Working to live or living to work? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in six employees work 49 hours or more each week. In numbers, this translates to almost 1.7 million people. If you then account for the fact that the average person sleeps around 7 hours per night, this means that we spend approximately 40% of our week at work. If this is the case, then why don’t more employers recognise the importance of employee engagement? And moreover, whose responsibility is it to initiate these conversations?

A recent report conducted by Aon Hewitt’s 2013 Best Employers Australia and New Zealand, found that only 38engaged workplace per cent of organisations recognised the importance of employee engagement. Why is this? Coming from a Sales Management background prior to my Human Resources career, I personally believe it is because organisations do not see how ‘soft’ measures such as employee engagement translates into their bottom line. It goes back to the old question, ‘what’s in it for me’?

Let me attempt to answer this question. The aforementioned report found that of the 125 organisations surveyed, which translated to 100,000 employees, those that actively engaged their employees saw a direct increase in revenue. It also found that prior to common misconception, there was no statistical correlation between organisation size and the impact of engagement. Therefore employee engagement is not just for big business.

Employee engagement, in basic terms, can be described as the additional effort that an employee is willing to expend based on their emotional commitment to an organisation. Previously it has been described as motivation or retention, that is the willingness and ability to contribute to the success of their organisation, by giving extra time or energy.

Towers Watson’s 2012 Global Workforce Study showed that after subtracting their operating costs, organisations with engaged employees experienced revenue that was close to three times higher than companies with low engagement levels. Harter et al. (2006) found that firms in the top quartile of engagement scores had 12% higher profitability and 18% higher productivity.

Engaged employees work smarter, not harder. They are the individuals looking to streamline existing processes to further improve their performance. This translates into increased revenue, reduced costs as well as increased quality and innovation. Engaged employees go above and beyond to ascertain their customer’s needs and surpass them. This leads to repeat business which has proved to be more cost effective than acquiring new customers.

On the flipside, the cost of employee disengagement can be immense to the bottom line and public image of a downbusiness. Employee disengagement has been estimated to cost the US economy as much as 350 billion dollars per year in lost productivity, accidents, theft and turnover. So, even if you still decide to challenge the monetary benefits of employee engagement, can you really afford to stand idle and do nothing?

The key to employee engagement is voice. Employees being able to voice opinions and influence decision making. This is one of the strongest drivers of employee engagement and leads me back to one of my earlier questions. Whose responsibility is it to initiate these conversations regarding employee engagement? Who is the employee’s voice?

Depending on the structure and size of the organisation this could be Human Resources, Line Managers or Senior Management. As long as it is somebody. Whoever it is needs to understand employee engagement, how it can be measured and how to use these results to develop it. If these skills do not exist in your business then you need to acquire them, whether it is through the recruitment of an individual that possesses these skills, or by employing consultants who specialise in this area.

The most popular way to measure employee engagement is through surveys. However these can be lengthy, time consuming and need to be followed up with organisational integrity. Organisational integrity refers to the actions promised versus the actions delivered, both prior to and preceding the surveys. Other organisations such as Optimum Consulting have created services that measure employee engagement as well as other ‘soft’ measures in smaller bite-size chunks displayed in real-time. This ensures that both the gathering and interpreting of the results is simplified for the organisation without compromising the integrity of the data.

Lastly, at the end of the day the choice is yours. You can choose to actively engage your employees or you can choose not to. Whatever your decision, the ever-increasing amount of evidence shows that your business will inevitably experience an impact due to employee engagement. This impact could be positive due to your efforts or negative due to the lack thereof.

Kimberley Raassina – Consultant

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