Category Archives: employee engagement

Reassessing Engagement Surveys

At one time in the not-too-distant past, employees at Lloyd’s Banking Group were being asked to complete employee engagement surveys every three months or so, according to David Littlefield, the London-based bank’s group head of culture, engagement and insights.

“You can’t build an engaged workforce without affecting behavioral change,” Littlefield told attendees at a Wednesday afternoon session at HRE‘s HR Technology Conference.

Indeed. The problem with conducting such frequent surveys, however, “was that [the firm’s approximately 8,000] line managers weren’t gaining any new insights and didn’t have time to digest that much data and take action” on what the latest employee polls told them.

Thus, in 2015, HR at Lloyd’s developed and introduced its Building the Best Team Survey. Including between 60 and 65 questions overall, this new survey added more open-ended questions to the mix, “to give employees an opportunity to talk about what they like and don’t like” about their jobs, and about their roles within the organization.

The goal of adding such new queries was to gain insight into how employees felt in four areas: their satisfaction with their role in the company, their pride in their work, their likelihood to be an advocate for the organization and their intent to stay with Lloyd’s, explains Littlefield.

In addition to internal variables, outside factors can impact employee engagement as well, says Littlefield. External factors such as current economic climates and media coverage of the industry, he adds, are especially vital to perceptions of firms within the financial sector, and some questions were designed to gauge how employees’ views of Lloyd’s culture are affected by how the organization and the industry is depicted outside of the company.

Polling employees less frequently and seeking more substantial input has paid off, says Littlefield.

Currently hovering between 85 percent and 88 percent, “participation rates [for employee engagement surveys] have never been higher,” he says, adding that overall employee engagement scores have increased by 11 percentage points since 2014.  Part of the reason for this rise is attributable to allowing managers to revamp employees’ roles to better match their skills and help them achieve “what they want to get out of their work,” based on responses from the annual survey.

“When we share data from engagement surveys with managers, we tell them to think about that data for a few days, and figure out how they can help employees get energized and engaged,” continues Littlefield. “We’ve found that managers don’t want to talk about the science behind engagement scores, they want insight that they can take action on.”

 

 

 

Does Your Firm Support Well-Being?

limeade_quantum_wbereportDid you know employee engagement and employee well-being are two different things? I kind of did, but this research by Limeade and Quantum Workplace (pictured at left) made the differences about as clear as they could be, given the subject matter.

The report, released last week, defines the two thusly:

“Engagement [is] the strength of the emotional connection employees have with their work, team, company and higher purpose. … Well-being [is] a state of optimal health, happiness and purpose.”

OK, different, yes, but clearly very related. In fact, that’s one of the report’s key takeaways: that when employees feel they have higher well-being, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work.

The survey of 1,276 employees across 45 U.S. markets found, more specifically, that 88 percent of employees who cited feelings of “higher well-being” (i.e., access to healthy options, the flexibility and freedom to pursue them and find balance between work and life, and a sense of belonging and value to an organization) also said they feel engaged at work, versus 50 percent for those citing “lower well-being.”

Moreover, 83 percent of those in the “higher” category say they enjoy their work versus 41 percent in the “lower” one, and 84 percent in the higher category say they’re loyal to their teams, versus 54 percent in the lower camp.

So, is all this an intuitive no-brainer? Well, yes and no, according to Dr. Laura Hamill, Limeade’s chief people officer and managing director of the Limeade Institute. As she puts it,

“The connection between well-being and engagement may seem intuitive, but there has been little research that statistically relates the two. These findings confirm the relationship and can serve as the foundation of taking companies from good to great.

“[This] connection is great news. It means that helping disengaged employees isn’t out of an organization’s control [and can actually, by enhancing retention and productivity, lead to] better business results. “

(Here’s another link to the study’s microsite with a cool video for your viewing pleasure.)

Also key to an employee’s feeling of well-being is organizational support, defined in the report as “the resources and nudges an organization intentionally provides to encourage well-being improvement.” More specifically, it says, “this research indicates that organizations should provide the policies, visible manager and leadership support, role modeling, encouragement and norms to fully support [that] improvement.”

(One interesting note: The study found managers to be the primary source of that support, or nonsupport, over and above executive leaders. “Managers,” Hamill told me, “can be the biggest obstacles to well-being improvement because they don’t understand its connection to team success or they are nervous about how to talk with their employees about their well-being. Organizations should educate managers about the impact of well-being on employee engagement — and give them the tools and support to make it a priority.”)

