Employee Engagement in Canada

Employee engagement is confusing. A recent Aon Hewitt survey found that overall employee engagement has increased slightly in Canada. Interesting enough, the recent survey found that employees were slightly more satisfied with their pay, but slightly less satisfied with processes at their work.

Canadian HR Reporter interviewed Neil Crawford, one of the authors of this survey. Crawford sates:

“High employee engagement is strongly correlated with a range of productivity-related measures such as revenue per employee, absenteeism and turnover,” he said. “Highly engaged employees have slightly more than one-half of the absenteeism of disengaged employees. This translates into an average difference of about six days per employee per year. If the total annual employee cost is $40,000, the productivity savings for high engagement could be as high as $1,000 per employee, per year from absenteeism alone.”

I love the fact that we are seeing some hard metrics attached to traditionally “soft” measures life engagement. Studies like this will help all HR Professionals benchmark their organizations and create better arguments for implementing “soft” measures. We can’t settle for “just because…” arguments when we (HR) propose initiatives, and must be prepared to answer the inevitable ROI and “why” questions.

Check out the story on Canadian HR Reporter here.

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The Art of HR: Engaging Exceptional Talent

Developing and retaining the best employees is one of the top future challenges for HR departments. In 2006, I studied the integration of artists into churches in Western Canada, as part of my Master’s Major Project. I interviewed numerous artists and church leaders for this project and pondered how church leaders could bolster their relationships with artists. There are large pools of untapped artistic talent in most churches, and most church leaders struggle with what to do with that talent. I found that a utilitarian approach to artists in the church severely harmed this relationship, sometimes irreparably. When church leaders “used” artists for their own narrow agenda, the artists resisted or left. Most never returned. I called this a utilitarian view of the arts and artists, where the artist is only useful for his or her talent, not for who he or she is.

None of the artists I interviewed liked being pigeonholed into a single category (i.e. a painter, sculptor, graphic artist etc.). Those things were talents; not who they were. An artist is an artist, but may also be a father or mother, a student, a traveller, a lover, a questioner, or anything that any other human might be. A caring church community was much more attractive to these artists than a congregation that seemed to do a great job of using the arts. When church leaders took the time to get to know these artists as people first, and artists second, then the artists thrived in their church. Paradoxically, these artists then willingly embraced their art form as a form of service in the church.

I think many (most?) organizations treat their employees in a similar utilitarian manner. They “use” employees for their talents, and then discard them when their usefulness expires. An employee’s worth is measured by his or her utility, not on who they are. It is little wonder that loyalty is dropping while selfishness is increasing. What do we really expect as leaders? Why does it surprise us when our talent is not engaged, when we so easily treat them as a commodity? There is no easy solution to this issue, and I am not going to trivialize this issue by presenting a five-step process to doing so. Engaging exceptional talent starts with the heart of the leaders in the organization. It must include building a caring community that values the person for who he or she is, not merely for what he or she produces.

Engaging talent cannot be done from an off-site corporate headquarters where HR leaders rarely interact with operational leaders. It must be done through direct and personal contact with employees at all levels of the organization. This visibility is important, because it gives HR leaders opportunities to see what is actually happening in the organization. Surveys and reports are extremely useful, but sometimes a cup of coffee with a front-line employee can tell an HR leader just as much, and sometimes more, than an expensive research study. Useful intelligence is gathered through interaction, not just by third-hand reports. That intelligence is crucial to the long-term success of the organization. Are HR leaders ready to embrace that role?

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, “The Art of HR”. For my final Doctoral project, I researched how Top Employers provide effective HR services to their organizations. I compiled my results into this book. Please email me directly if you would like a copy.

Engagement: One (free) Story at a Time

How much do engaged employees cost? My wife and I recently stayed at the Courtyard Mariott in Calgary. We chatted with the front desk person as we checked in. He was nice and very helpful and did his job checking us in. During our conversation, it came up that it was my wife’s birthday that day. We weren’t expecting anything, it just came up in our conversation. We checked in and about 20 minutes later, the front desk attendant knocked on the door and dropped off three cupcakes and a handwritten birthday card. It made us laugh and of course, we thoroughly enjoyed those cupcakes.

What struck me the most was the simple brilliance of the gesture. It cost the hotel next to nothing, yet it made my day. They didn’t come up with some elaborate way to recognize us or discount our room. The front desk employee just found a way to do something simple. In doing so, he engaged us as customers. I have stayed at dozens of hotels in my life, and most fall into the boring and forgettable good category. I have never had a hotel horror story, but neither have I ever had a service story worthy of sharing. Until now. I am now an engaged customer of this hotel. And a simple gesture tipped me that direction.

