Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Engagement Factors Vary by Country, Business, Function

Engagement Factors Vary by Country, Business, Function

By Kathy Gurchiek

The factors that drive employees to be engaged in their work and motivate them to go beyond stated expectations vary not only from country to country but also by industry sector and within companies, according to recent research conducted among 22 countries.

It’s important for organizations expanding globally to understand what engages its workforce, according to Mercer, which has conducted the national “What’s Working” studies over the past several years.

Even among organizations with global locations that share workplace characteristics, such as English as a first language, differences in national culture, market conditions and the state of economic development influence employee engagement, according to Mercer.

Workers in the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, share only one engagement driver—a sense of personal accomplishment—rated first and second in importance, respectively.
However, the top drivers in the United Kingdom “paralleled six of the top drivers in Asia’s top market, China,” the report noted.

“Even if business leaders of multinational companies know how to engage staff in their home country offices, they might not succeed in delivering the most value for their HR investments if they simply transfer HR policies and practices to other countries,” the report says.
In looking to engage employees, Mercer reports, employers must:

  1. View global HR decisions in the context of national culture.
  2. Use valid research—not stereotypes—to align HR practices for a local population with actual employee attitudes and perceptions.
  3. Remember that the norm for engagement varies widely from country to country, making it critical to have data on national norms to interpret employee surveys correctly.
  4. Realize the elements that create engagement also create the employment brand.
  5. Understand that how the organization conducts its work reflects its organizational culture. How employees are treated reflects how they treat customers or clients.

Employers want workers who are “truly engaged in their work and the success of the organization,” said Patrick Gilbert, a principal and employee research expert at Mercer, in a January 2008 press release.

An engaged employee has a vested interest in the employer’s success and whose performance level exceeds his or her job requirements. These are employees, says Gilbert, who help their organization establish a competitive advantage and drive business performance.

However, “the drivers of engagement vary from country to country and from company to company. Even within companies, the drivers will vary across different businesses and functional areas,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for employers to identify and manage the unique drivers of engagement within their own organizations. This way they can achieve maximum return on investment for their HR spending,” Patrick added.

There are four drivers of engagement that are consistent among employees around the world—

  1. the work itself, including opportunities for development;
  2. confidence and trust in leadership;
  3. recognition and rewards; and
  4. organizational communication that is delivered timely and in an orderly way.

The top factors by country, according to the findings:

  • Australia: Quality of workplace relationships, including coaching.
  • Brazil: Sense of personal accomplishment, confidence in senior management, training opportunities, fair pay based on performance, good reputation for customer service, comparable benefits to industry.
  • Canada: Being treated respectfully, good work/life balance, feeling they can provide good service to the clients or customers.
  • China: Sense of personal accomplishment, fair pay based on performance, good reputation for customer service, comparable benefits to industry, confidence in senior management, IT systems support business needs, training opportunities, regular performance feedback.
  • France: Work/life balance, providing good customer service, being treated respectfully.
  • India: Type of work, promotion opportunities.
  • Japan: Base and incentive pay.
    Sweden: Respectful treatment, type of work they are involved with, sense of personal accomplishment.
  • United Kingdom: Sense of personal accomplishment, confidence in senior management, training opportunities, fair pay based on performance, good reputation for customer service, comparable benefits to industry.
  • United States: Confidence that career objectives can be met, sense of personal accomplishment, confident in organization’s success, quality is a high priority, opportunity for growth and development, information and assistance to manage career; flexibility to provide good customer service.

Companies typically can get a sense of what engages their employees by conducting employee surveys; ideally any issues that are identified are followed by some kind of action, Mercer notes.
Be wary of misinterpreting results, though. “When an organization looks at its own employee survey data, it needs to take these [cultural] differences into account,” Gilbert said. Not doing so could cause an organization’s leaders to assume that there are significant issues among its Japanese workforce and fewer issues with its Mexican workforce when, Gilbert said, “employee survey scores simply tend to be lower in Japan and higher in Mexico” when those workers rate employer performance.

