the study.)

The paper, according to the release, “defines psychological entitlement as ‘the feeling that one is more deserving of positive outcomes than other people are,’ and explains that ‘entitled individuals pay attention to themselves and the special treatment that they should receive over other things.”

While research “has tended to focus mainly on social and cognitive causes of increased entitlement, such as recalling an unfair event,” the report states, “the authors posit that it can also be driven ‘by amplified levels of a basic physiological drive — hunger — which may cause people to turn their focus inward and place their needs above those of others.’ ”

The authors’ advice? Feed them. It’ll help you in the raise discussion and can smooth some other workplace rough edges as well.

As the AOM report puts it:

… for the edification of bosses, the researchers observe that ‘entitlement can cause big problems in the workplace, so managers might want to provide food to employees or wait to schedule potentially contentious meetings until after lunch.’ They go on to note that, ‘although certainly due to a host of factors, organizations with readily available food, such as Google, are also known for having unentitled, grateful and satisfied [digestively and otherwise] employees.”

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