Australian workplaces are amongst the worst in the world when it comes to employee engagement. A Gallup report found only 14 per cent of employees in Australia and New Zealand are engaged in their jobs. An overwhelming 71 per cent are disengaged and therefore, less productive. The main culprit for this is, obviously, technology.
Especially amidst the current crisis, it is increasingly difficult to foster and maintain engagement behind a monitor without face-to-face interaction. With digital allocation of work, some team members barely connect on a daily or even a weekly basis with a manager. This can create negative vibes in a sub-optimal workforce.
On occasion, technologies may carry greater liabilities than benefits. Some Australian companies track productivity with desktop monitoring software that notes how much time employees spend browsing sites unrelated to work, such as social media, rather than performing work functions. When workers deviate from approved sites, they are given formal warnings. While these methods are intended to improve efficiency, this type of intervention alienates employees and contributes to a larger sense of disaffection.
Global consulting firm, Enlighten, has conducted assessments across workplaces and found that positive human conversations help people stay engaged. They revealed that talking to employees about how they are doing, praising their efforts and allowing them opportunities to learn new skills are key to fostering greater employee optimism.
What should executives do to deliver on the promise of employee engagement?
In their whitepaper, The Power of Staff Engagement, Enlighten disclosed that the key to improving workforce engagement is changing the habits and disciplines of frontline management. It may seem like a dated concept in a world of rapid technical advancement, but managers must talk to their people to foster an engaged team. They must:
- hold daily team huddles;
- develop individualised training plans for each team member, and regularly check in with team members about progress;
- interact on a daily basis with individual employees;
- and encourage and foster intra-team interaction.
These interventions increase social interaction and, ultimately, workplace engagement. As employees become increasingly engaged, the companies that employ them see valuable gains in overall performance. These practices must be maintained over time to ensure sustainable improvements.
However, these are not enough on their own to improve engagement. In the midst of current environment, with uncertainty around the situation and larger portions of the workforce shifting to a remote model, leaders must consider getting for continuity in this manner.
- Determining the current level of engagement with a standardised survey. This will give executives a strong sense of the organisation’s current environment and provide a baseline against which to measure progress.
- Implementing a metric backbone that sets and tracks goals for team members. These metrics are the foundation for modernised, meaningful engagement.
How can managers measure success in a workforce?
We should measure workforce success with a balanced approach that is important for holistic understanding of operational performance. Some options for leaders include determining the level of engagement with a standardised survey or implementing a metric backbone that sets and tracks goals for the team.
While their on-site assessment is heavily geared toward attaining value-added baselines and evaluating efficiency and productivity metrics, Enlighten’s program relies on the multi-faceted balanced scorecard to achieve success and sustainability.
Executives are often hesitant about introducing a large-scale measurement system. This is partly due to concern that their operations will not embrace a metrics system, with a lack of “cultural fit” around measurement. This means that a cultural transformation is long overdue in corporate environments. Continuous improvement cannot come without top-down commitment and workforce empowerment. Leaders and their teams must learn to see metrics as the basis of improvement and embrace data in driving operational excellence.
Instead of singularly measuring efficiency, Enlighten looks at the important inter-relationship of efficiency, quality, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and more. Through the use of a simple process such as assessing the existing level of engagement, introducing a system of metrics, and training managers in face-to face habits and disciplines, workplace positivity can be substantially improved.
It is time for the entire Australian business market to take steps towards operational excellence together. This will require a great deal of industry wide effort to change what is thought of as current best-practice. With a strong continuous improvement strategy, organisations will be able to see marked rises in productivity, efficiency and profits – making the investment well worth the cost.