It would be helpful for the employer to know if a broad cross-section of employers in that country also receives a low performance rating, Mercer points out in its paper.
Mercer’s most recent findings are based on 130 questions to working adults on a dozen topics: work processes; ethics and integrity; quality and customer focus; immediate manager; communication; performance management; work/life balance; compensation, benefits and recognition; job security and career growth; leadership and direction; teamwork and cooperation; and training and development.

Its latest findings are highlighted in the Mercer paper Engaging employees to drive global business success.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

Engagement, Productivity at Risk for Employees Averse to Workplace Changes

Engagement, Productivity at Risk for Employees Averse to Workplace Changes

By SHRM Online staff

Nearly one-third of employees are not able to adapt to changes at work, according to recently released survey results by Right Management, a talent and career management consulting firm. The inability to adapt to workplace change can decrease employees’ level of engagement and effectiveness on the job as well as put organizational productivity at risk for many organizations.
In response to the question “Is your workforce able to adapt to change and increase their effectiveness on the job?” more than 100 senior human resource professionals from across North America said:

No, employee engagement and productivity are a major risk (31 percent).
Somewhat, our workforce gets the job done, but morale suffers (43 percent).
Yes, our workforce is very agile and responds to new challenges (26 percent).

“Addressing the challenges created by today’s tumultuous economy requires leaders to make a variety of difficult changes, from reductions in force to radical restructuring,” said Right Management President and Chief Operating Officer Douglas J. Matthews in a statement about the survey. “Our poll results demonstrate—with only one in four employees having the agility to adapt to change—most organizations don’t prepare their employees to handle changes at work. As a result, change management strategies tend to fail, undermining the organization’s ability to achieve the goals the change initiative was designed to produce.”

Matthews noted that the most common obstacles stem from a lack of planning, preparedness and skill in managing the change process.

“With careful planning and the support from top leaders, organizations can help their workforces adapt to change, maintain employee engagement and productivity, and accelerate performance to new heights.”

Failure to act can have severe consequences, said Matthews. “Productivity drops, service quality declines, unwanted turnover and absenteeism increases, customer loyalty wanes and often the organization’s brand reputation is tarnished. And all of that, of course, ultimately affects the bottom line.”

Matthews cautioned that most change management strategies tend to fail because of human nature.

“Most people have a hard time dealing with change. But, more than that, they lack the specific behavior traits needed to adapt easily to difficult changing circumstances. Assessment instruments can help to evaluate an individual’s propensity to deal with change. Coaching can help them to bridge to behaviors that reflect competence. Understanding and developing the behaviors that help individuals adapt and thrive during change will enable organizations to realize significant benefits and ensure the company’s continued success.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

7 Ways to Increase Response Rates on Employee Surveys

No doubt you want to maximize the survey response rate. Low response rates reflect poorly on a project and can inadvertently undermine the validity of the data gathered. For an accurate assessment with any employee engagement or attitude survey, honest responses and high participation are key. The following tips will help boost the number of responses you get the next time you survey your employees.

Communicate Your Commitment to Respondent Anonymity
Employing a third party to collect the data and generate the reports gives you that credibility. Employees feel more comfortable and respond more openly and candidly when they know their responses are being handled by an outside organization. Whether you are conducting your survey online or via paper, having a third party to take care of this will not only improve your response rate, but you will see it in the quality of responses. If you already know that trust is a problem in your organization, give extra thought and attention to this issue. Even if you do not think trust is a problem, don't underestimate the value of ensuring that employees feel as comfortable as possible responding to the survey. The only way to get an accurate measure of your overall employee attitude is via anonymity.

Get Sign Off and a Concrete Endorsement from Senior Management (especially the ones who employees most respect!)
In the weeks or days before the survey, share letter s or notes from the CEO, GM or some other organizational leader that highlight the importance of responding to the survey. These communications should explain why the survey is being conducted and what the organization and the employees stand to gain from it.

