Survey Highlights Ways to Keep Employees Productive

As the economic downturn continues, ensuring that employees are engaged is crucial to keep workplace morale and productivity high, according to Watson Wyatt, a consulting firm.

Watson Wyatt's 2008/2009 WorkUSA Report found that when employees are highly engaged, their companies enjoy 26 percent higher employee productivity, have lower turnover risk and are more likely to attract top talent. Their companies have also earned 13 percent greater total returns to shareholders over the last five years.

According to the survey findings, highly engaged employees are twice as likely as their less engaged peers to be top performers. They also miss 20 percent fewer days of work and three-quarters of them exceed or far exceed expectations in their most recent performance review. Additionally, highly engaged workers tend to be more supportive of organizational change initiatives and resilient in the face of change. The report surveyed more than 13,000 full-time U.S. workers in May and June 2008, before the full advent of the financial crisis. 

 "Keeping workers engaged and productive is always a daunting challenge. However, it's even more crucial in this type of economic environment when organizations are striving to do more with less and employees are paying closer attention," said Ilene Gochman, global practice leader for organization effectiveness at Watson Wyatt. "There is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to employee engagement. Segmenting the workforce and tailoring communication, performance management programs and other resources to specific employee groups is the most effective way to engage workers."

Findings from the 2008/2009 WorkUSA Survey Report suggest that employers can take specific actions to increase engagement and productivity. Some of these actions are:

• Capitalize on "engageable moments." An engageable moment is a critical juncture for maintaining and building engagement. It might occur during such programs as new hires' onboarding, performance management and benefits enrollment or when the organization goes through particularly challenging economic times. WorkUSA data shows that engagement starts off high among new employees, but tapers through careers -- average employee engagement drops by 9 percent in the first year alone. Almost three-quarters (71 percent) of employees on the job for less than six months said that they are motivated to do their best work every day. This number drops to 57 percent after six months. "While some decline is inevitable, companies that identify and take action around engageable moments can minimize or potentially even reverse the decline," Gochman noted. 
• Demonstrate strong leadership and clear direction. When times are difficult, employees want to know about their organization's specific plans and progress. Decisive action backed by clearly articulated rationale can build support for corporate initiatives, particularly when individual performance objectives and rewards are tied to corporate objectives.
• Manage organizational change with effective communication. Effective communication from senior management directly connects employees to the purpose of the organization. This is particularly important in a challenging economy, when employees are anxious to learn the rationale behind decisions. Reviewing communication processes to ensure that information flows vertically as well as horizontally throughout the organization is an important step to employee engagement.
• Emphasize customer focus. In difficult times, employees are aware that job security is strengthened by satisfied customers. Emphasizing customer satisfaction keeps employees from being too internally focused and provides a common direction to move the organization forward.
• Institute and communicate a system of equitable rewards. While it may be necessary to cut back on rewards, organizations need to understand which reward programs are most important to engage their critical employee segments. Changes to rewards need to be communicated in a way that is consistent with delivering on the employment deal. Employees who indicate their organization effectively delivers on the employment deal are 20 times as likely to be highly engaged and 50 percent more likely to be top performers.
• Invest in the core. The key to driving productivity gains is increasing engagement among core contributors, who represent 60 percent of the typical workforce. Highly engaged employees are already working at or near their peak but are often limited by their less engaged co-workers. Focusing on engaging core contributors can improve both groups' productivity.

"Improving employee engagement will help drive business results in the long run by improving employee commitment to corporate goals and generating exceptional individual performance and productivity," Gochman said.

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