Sunday, 19 December 2010

Employee engagement and satisfaction: Do you take appropriate actions according to staff feedback?

Building on the findings of its global investigation aiming at exploring leadership and management effectiveness, the Kenexa Research Institute has developed an index intended to assess employee engagement, that is to say the Employee Engagement Index (EEI). Based on the assumption that engaged employees “care more, perform better and stay longer”, this index essentially relies on four pillars: pride, satisfaction, advocacy and commitment (Kenexa, 2010).

Pride is typically associated with the reputation of an organization: employees are proud to work for this and consequently develop and show a strong sense of belonging; whereas the idea of satisfaction relates to the contentment individuals derive from the organization as a great place to work. The concept of advocacy is used in this case to describe the circumstance that an engaged employee, genuinely proud and satisfied with his organization, will surely refer their friend and family members to their organization for job opportunities. It is hence extremely unlikely that such an engaged employee would be ever tempted to seek a job with a different employer, so committed is this to his current one.
The KRI study revealed that the countries which have achieved the highest engagement scores are China, India, the Netherland, Mexico and Denmark; whereas the lowest scores were recorded in the UK, Italy, France, Germany, Japan and in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yet, China and India emerged as the countries having the most effective leaders in the world. The United States, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, Russia and Spain attained above-the-average management leadership scores, whereas below-the-average scores were recorded in Austria, United Arab Emirates, Sweden and Finland.
The findings of the survey also provided some evidences of the interrelations existing between organizational performance and employee engagement; organizations with engaged employees are most likely to attain higher levels of performance, higher annual net incomes, positive diluted earnings per share and relevant total shareholder returns.
Investigations such as that conducted by Kenexa can prove to be very valuable and may provide employers interesting insights about their organizational climate. That is basically why many employers carry out similar periodic investigations within their businesses. Organizations, notwithstanding, should subsequently act accordingly and do what it takes to make them effective and helpful, to wit: link the results provided by internal surveys to the day-to-day managers’ decision-making process. A survey conducted amongst 150 companies across Europe by Hewitt Associates, The future of the Engagement, nonetheless, found that albeit employers are very likely to carry out periodic surveys, they are unlikely to subsequently plan actions according to the feedback gathered by means of these (Hewitt Associates, 2010).

The negative effects produced on individual engagement by this inactivity are self-evident. Amongst the organizations investigated 85 percent reported to have carried out an employee survey during the last 24 months, 64 percent of which during the last year; notwithstanding, only 16 percent of these have seen a significant increase in their staff engagement level. This is mostly due to the circumstance that these types of surveys are habitually perceived by many business leaders as an “administrative step” or as “simply another survey.” Despite employee surveys contain interesting data and facts, these habitually lack of any direct relationships with the business management daily activity.
As contended by Merry (2010): "Harnessing the power of employees is not easy. Yet, now more than ever, engagement matters. In the economic climate of the last three years, when organizations have been looking to cut or reduce expenditure, organizations have had to recognise the need to keep their best people engaged.” Notwithstanding, employers seem to be unable to effectively tackle and cope with the issue.
Whether as suggested by Merry organizations habitually focus their efforts on keeping engaged only their best people, nonetheless, this should not actually come as a complete surprise. Many organizations erroneously tend to publicly emphasise the significance of the contribution made by their “talents” or “high-flyers” for the organizational success. Yet, more often than not employers deploy the largest part of their resources in favour of this specific niche of employees. This practice, questionable at best, is likely to have a knock-on effect which can ultimately prevent the organization to attain its intended objective, that is to say engage the entire workforce.
The success of a firm cannot exclusively rely on the work carried out by a few people. Despite their strategic contribution and the pivotal role these may play for the pursuance of organizational strategy, without the efforts and contribution of all the employees it is very unlikely that an organization may ever attain its intended objectives and eventually successfully emerge from recession and downturn periods.
When companies are adversely affected by a recession, in the bid to reduce costs and stay afloat, these are more often than not obliged to reduce staff so that the employees staying with the organization have to perform a larger number of tasks and duties, and to some degree are thus forced to go the extra mile as a matter of course. Without the genuine efforts of everybody it is very unlikely that organizations may be able to overcome the hardships these are forced to experience.