Manage Employee Expectations about the Survey Length, Especially if You Can't Keep the Survey Brief
Longer surveys have lower response rates. Nonetheless, collecting enough data for analysis and actionability is essential. A short survey with high participation may lack sufficient depth to provide insights that matter. Regardless of the length of your survey, tell people up front how long it will take them to complete it. Be accurate in your estimate by having people pre-test it. It is better to err in the side of an estimate with a longer time rather than a shorter time. People will feel pleasantly surprised when they finish early!

Explain the Benefits to All Employees
By clearly communicating how employees and the organization as a whole will benefit from the employee attitude survey, you give people a reason to fill out your survey. Response rates will be higher and your employees will be more honest about their opinions.

Explain the "Next Steps"
Communicate clearly what you intend to do with the information you gather from the survey. If you plan to share the results with employees, let them know that. When you share with people what you plan to do with the survey results, you show them that you are serious about what you are doing and that you have given thought to the entire process. They will realize that the time they invest in completing the employee attitude survey will not be time wasted. And, in turn, this will increase response rates the next time you survey your employees.

Follow Through on Your Promises
If you tell your employees what you plan to do with the survey results, be sure you follow through. If you don't, the next time you want to gather information or conduct an employee attitude survey, you will have lost credibility and your response rate will suffer. Be sure to not only follow through on your promises, but do so publicly. Get credit for listening and acting on survey feedback. Remind people of what you promised and show them the results.

Offer Company-Wide, Rather Than Team Incentives
Consider offering modest incentives to the organization as a whole, instead of creating competition between teams or work groups who have the highest response rates. Creating winners vs. losers can exacerbate perceptions of unfairness. Ideas might include a Friday pizza lunch or a cookies. The incentive should fit with your organization's culture and appeal to all employees equally. Insightlink offers what we call "the cookie question" so people not only have an incentive, but a reason to make it all the way though the survey to offer their "vote" on a favorite cookie!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Employee Engagement & Fringe Benefits

Looking for cheap ways to offer fringe benefits to encourage employee engagement? A CPA offers tips for using fringe benefits as an income substitute during the economic downturn.

Many businesses are foregoing salary increases this year because of the economic downturn. How does a business find and retain employees, as well as keep up morale, in the face of this reality? The combined use of fringe benefits and the tax law can help. Some attractive fringe benefits may be provided tax-free to employees and at little cost to employers.

De minimis fringe benefits

A de minimis fringe benefit is any property or service whose value is so small or minimal that accounting for it would be administratively impracticable. Such benefits are excluded from an employee's gross income. Examples of de minimis fringe benefits include:

Occasional overtime meals and meal money. To qualify as a tax-free de minimis fringe benefit, the meal or meal money must be provided to your employees so that they can extend their normal workday, thereby enabling them to work overtime. Such meals and meal money can only be provided occasionally. This means that they generally cannot be provided routinely, when overtime work is a common occurrence or are contractually mandated for overtime work. Occasional snacks may also qualify as a de minimis fringe benefit but if the snacks are provided daily, they would not qualify.

Occasional transportation. Transportation costs can also qualify as de minimis fringe benefits. Taxi-fare for an employee to return home after working late, for example, may be a de minimis fringe benefit. The transportation must be occasional.

Holiday gifts. Traditional holiday gifts, such as a Thanksgiving turkey, with a low fair market value can generally qualify as a de minimis fringe benefit. However, cash or a cash equivalent such as a gift certificate in lieu of the property, do not qualify. In fact, cash and cash equivalent fringe benefits, no matter how little, are never excludable as a de minimis fringe benefit, except for occasional meal money or transportation fare.

E-filing. Electronically filing an employee's tax return, but not paying for someone to prepare the return, may qualify as a de minimus fringe benefit.

Telephone calls. An employer may treat the cost of local telephone calls made by employees as a de minimis fringe benefit.

Working condition fringe benefits. A working condition fringe benefit is any type of property or service provided to your employees to the extent that the cost of such property or services would have been deductible by the employee as a trade or business expense, depreciation expenses, or as if the employee paid for the property/services himself or herself. Working condition fringe benefits have special tax rules for employers and employees.

