Category Archives: employee engagement

Google Not Sold on Employee Engagement

For an upcoming feature story in our July issue, I’m interviewing Google’s Prasad Setty, its director of people analytics and compensation. Setty and his boss, Google CHRO Laszlo Bock, both feel that the concept of employee engagement is of limited use, to say the least. “Engagement is one of those nebulous concepts that appeal to HR people but are very tough to get across to business people,” Setty told me.

Here’s what Bock had to say: “It’s impossible to define what ‘engagement’ means: Does it mean I like my work, my colleagues, my manager? Does it mean I live only for work? It’s such a general term.”

Setty and Bock both feel that focusing on employee engagement simply adds an unnecessary step to getting at what Google’s line managers and business leaders really care about: retention and innovation. That is, are the people that the company needs to keep planning on sticking around and are they being creative and innovative in their jobs?

At Google, Setty oversees Google’s employee survey, called “Googlegeist,” that’s designed to get the answers to those two questions. Focusing on engagement would simply be a waste of time, they say.

“You have to explain to managers why engagement matters–that there’s a link between engagement and productivity,” said Setty. “So why not just measure retention and productivity directly?”

I find Google’s stance noteworthy, especially considering the emphasis that the HR vendor community has placed on employee engagement within the last few years. You can’t throw a stick at an HR convention without hitting a consultant who wants to tell you all about his firm’s employee engagement tools, or how his product or service will ramp up your company’s employee engagement. Is it simply yet another HR trend that will come and go? If you consider Google a trendsetter, then the answer’s definitely yes.

Workers are Wearing Your Health on Their Sleeves

Probably pretty intuitive, but definitive nonetheless. A new study from Gallup-Healthways shows people working for employers that are in a hiring mode tend to have brighter outlooks on their own personal lives than those working for companies in the midst of layoffs.

No duh, right? Fair enough. But when you consider that as many as two-thirds (68 percent) of the 20,000 employed adults polled who were working at growing companies said they were thriving in their personal lives versus less than half (49 percent) working at downsizing organizations, it does cause pause to wonder: Is there something more HR can and should be doing during layoffs to help the survivors stave off depression? Translated: absence, loss of productivity, possible long-term disability?? (The ratings, by the way, were based on the Cantril Scale, which many organizations use to determine individual well-being.)

Granted, there’s not a whole lot HR leaders can do with this except maybe drum up even more satisfaction detectors and morale boosters than you already have in place to counter the layoff-survivor blues — or get some going if you have nothing at this point.

But consider this too: Even the simple fact that a reorganizing company is spending time, energy and money to ensure the survivors don’t go into emotional tailspins carries the subliminal message that things there can’t be that bad. Right?

Total Rewards with a Twist of Customization

Two studies released Monday at the WorldatWork’s Total Reward 2010 Conference in Dallas, Texas shed light on what employers might want to do differently as they begin to staff up again.

During a session on the conference’s opening day, researchers from Texas A&M University shared the findings of a recent study of accounting students that found the influence of particular rewards and benefits frequently depended on the outcomes being sought (i.e. attraction, motivation or retention). The study, “The Relative Influence of Total Rewards Elements on Attraction, Motivation and Retention,” found that career development was especially important to students pursuing a career in accounting. Meanwhile, work/life benefits and performance recognition were much more important to those who ended up employed at one of the Big Four account firms for several months. (Response rates of the different groups studied over the several year period ranged from 159 to 232.)

Similarly, a study entitled “Beyond Compensation: How Employees Prioritize Total Rewards at Various Life Stages” found that respondents valued different rewards at different stages of their lives, with development significantly more important for employees under 40 and benefits much more important to breadwinners, especially female breadwinners. (The study of 678 adults was conducted by Next Generation Consulting and Dieringer Research Group.)

Most HR leaders aren’t going to be terribly surprised by the studies’ conclusions. Indeed, both seem to be in line with the findings of earlier research projects. But if there continues to be any doubting Thomases out there who still think they can get away with a one-size-fits-all approach to total rewards—and one suspects there are—then perhaps these findings will give them reason to pause and reconsider.

Rebecca Ryan, CEO of Next Generation Consulting, suggested to attendees that employers might be well served by stealing a lesson from Starbucks’ playbook and the way it was able to build its business by customizing coffee and latte drinks—as in “I’ll have a triple decaf Grande Latte with skim”—when it comes to designing their total-reward programs.

Meanwhile, Mercer Senior Partner Steve Gross is scheduled to share the findings of a third survey on Tuesday that found companies continue to invest in their total-reward programs during the economic downturn and modify the elements of “total rewards.”

The study revealed that 50 percent of the 741 responding multinational companies responding consider “work-life initiatives” a staple of total rewards, while four in 10 reported they either enhanced or added wellness programs during the past 12 months.

All three studies were sponsored by WorldatWork. The Total Rewards 2010 Conference runs through this Wednesday and is expected to attract around 1,500 attendees.