The numbers certainly bear out the importance of this organizational/managerial support. Seventy-two percent of people who felt their employer cared about their well-being also reported having higher organizational support, whereas only 7 percent of employees with lower organizational support reported feeling higher well-being. In other words, as perceptions of organizational support diminish, so do perceptions of well-being. So why is this finding important? According to the report’s authors,

“You’ve heard it before: It’s more expensive to replace an employee than to retain one. A 2015 study [‘The impact of human resource practices on employee retention in the telecom sector,’ published in the International Journal of Economics and Financial Issues] states that costs associated with a person leaving unexpectedly are usually 2.5 times greater than that person’s salary.

“So why not invest those dollars back in the people who already work for you to help retain them? Employees who feel they have higher well-being and who feel they have higher organizational support are more likely to want to stay in an organization — compared to those [in the lower groups].”

In fact, researchers found, about 98 percent of those who feel they have higher well-being and higher organizational support answered favorably to the statement “I would like to be working at this organization one year from now.” That number dropped to about 79 percent for people who feel they have lower well-being and lower organizational support.

Even more impressive in terms of sheer numbers, 99 percent of employees with high well-being and high organizational support recommend their employer as a great place to work.

“Employee engagement is the holy grail for many companies aiming to attract and retain top talent,” says Jason Lauritsen, director of customer success at Quantum Workplace. “[This report] validates this goal … .”

Coming Soon: ‘Facebook at Work’

facebookThere was a time not so long ago when most employees were blocked from accessing Facebook while at work. My, how times have changed: Next month, companies will be paying Facebook so their employees can use “Facebook at Work,” a suite of business communication tools that’s designed to compete with the likes of Slack and Microsoft Yammer. The new application has been in beta testing with large companies such as Royal Bank of Scotland, and its capabilities could include the use of artificial intelligence technology to “read the mood of employees, including how they feel on certain topics,” according to USA Today.

Although those two products and others such as Salesforce’s Chatter are well-established brands with large customer bases, the sheer familiarity of Facebook’s user-interface (Facebook has 1.71 billion active users) may give it an advantage in the marketplace, writes TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden.

Its advantage lies in the fact that Facebook at Work’s user interface, functionality and even sign-in are all based on Facebook. That makes it instantly easy and familiar to use for many professionals, who will already be at least familiar with the workings of the social network, if not using it on a regular basis. (And that is crucial in a landscape where many companies have struggled to get their workers to engage well on their in-house “conversation” platforms.)

Unlike the other services, Facebook at Work will be offered to clients on a “per seat” pricing model rather than a flat fee, which could make it more affordable for smaller companies, reports ZDNet’s iGeneration. Facebook has not disclosed any specific pricing information yet for the service.

Facebook at Work is part of a trend in which companies are trying to spur greater employee use of enterprise software by making it more simple and user-friendly, like Amazon, Google and … Facebook. It will be interesting to see its full suite of capabilities at the official launch, scheduled for Oct. 10 in London.

Forget the Fancy Job Titles

Employees walking around with titles like “chief happiness officer” and “product evangelist” are expected to be exuberant, enthusiastic proponents of a company’s internal and external brand.

And they could very well be crazy about the companies they work for. But they might not be so keen on such creative, “non-traditional” job titles, which a fair number of workers apparently don’t find all that endearing or even accurate.

A quarter of employees, to be exact, don’t care for using exotic monikers to describe their positions, according to a new survey from Spherion Staffing.

The Atlanta-based recruiting and staffing provider’s most recent WorkSphere survey found that 25 percent of employees consider “non-traditional” job titles unprofessional, and are against the idea of being christened with one. Nearly as many (23 percent) feel that flowery designations don’t capture what they actually do in their jobs. That said, 14 percent of employees who favor more tried-and-true titles believe they too could use improvement, saying that labels such as “project manager” and “specialist” are too vague.

Overall, 42 percent of workers said their current titles—be they old-fashioned or more “outside the box”—don’t really reflect their roles and responsibilities.

Regardless of what appears on their business cards, an overwhelming majority of employees expressed confidence in their ability to describe their jobs in a way that’s easy to understand. Eighty-nine percent of those polled said they would have no issues delivering an “elevator speech” that highlights their duties.

Those that don’t have such an easy time encapsulating what they do every day might struggle with summing up the complexities of their roles. Close to one-third (31 percent) of employees polled said their job or industry is too specialized to easily explain to a layperson. Twenty-nine percent said they try to avoid using work jargon in everyday conversation.

According to the survey, employees struggling to articulate their responsibilities may be making things harder than they have to be. Overall, 53 percent indicated they give different accounts of their jobs, depending on the audience. In addition, 11 percent said they sometimes lie about what they do for a living.