Vehicles. If an employer-provided vehicle is used 100 percent for business and the use is substantiated, use of the vehicle is considered a working condition fringe
benefit. The value of use of the vehicle is not included in the employee's wages. However, when an employer-provided vehicle is used by the employee for both personal and business purposes, an allocation between the two types must be made. The portion allocable to the employee's personal use is generally taxable to the employee as a fringe benefit. The portion allocable to business use is generally considered a working condition fringe benefit and is excludable from
the employee's income.

No additional cost services. If an employer-provided service does not cause the employer to incur any substantial additional costs, it may qualify as a "no additional cost service" and be excludible from the employee's income. The service must be offered to customers in the employer's ordinary course of business. Some of the
most common examples are airline, rail and bus tickets and hotel and motel rooms provided at a reduced rate or at no cost to employees. This benefit can be offered to retired employees as well as active employees. There are special rules for highly-compensated employees.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Encouraging Recognition Every Day Boosts Employee Engagement

Sometimes clients tell us their senior management is resistant to employee surevys because they do not want to hear the results. They think that, when it comes to retaining key staff, money is what it's about. Extra money might get employees to stay on for a while, longer than they might otherwise, but they are ultimately going to leave if they don’t feel valued and engaged. Below are three keys to keep in mind in order to leverage the motivational power of recognition programs:

• Recognition is most effective when it is used on a regular and consistent basis -- like a day-to-day part of the culture
• Encouraging employees to give positive praise to one another builds mutual respect and leads to higher overall employee engagement
• The more senior and powerful an individual, the greater the impact of their own behavior for better or worse. The way senior managers conduct themselves every day has a major impact on organizational culture

So what have you done to recognize your colleagues today? Your day-to-day behavior can make a difference in the employee engagement levels of those around you.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Closing the Employee Engagement Gap

On a recent trip, I picked up a book at LAX that was written to show how great companies unlock employee potential for superior results, sharing stories from the authors' experiences as consultants on workforce effectiveness and employee engagement.

What I read were inspiring examples of how leaders (or what we may think of as senior management) can tap into their employees' energy and passion and turn them into a competitive advantage. Although I agree with David Zinger's criticism of the "us vs. them" mentality, I still believe there is much value that can nonetheless be gleaned from the book.

For those of you who are unfamilar with it, the premise is that there are five keys that, when together, unlock employees' potential (the "Them" in the list below):
  1. Know Them.
  2. Grow Them.
  3. Inspire Them.
  4. Involve Them.
  5. Reward Them.
Over the coming weeks, I will look at how these five keys dovetail with the employee engagement model in Insightlink's 4Cs Employee Surveys.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

When empty desks linger, so do emotional effects of layoffs

As more companies cut jobs, they create problems for the employees who remain, including bigger workloads, low morale — and plenty of empty desks.
Just how companies deal with all the vacant work space depends on a number of factors, such as whether the company is going out of business or if employees work in teams.
More often than not, industry experts say, if a company is sticking around, at least initially, so do the empty desks and computers.
Even so, Karen O’Hara, chief executive officer of HR to Go Inc. in Elk Grove, said lots of empty cubicles can keep people’s fear and anxiety levels up. They serve as constant reminders of a company’s financial struggles.
That's why is important to communicate to employees and seek their feedback. When accurate information is lacking, rumors will take their place, and humans tend to believe in worst case scenarios, which can further drive down morale.

Firms cut pay, hold off on layoffs

A majority of U.S. companies are using salary reductions or freezes instead of layoffs to lower their costs, according to a survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

More than half (52.4 percent) of human-resources executives surveyed in May reported their firms had instituted salary cuts or freezes. That’s up from the 27.2 percent who reported similar cutbacks in January.

At the same time, the percentage of employers making permanent cuts fell from 56 percent in January to 43 percent in May, the survey found.

Companies reported using various methods to improve their bottom lines, including salary cuts, cutting workers’ hours, reducing or eliminating tuition reimbursements, furloughs or forced vacations, and temporary layoffs.