I think sometimes we overthink engagement as leaders. We strategize, ponder, form committees, hire consultants, do surveys and all kinds of other things—most of which cost money. But sometimes the best engagement strategies are the simplest ones. I used to work for an organization where the CEO read every performance evaluation of employees in the company (we had about 500 employees). He would put a handwritten note on the back of everyone one congratulating the employee and thanking them on their work. For many employees, that note was the best part of the review. I know I can’t remember most of my reviews, but I do remember his notes.

Spending money on engagement might help, but don’t be afraid to step back in time and use “old” strategies too. Cupcakes and a handwritten card made me an engaged customer of a hotel. Perhaps similar tactics—if they are truly genuine—will help engage your employees too. Write a note. Say thank-you. Pour coffee for them. Say thank you again. Congratulate employees on accomplishments. Brag about your employees’ great works, to your boss. Get your boss to say thank you to your direct reports. Send flowers. Send cupcakes. Create engaged employees one (free) story at a time (Note: Getting your EA to do the aforementioned for you is not the same as you doing it).

Note: I have no affiliation with this hotel, nor did I receive any remuneration for mentioning them in this post.

Book Review: UnMarketing. Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.

First off, I am definitely not qualified to review a book on social media. I’m still learning a lot, make lots of mistakes and am still trying to figure it out along with everyone else. So I’m approaching this review from the perspective of a business leader looking to learn more about how best to embark into online social networking endeavours. And UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging is well worth the read

Scott Stratten has a witty, sarcastic and self-depreciating writing style. His anecdotes, statistics, and witty footnotes are part Donald Miller and part Malcolm Gladwell. The cover of UnMarketing even caught my eye. Anyone who blatantly makes up fake praise (one review is from the “famous author who hasn’t read this book”), for his own marketing book has to have something interesting to say, which is why I bought it.

On the way to work every day, I pass a hair salon with a cheap billboard out front that says “become our fan on Facebook”. Ummm, why the heck would I do that? (it’s a boring drive, and I do wonder that every time I see it). Stratten explains why marketing strategies like that are useless, but most importantly, gives real life stories of how companies have successfully journeyed into the world of online social media.

Stratten repeatedly emphasizes that social media is a reciprocal agreement between people. It can’t be faked. It has to be genuine…just like leadership does. Strip the marketing terms out of this book, and you have a great core of advice on how leaders successfully network themselves within organizations. This networking is necessary, and requires genuine, authentic time invested by the leader. Relationships can’t be outsourced or delegated, no matter how hard leaders try. Your employees are already talking about your company on Facebook, or at the local pub. Why not find a way to harness that energy, learn from them, and better your company? Stratten shows you how to do that using the plethora of tools available in 2011, but also helps readers deepen their understanding of the relationships involved in/through social media.

Most of all, Stratten lives his stuff. I always get amused by people who promote themselves as social media “experts” but only have 39 Twitter followers and a pre-1995 website for their company. Social media isn’t something you can read about. To call yourself a true expert, you have to live it and have something credible to say. Stratten gets that. He has successfully done everything he writes about in this book, and that gives him a lot of credibility in my mind.

I highly recommend this book for any business leader looking at ways to better use his marketing dollars, and who wants to build a stronger social fabric within his/her organization.

Disengagement. is it always the leader’s fault?

I grabbed supper at Quizno’s a few days ago and saw two of the most disengaged employees I have ever seen. In the half hour I was there, they took two smoke breaks, in uniform, right in front of the door. We barely got greeted. The floors were filthy. The tables were dirty. they left a full garbage bag outside the front door. The parking stalls in front had bottles laying in them. The chairs were all upside down on all the tables, 1.5 hours before closing. The counters were in disarray. Thankfully, our subs were great, but as I sat there, I thought “these are two disengaged employees.” But then I began wondering whose fault that disengagement is.

If we fully believe Gallup’s research on engagement, we would think that a) this is fully the manager’s fault, and b) if we somehow found a way to engage these employees, then everything else would fix itself.

But where does employee responsibility fit in? It’s fun to just blame management for everything, but have we progressed too far in our focus on leadership to always blame the leaders for disengagement? These two employees have choices to make. They chose that day to do very little work, to ignore common hygiene practices, to violate local bylaws by smoking in front of the door, to ignore the customers, and to not make our customer experience “engaging”. Shouldn’t they shoulder the responsibility for their actions, as well as management.

I don’t think the solution is soft in this case. Maybe these two should just not be working in a customer service field. But I blame them, not the manager for my bad experience.