Whatever they tell others about their vocation, “employees take great pride in their job titles, and in some cases, a title that is considered limiting or hard to describe can significantly impact their job satisfaction,” says Sandy Mazur, Spherion division president, in a statement.

Faced with growing pressure to recruit and retain top workers, “reexamining how different titles are perceived and applied can make a big difference in building morale,” says Mazur, “and positioning a company as a favorable place to work.”

 

The Toll of Talking Politics

It’s fair to say that this very unique presidential race has engendered plenty of, let’s say, spirited conversation.

Even if you abstain from political chatter at the office, you’ve probably heard at least one co-worker offering an in-depth analysis of the candidates and the issues shaping the 2016 election season.

And, as we enter the homestretch, employees are growing weary of such talk, and months of discussing politics—and hearing others discuss politics—is starting to take a toll on the workforce.

So says new research from the Washington-based American Psychological Association. The organization’s Politics in the Workplace: 2016 Election Season survey recently polled 927 employed American adults, and finds workers feeling stressed (17 percent), more cynical and negative on the job (15 percent) and less productive (13 percent) in the midst of political chit-chat.

Overall, 27 percent of workers reported at least one negative outcome stemming from political banter. Younger employees (age 18 to 34) are feeling the most ruffled, with more than one in four saying they’ve experienced added stress due to political talk in the workplace. In addition, more than twice as many men said election-related conversations are making it more difficult for them to get work done.

The especially vitriolic tone of this year’s race isn’t helping, either. Overall, 47 percent of employees said individuals are more likely to talk politics in the workplace this election season than in the past. On the bright side, though, a majority of respondents (60 percent) said co-workers are generally respectful toward those with differing political views.

That said, more than a quarter (26 percent) have seen or heard colleagues arguing over politics, with 11 percent of employees admitting they’ve entered the fray themselves at some point. Twenty percent of respondents, meanwhile, say they’ve taken to avoiding certain co-workers because of their political views.

“The workplace brings people together from different backgrounds who might not ordinarily interact with each other,” says David W. Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, in a statement.

“When you add politics to the mix—a deeply personal and emotional topic for many—there is potential for tension, conflict and problems for both employees and the organization.”

Indeed. And there might not be much that our major political parties agree on at the moment, but employees from both sides of the aisle seem to acknowledge that election fatigue has set in.

“Regardless of political identification, the heated discussions and divisive rhetoric this election season have the potential to take a toll on people’s well-being and even affect their job performance,” says Ballard.

“While employers may not be able to limit political discussions in the workplace, they can take steps to ensure those conversations take place in a civil, respectful environment. A psychologically healthy workplace is particularly critical during challenging and polarizing times, and these survey results highlight the fact that, despite conventional wisdom, people are often more alike than they are different.”

Don’t Forget About Boomers

It’s easy to get caught up in how to attract and retain the millennials and members of Generation Z who will comprise the overwhelming majority of the workforce before too long.

Then there are the Gen Xers to consider—so crucial to your success today, as they settle into vital management roles within the organization.

But what about baby boomers?

We all know that boomers are hitting retirement age, but many are staying on the job. Much has been made of how companies will replace the knowledge and experience that boomers will take with them when they do leave the workforce, but a new survey from the Futurestep division of Korn Ferry looks at what this generation is bringing to the business now, and what motivates these employees most.

The poll asked more than 1,300 global executives to evaluate the role of baby boomers in their organizations. More than half (55 percent) of respondents said that boomers were willing to work longer hours than other generations, and were considered the second-most productive cohort, after Generation X.

Naturally, these seasoned employees require little hand-holding on the job, with 31 percent of executives saying boomers need less feedback than their younger colleagues, “demonstrating how boomers are also seen as reliable, in addition to hardworking,” according to a Korn Ferry Futurestep statement.

How do these dedicated workers find fulfillment on the job? Fifty-four percent of executives said that offering boomers the opportunity to make an impact on the business was the best way to retain boomer talent.

“This far outstrips the ambition of other generations, with just over a quarter (28 percent) of executives surveyed indicating that making an impact at work was the key motivator for millennials,” according to Korn Ferry Futurestep, “highlighting just how integral baby boomers are to businesses today.”

Most companies recognize as much, of course, and are eager to take advantage of boomers’ wealth of knowledge, with 50 percent considering “experience and expertise” as the main reason for bringing them into the business.

Once boomers are on board, how do you retain them?

