Employee Engagement in a Tough Economy

by Mary Pille, Employers' Association

According to Ram Charan, author of Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty, “Diverse parts of the business must be coupled to one another more tightly and linked to the outside world. Plans and progress must be revisited almost daily. Big picture, longer-term, strategic-level thinking cannot be abandoned, but every leader has to be involved, visible and in daily communication. Your new guiding principle must be this: Hands On, Head In.” Would this quote describe you in running your organization or department? Or are you in your own world, hunkered down, waiting for the tough economy to pass?

While many organizations are shrinking their workforces, care must be taken not to lose the most talented employees as an unintended consequence. The way that downsized employees are treated will have a long-term impact on the survivors’ morale, engagement and retention, because high-potential employees will be disproportionately impacted and more likely to seek new opportunities. So what can you do to give this talented group a reason to stay? Create a work environment that fosters employee engagement.

Engaged employees are the ones committed to their jobs and to giving their discretionary effort to their department, their company and their customers. Some things you can do for employees in these difficult times include:

  • Reassure them about the future. It is important for employees to be reminded that, while times are tough, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Reinforce that employees are valued assets to the organization.
  • Ensure they know how to accomplish new responsibilities in light of downsizing and taking on more work.
  • Make them aware of actions planned and rationale for actions. You can never communicate too much during times of change, and that is what is happening when navigating these tough times.
  • Help them feel that management is on top of the situation and decisions are fair and based on sound, critical analysis.

Creating a culture of engagement within your organization is one way to improve productivity and enhance the bottom line, even in a tough economy. According to a recent study of organizations with a high-performing workforce, more than 50 percent reported improvement in employee retention and customer satisfactions; 33 percent reported higher productivity; 28 percent improved employee advocacy; 27 percent improved its status of “great place to work”; 27 percent improved profitability; and 25 percent dropped in absenteeism.

Specific tactics for creating an engaged workforce include:

  • Establish an ongoing state-of-the-business communication process with employees, such as a CEO newsletter, executive town hall meetings or email alerts.
  • Foster an environment where senior management is able to positively connect with managers and employees to build trust and credibility and establish pride in the organization. Communication should be clear and actionable.
  • Provide an open-door approach to continuous process improvement by implementing processes such as Lean, Six Sigma or Voice of the Customer.
  • Encourage employees to acquire new or advanced skills and knowledge by providing opportunities for learning through education, experience, exposure and avenues where ideas can be applied.
As a leader, consider the following closing thoughts for creating employee engagement. To have positively engaged teams, you can’t make cuts to profit long-term. Habits—both good and bad—are created in more typical markets. Stay the course, and lead on team, don’t just preach team. iBi