Things do not indeed work that differently during prosperous times either; whether employees feel not to be considered important for the success of their organization it is very likely that these deliberately underperform. Regardless of the specific circumstances under which a company operates hence these occurrences should be invariably averted by employers. The important contribution that talents and high-flyers make to any organization have to be clearly recognised, but taking heed of the fact that their capabilities and skills would be pointless whether there will not also be individuals, truly engaged and driven by a genuine sense of belonging, capable of properly and effectively execute a wide range of important and necessary, for basic these might be, activities.
The Hewitt Associates investigation showed that in many organizations employee loyalty and engagement seem to be vanishing, precisely at the moment when firms are striving to find new and leaner ways to achieve competitive advantage. A significant drop in staff engagement has indeed been confirmed by many other similar investigations; definitely one of the most significant decline ever, which amongst the other reasons may be due to the employees perceived lack of linkages between the feedback they provide by means of internal surveys and the employers practical response.
The Hewitt investigation also showed that successful organizations do not use employee surveys just as a data collection exercise. The business leaders of these organizations in fact with the HR support habitually take practical, timely action according to the feedback provided by their employees. The benefits of the employer response are subsequently reflected in the organization improved financial performance, too.
Once the plan of action has been developed, the full involvement and contribution of line managers becomes of paramount importance; they represent in fact the strongest link between top management and the shop floor and can make or break the effectual implementation of the project.
The employer programme must indeed aim at eliciting both employee engagement and satisfaction in that the two terms refer to two different individual states of mind and behaviours. The engagement definition provided by the Royal Bank of Scotland (2005) can help to clarify the difference. The RBS defines engagement “as the state of emotional and intellectual commitment to the group”, whereas considers employee satisfaction as one of the three elements forming engagement, to wit:
ü  Satisfaction (how much I like working here);
ü  Commitment (how much I want to be here);
ü  Performance (how much I want to and actually do to yield results).

According to this definition it clearly emerges that satisfaction is not directly linked to performance, as commitment and engagement are usually supposed to be. Satisfaction is in fact more strictly associated with the job carried out by an individual in an organization and usually relates to his needs, expectations and to the working environment.
Despite Armstrong (2006) claims that it is not unreasonable supporting the commonly held belief that employee job satisfaction should result in the achievement of an improved level of performance, the Author also adds and points out that research does not actually support this assumption. Back in 1955, Brayfield and Crockett, who had conducted a thorough and extensive investigation on the subject, had concluded that there was too little evidence of any causal relationship between employee attitude and their performance. Their conclusions on the subject are indeed particularly interesting: “Productivity is seldom a goal in itself but a means to goal attainment. Therefore we might expect high satisfaction and high productivity to occur together when productivity is perceived as a path to certain important goals and when these goals are achieved. Under such conditions, satisfaction and productivity might be unrelated or even negatively related.” The same conclusions were later reached by Vroom (1964) on the basis of the findings of an investigation involving the analysis of 20 studies. The median correlation amongst the studies was equal to 0.14, which is not sufficiently significant to support the existence of a causal relationship between individual satisfaction and performance.
It clearly emerges from these studies which employee performance is not driven by job satisfaction: satisfied employees are not necessarily high performers, whereas high performers are not necessarily satisfied employees. Individuals feel motivated whether these are put in a position to gain a clear knowledge and understanding of their objectives, and satisfied whether and when they attain these.
Individual satisfaction is likely to increase whether employees feel intrinsically rewarded, that is, derive satisfaction from their job and are extrinsically rewarded, to wit: receive a tangible form of reward. This suggests that individual performance can be enhanced by giving employees the possibility to perform at their best, providing these the training and knowledge necessary to perform more complex tasks and by appropriately rewarding individuals for the results these yield.
Individuals, notwithstanding, are not equal the one to the others and not all of the employees aim at meeting their wants in the workplace. Some employees are simply satisfied with their job and do not strive or are not interested in working harder to achieve a sense of fulfilment in that prefer to seek elsewhere the way to meet their needs.
It is particularly important involving employees in the development of the plan of action to be prepared according to the feedback provided by staff from the outset. Whether managers and employees work together it is in fact much more likely that the actions implemented will be accepted and welcomed by individuals.
The information gathered by means of internal surveys should also be used by employers to link the employee feedback to the organization’s results. In particular an in-depth analysis of the data provided by staff need to be carried out also to identify the eventual existence of any linkages between employee engagement, the management leadership style and the business performance.
Merry (2010), commenting on the Hewitt investigation, maintains that "The research findings are clear; organizations are more successful if they respond to their employee feedback as part of existing business or people planning processes.  Organizations which run a separate process to determine engagement actions are failing to integrate their actions into the overall business plan successfully.  If that is the case, employee engagement will inevitability remain an HR-led process rather than an integrated approach to addressing business challenges."
From the Hewitt investigation actually emerged some additional interesting, noteworthy information:
- Organizations with high engagement scores are up to 78 percent more productive and 40 percent more profitable;
- A disengaged employee can cost an organization an average of $10,000 in profit annually;

- Companies taking appropriate actions on the basis of employee surveys show an increase 19 percent to 31 percent in engagement scores.
The feedback provided by employees should prompt organizations to take immediate, appropriate actions to the benefit of the overall business performance. Conducting internal surveys without subsequently taking any action would represent a massive blunder. This would not only imply a massive waste of time and money, but could also produce remarkable downsides. Surveys are intended by employees as a means to give them voice and make their voice heard; employers can hence by no means remain deaf to employee suggestions, remarks and comments, that is to say to their most important asset voice.
Longo, R., (2010), Employees engagement and satisfaction: Do you take appropriate actions according to staff feedback?, HR Professionals, [online].