How to increase employee engagement and improve the bottom line Featured

9:01pm EDT April 30, 2011
How to increase employee engagement and improve the bottom line

First e-commerce revised the need for brick and mortar, then Web 2.0 redefined the voice of the customer. Now the rise of mobile technology and online collaboration has killed the dream of work-life balance, which has a direct impact on employee engagement.

A study of 80 global companies, conducted by Paul DeYoung and Tracy Shamas and several colleagues from Towers Watson, reveals that employees need new competencies and behaviors to manage their personal obligations with the demands of today’s 24/7 work environment. Instead of striving for balance, employees must learn to harmonize work and play so companies can reap the benefits of our connected world without sacrificing employees’ discretionary effort.

“Compartmentalizing our activities doesn’t fit today’s digital world,” says Paul DeYoung, Southern California director of Talent Management and Organizational Alignment for Towers Watson. “Employees need to harmonize their work and personal pursuits, because doing so exponentially increases engagement and the bottom line.”

Smart Business spoke with DeYoung about the demise of work-life balance and how replacing it with harmonious integration can exponentially increase and sustain employee engagement.

What is exponential engagement (EE) and why is it important?

Thanks to a growing body of evidence, executives have embraced the notion that employee engagement has a significant impact on an organization’s financial results. But after combing through the data, we’ve identified two factors that influence an employee’s desire and willingness to contribute discretionary effort toward their job. The first is enablement, which exists when employees have the necessary support and tools to work efficiently and effectively over time; the second is energy, which comes from a healthful work environment that supports employees’ physical, social and emotional well-being. When these elements converge, the result is EE, which is capable of lifting a company to even greater financial heights.

How is EE impacted by harmonious integration?

Harmonious integration describes an employee’s ability to manage the demands of the modern work environment with his or her personal commitments, which is integral to emotional well-being. When companies are too focused on the bottom line and continue to raise the bar, the ensuing stress can sap employees’ energy, and, in our surveys, a better work environment and culture has supplanted compensation as the top reason for changing jobs among stressed employees. And when employees don’t have the financial resources or tools to sustain high levels of performance, frustration sets in and they ultimately burn out and check out.

How does EE influence business results?

Towers Watson studied the impact of engagement, enablement and energy across 50 global companies and found that those firms with EE had operating margins three times greater than companies optimizing only one of the contributing elements. To perform at their best, employees need positive and healthy working environments that help sustain high energy levels. For example, clear priorities, effective teams, respectful colleagues, and a balance between performance expectations and job pressures all contribute to employees’ sense of well-being on the job. In turn, positive well-being generates energy and supports sustained effort. On the other hand, motivation driven by the fear of losing your job or recessionary-induced pressures is unsustainable.

How can companies help employees learn the art of harmonious integration?

Employers can solicit feedback through employee opinion surveys and then initiate changes and offer courses to help employees increase their ability to deal with the pressure. But the best way to teach the behaviors that lead to harmonious integration is through mentoring and modeling. For example, our research shows that individuals who achieve harmony are good time managers, they know when it’s time to turn off the infiltration of e-mail and text messages and they have the ability to transition between work and personal commitments without getting frazzled. The best way to become effective at this new skill is to study others who are good at it and get feedback either through a coach or mentor. It’s also critical that executives recognize the problem and support change, before engagement erodes.

How can executives support, encourage and model harmonious integration?

Executives need to be cognizant of their own behaviors, because they impact everyone around them. In fact, based on our research, we’ve revised our executive Competency Atlas (Towers Watson’s competency dictionary) by adding ‘work and personal harmony’ to the list of must-have leadership characteristics and values. Let’s see how you stack up. First, do you send e-mails in the middle of the night? Do you require employees to be accessible on weekends or during vacations? Be conscious of the message you’re sending through your actions and respect others’ need for harmony when scheduling meetings and conference calls. Second, make sure your expectations are proportional and appropriate. It’s OK to have high expectations for your fellow executives, but don’t expect them to answer off-hour calls just because you happen to be available. Third, be a catalyst for change by endorsing training and mentoring programs and making cultural modifications based upon the feedback from employee surveys. Finally, if you’ve had the pedal to the metal during the recession, the early recovery period may be the perfect time to make additional hires and reduce organizational stress so employees can cope with the loss of work-life balance. And while doing that, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Paul DeYoung is the Southern California director of Talent Management and Organizational Alignment for Towers Watson. Reach him at (949) 253-5215 or paul.deyoung@towerswatson.com.