It’s not necessarily money. Just 6 percent of respondents cited regular pay raises and promotions as the best way to retain boomers in their organizations. No, as previously noted, 54 percent of respondents said boomers most value the opportunity to make an impact, followed by “creating a culture that aligns with their values,” at 22 percent, management responsibilities (10 percent) and work/life balance (8 percent).

“While many in the baby boomer generation are working longer to provide more financial security after seeing their retirement account balances tumble during the Great Recession, their desire to extend their careers is not entirely financially motivated,” says Jeanne MacDonald, president of global talent acquisition solutions at Korn Ferry Futurestep.

“What is often overlooked is the fact that the majority of the people in this generation are highly motivated, enjoy what they do, and they provide great experience and value within the global workforce.”

A Badge for a Brave New World

This morning’s Washington Post profiles a Boston-based company called Humanyze that has developed a high-tech employee badge that records the employee’s every conversation, monitors their movement in the workplace and delivers this information to management to help them evaluate performance. Some people may see this as a brilliant innovation, while many others will probably view it as a terrifyingly Orwellian invasion of privacy (although it should be noted that the badge will not record activities in bathroom locations, so there’s that).

Actually, the badges don’t record the actual conversations of employees, just “how they say it.” They deliver the information to bosses in aggregate form, so they don’t get to look at individuals’ personal data, according to Humanyze. And, employees can choose whether or not to wear the badges, Humanyze CEO Ben Waber told the Post. “If you don’t give people choice, if you don’t aggregate instead of showing individual data, any benefit would be dwarfed by the negative reaction people will have of you coming in with this very sophisticated sensor,” he said.

Each badge (the latest versions of which are slightly larger than a credit card) hangs around the wearer’s neck like a lanyard and is equipped with two microphones for real-time voice analysis and sensors that track where you are in the office. The information collected by the devices can be invaluable in helping companies determine which of their locations are the most and least-productive, and why, said Waber.

The process is based on research that shows that the success, or failure, of a certain location is often based on the amount and quality of interaction between employees at the location and the facility’s physical layout.

He provided the Post with the following example:

A bank has hundreds of retail locations. Some perform really well. Some don’t perform as well. The executives want to understand what the high-performing branches do differently. It turns out that in one company, the high-performing branches were very cohesive. The people who work in that branch talk a lot to each other. The people in the lowest-performing branches almost never talk to each other. The company used Humanyze technology to identify that issue and also change how they pay people and how they organize the branches’ management process. Top line sales grew 11 percent.”

Humanyze has sold thousands of the badges to Fortune 2000 companies around the world, Waber said. The company doesn’t make money on the badges themselves; instead, it makes money on the data it produces, he said.

“Within three or four years, every single ID badge is going to have these sensors,” he said. “We are only scratching the surface right now.”

 

Workers Open to Working Elsewhere

dissatisfied employeeAs you walk through the cubicle farm/office maze/factory floor of your organization, know this: More than half the people you’re passing are open to finding a new job elsewhere, and of those employees, 44 percent are actively looking for new jobs.

That’s according to Aon Hewitt’s latest Workforce Mindset study, which surveyed 2,000 employees. What are the factors most likely to lure employees away from their current jobs? The following are the five key differentiators, according to the survey:

1. Above average pay (62 percent)

2. Above average benefits (61 percent)

3. A fun place to work (58 percent)

4. Flexible work environment (57 percent)

5. “Strong fit with my values” (56 percent)

Of course, the common prescription for avoiding turnover has been keeping employee engagement levels high. But that’s hardly a cure-all either, according to “The Dark Side of Employee Engagement,” a new Harvard Business Review piece by Lewis Garrad and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. They cite a number of studies showing that highly engaged employees can be too satisfied with the status quo, more prone to burnout and its attendant ill effects and “too positive” — in other words, highly engaged people can crowd out the more introspective, less-extroverted types who nonetheless are often key to a company’s overall success.

So what to do? Try “training employees to leave their jobs,” writes Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes, particularly if you want to retain your star employees. Many workers, particularly younger ones, leave companies not necessarily because they’re dissatisfied with their compensation or their manager but because they want to try something new, acquire new skills and push themselves in new directions, he writes. Holmes found that giving employees stretch roles at Hootsuite to try out new positions and acquire new skills without having to leave the company has yielded positive results.

When Grief Hits Home at Work

From the beginning of the American workplace, there have been workers in various stages of life and life events. All part of the 515860456 -- sad employeehumans-as-resources thing.

I’ve been through my fair share: raising kids while working; having kids while working, for that matter; getting them into college, then becoming an empty nester; surviving the end of their dad’s and my marriage, then getting them used to another …

But not until I lost my spouse — my kids’ zany, crazy, brilliant, life-loving dad and stepdad — did I know just how profound an impact the grief  event could have on work. And that was three short months after seeing my incredible dad through his final wrestling match with cancer.

