December 3, 2009: Australian Anthill
by Persephone Nicholas
With one in five Australian workers admittedly unhappy at work, those companies that can keep their employees engaged have all sorts of advantages. Here are some tips to help your staff get the most out of themselves.
Shock statistic of the week: one in five Australians are extraordinarily unhappy at work.
According to Melissa Dunn Lampe of global research-based consulting company Gallup, unhappiness is a vice Australia can ill afford. She estimates this malaise, caused by employee disengagement, costs the country up to $42 billion each year.
The flip side of the coin, according to Gallup, is that organisations with an engaged workforce (employees who are switched on and passionate about their work) are 27 percent more profitable, achieving 50 percent higher sales and 38 percent above-average productivity. Building an engaged workforce can also reduce accidents at work by up to 62 percent, staff turnover by up to 50 percent and absenteeism by up to 27 percent.
The idea of a link between people’s feelings and their behaviour isn’t new. Yet Gallup’s survey of 6.1 million respondents worldwide, representing 700,000 workgroups in more than 100 countries, sheds new light on the importance of recognising and rewarding employee contributions in the workplace.
Dunn Lampe says employers need to give employees a clear sense of purpose by “creating environments where people feel they are making a contribution, not just coming in and doing a job, where they can link themselves to a higher purpose the organisation fulfils for society or for their industry in some way”.
Purposeful employees deserve appropriate feedback. Those who received feedback on their strengths were most likely (43 percent) to be engaged, followed by those receiving feedback on their weaknesses (33 percent engagement). Worst off is a groups she calls “the ignored”, who were assessed on neither strengths nor weaknesses — resulting in an engagement score of just 2 percent. “They are getting nothing and are extraordinarily unlikely to be engaged or give any discretionary effort to their work.”
Employers ignore employees at their peril. “You’d be mad not to have an institutionalised system to give people high quality feedback on a very regular basis. You’d be crazy to let your people stay in that ignored bucket because there is no way you’re going to get the most out of them.”
Employee disengagement results in ailing business and is linked to ill health and stress in disengaged individuals. “People who are actively disengaged are much more likely to have health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes and are much more likely to self-report that in the last month there were three or more days when they behaved badly towards their friends and/or family because of stress at work. The implications are huge for people’s health, life satisfaction and longevity.”
She says we must take responsibility for our circumstances. “A lot of times at work we create a situation, intentionally or not, that we don’t enjoy then whinge about it rather than taking some positive action to make a change in the right direction.”
Ironically, disengagement is no indication an employee will leave. Dunn Lampe counsels taking control. “For the benefit of your own health, seriously consider a move. Half of the people in Australia who are actively disengaged told us they intend to be with their current employer a year from now. Don’t do that to yourself. If you’re really unhappy at work, figure out a way to get out of there and get somewhere else.”
“Take responsibility for your own engagement. Talk with your manager and tell them the sorts of things in your role you most enjoy, solicit their assistance in tailoring your role so you do as much of that as possible. We all have things about our jobs we enjoy more than others but you can come up with strategies to do what you need to and get it over with so you can focus on things you’re naturally talented at.”
She has no time for self-pity. “If you’re one of those people who whinges, ‘I don’t get enough recognition for what I do around here,’ then my first question to you is, ‘When was the last time you went out of your way to give someone else some?’”
We must not lose focus in uncertain times. “When times are tough, people have less choice about where they’re going. Managers should focus on the basics and give people as much clarity and stability as possible, some hope for the future and show their humanity at work. Creating engaging workplaces is not complicated but it does require deliberate effort.”
Melissa Dunn Lampe’s tips for creating a more engaging workplace
1. Treat your staff as people first, then employees. Look at them as individuals and get to know them.
2. Show your humanity — ask for help when you need it and show compassion when appropriate.
3. Try, even in uncertain times, to create as much stability as possible. Be clear about expectations and priorities and define expected behaviours plus business outcomes.
4. Give recognition and praise generously. Encourage your people to be generous with one another and their subordinates.
5. Give regular, specific, positive feedback and correct inappropriate behaviour immediately.
6. Create a purpose-driven environment. People need to connect to something greater than themselves or simply achieving sales targets.