I have a whole new respect for employers that choose to acknowledge and focus on the power pain can have on employees, and for colleagues and supervisors who’ve mastered the art of listening.

In fact, listening is just one of many helpful suggestions I came across recently in this piece, Helping a Grieving Friend in the Workplace, from Cincinnati-based Hodapp Funeral Homes. Until I went through my own nightmare, I honestly never would have considered the part managers, co-workers and HR can play in working to regenerate engagement and productivity in a shell-shocked, grief-stricken worker.

I’ve had those moments, fingers poised on the keyboard, when the words won’t come. I now know the fear, loneliness and incredible self-doubt, wondering if I can handle the same tasks I aced throughout my career in journalism and publishing, or the same projects around the house I used to enjoy. I know the frustration over how long it all seems to take.

But I also now know how helpful help is. And I also know I can now help others.

Judie Bucholz, a faculty member at Columbia Southern University specializing in human and organizational systems, weighed in on all this with me. As she put it,

“We know dealing with death is difficult, and yet, as an American society, we typically give our employees three days off to ‘deal’ with it and come back to work as if nothing ever happened. The reality is something did happen and three days is hardly enough time to acknowledge the reality of death, let alone deal with it.

“We cannot change corporate America and business, so what can we do to help those we work with [or employ] who are grieving the death of a friend or family member?”

She suggests the following:

  • Offering to take the kids for a day or for a sleepover;
  • Volunteering to do chores, such as cutting the grass, trimming the hedges, cleaning the pool, washing the car, etc.;
  • Sending gift certificates to favorite eateries, spas, beauty salons, etc.;
  • Helping with a project so the employee can leave early one Friday.

Yet, she says:

“Perhaps the best thing we can do is ask our co-worker [or employee] how he or she is doing and then take the time to listen — even if it makes us uncomfortable.”

And if those dealing with loss and grief want to quietly focus on work without talking, or silently space at a computer monitor from time to time, just let them do that, too.

The Cybersecurity and Culture Connection

The cyber risk realm is one that’s generally inhabited by those in the IT department.

New research from Willis Towers Watson, however, looks at the role human resources can play in helping the organization wrestle with cybersecurity-related issues, and what HR can do to help in the event of an actual cyber breach.

The London-based consultancy recently analyzed employee survey results from 12 organizations, examining engagement attitudes and opinions from more than 450,000 workers corresponding to a period in which significant data breaches were identified within the firms.

Employees’ responses were benchmarked against global high-performance companies and global IT staff from Willis Towers Watson’s database of employee opinion survey data. Overall, employee opinions within the organizations experiencing data breaches didn’t stack up favorably, with scores ranking the lowest in three aspects of company culture—training, company image and customer focus.

For example, fewer workers at firms that have recently encountered a data breach feel they have received adequate training for the work they do and have access to training to improve their skills and learn new ones to advance in their roles, while smaller numbers of employees at these companies feel their employers treat corporate social responsibility and customer focus as top priorities.

The lower scores emerging from organizations affected by a data breach were “expected,” according to Willis Towers Watson, but HR leaders “can use a number of tools at [their] disposal to help create a culture conducive to effective cyber risk management,” says Patrick Kulesa, global research director.

For example, he recommends stressing in training programs “the importance of customer information and the role that every employee plays in safeguarding details about customers—especially when training new hires generally and all hires in IT,” and suggests considering making such training programs an annual requirement for all employees, “to keep skills fresh.”

Kulesa also urges HR leaders to advocate providing or sponsoring continuing education programs on new developments in technology that impact the business.

With respect to consumer focus, “provide employees an opportunity to raise concerns about poor customer service, through employee surveys or other appropriate avenues,” he says, adding that leaders and managers should be evaluated on “how well they reinforce the value of customer service and reflect the image of the company through their actions.”

Ideally, such actions will help mitigate the organization’s risk of experiencing a cyber breach. But HR can also be integral in the recovery effort should one occur, says Kulesa.

“Help the businesses impacted to get out in front of the event through clear communications to employees, or through assisting leaders in crafting and delivering such messages,” he says.

In addition, “describe the steps already in place to encourage an effective culture—competencies for leaders, training for staff, avenues to raise concerns,” says Kalesa, adding that HR must also “be clear about steps being taken to improve risk management and the role each employee can play in that process.”

And, most importantly, “focus on continuing improvement,” he says, “not assigning blame.”