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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Do your employees have a voice & feel valued?

If you have ever felt disheartened because at work you have noticed that people don’t pull their weight and still the management seems to do nothing about it, then you shouldn’t be surprised at this Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report findings which states that "84% of survey respondents say that “disengaged employees” are one of the three biggest threats facing their business. Yet it appears that little is done to identify, support or even “weed out” unengaged staff. For example, only 12% of respondents report that their companies “regularly and often” tackle staff with “continually low engagement”. Even according to C-suite executives alone, engagement is discussed “occasionally”, “rarely” or “never” at board level in 43% of companies."

This and many other facts cropped up in a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in July-September 2010. The survey researched 331 senior level executives in Europe and the Middle East. Almost half (162) of executives surveyed were board level or C-suite; the rest were senior directors. They also surveyed 80 managers and other executives for a more detailed comparative analysis.

According to the report, respondents came from a wide range of functions, covering 19 industries. Over half (54%) worked in companies with annual global revenues below $1bn and 22% in companies above $10bn. In addition, in-depth interviews with 5 company executives, academics and consultants with expertise in the field was also done. So, what has been distilled from them has been summed up in this report.

Most of it is not earth shattering news anyway, as it is what has been suspected by people all along. Though, it is good to know that it’s all on paper now, thereby giving ‘suspicions’ and ‘assumptions’ some heft.

The fact that higher management does not seem to be so clued in on employee engagement is not surprising. The top-most layer seems to view the situation through "rose tinted glasses" even as compared to their immediate subordinates. The report states, "47% of C-suite executives believe that they themselves have determined levels of employee engagement, a view shared by only 16% of senior directors outside the C-suite. More than one in five in the C-suite believe that employees are “much more engaged” than those in rival firms, compared with only 7% of respondents outside the C-suite." What’s more, only 13% of these top honchos felt that the line manager was responsible for staff engagement.

Well, if that is the case, then why have these big bosses let unproductive employees clog the system, when the decision to axe them was entirely in their hands?

The irony is that, the ones who most seem disinterested are older employees who have worked at their jobs longer. Though this fact was noted by mid-level management, the higher ups tended to have a distorted view of this issue. According to this study, "only 27% of CEOs believe that this group presents the greatest challenge in raising engagement levels, as opposed to 57% of senior vice-presidents, heads of departments or business units. The C-suite is more likely than others to say that the under-25s represent the most problematic group of employees, in line with the current management orthodoxy surrounding Generation Y."

The report has people in the upper echelon thinking they are responsible for keeping employees engaged – even more than their human resources division. It’s this blinkered view of reality that is probably causing the problem in the first place. When you can’t spot the hard workers from the hardly working types, it does look like the big boss is actually endorsing this laidback attitude.

But this study also points out that "a number of high-profile workplace surveys play down the influence of senior managers on engagement, with grass-roots workers asserting that their relationship with their immediate supervisor is the key to how engaged they feel. The tendency of so many surveyed C-suite executives to sideline the role played by other functions in engagement may reflect a trend in management literature that trumpets the power of “leadership” over everyday people-management. “We have seen a reduction in management training and a growth in leadership training”, says Chris Bones, professor of creativity and leadership at Manchester Business School. “If you were being cynical, you could say that this is because training providers can charge twice as much by using the word ‘leadership’.”

The report states, "But even if “leadership” coaching and consulting costs more, it is always going to be less expensive and time-consuming to focus attention on getting a few people to act better, than to identify and invest in training an entire tier of middle managers. Well intended or otherwise, the research indicates that too many in the C-suite may be drawn to the “leadership” explanation for employee engagement. Its appeal is bolstered because such an approach involves lower expenditure and less hassle, while helping to maintain central control. ”

"When asked to name the main methods that senior management currently use to improve staff engagement, 65% of the non-C-suite respondents answered “company-wide communication (through email or group meetings) about strategy”, whereas only 26% replied with “ensuring that middle managers are capable of good people management”

Here are some of the other ways that C-suite people said they would deal with morale problems - 65% would send out e-mails around the company or hold meetings that explains strategy. 32% would institute training and learning programmes, 28% would send out motivational e-mails, 26% would go down to the ‘shop floor’ to be more visible, 26% would ensure that people management is taken care of by middle managers more efficiently, 23% would look to conveying company philosophy and culture (shouldn’t long-term employees be familiar with this?), 16% would put emphasis on internal promotions, 11% would assess their staff on targets achieved, 11% would advance junior staff over seniors, 10% would improve work conditions and 5% said they would try other strategies.

What is compelling is that board level staff (87%) seem to be aware of this problem and believes that “disengaged employees are one of the three biggest threats facing our business. Identifying, supporting, or even weeding out, disengaged staff might seem an obvious action point. However, only 9% of ‘Managers’, the group closest to the grass-roots of the company, agree that their companies regularly and often tackle staff with “continually low engagement.” One could argue that the organisation is simply not carrying out the instructions of senior leaders, except that only 14% of the C-suite themselves agree with this statement.”

The report also states, ”It is also striking that only 6% of the largest companies, with annual revenue in excess of US$5bn, ever take the harshest approach in tackling disengagement and “regularly and often weed out” disengaged staff, despite presumably tending to have the highest number of employees, and who can more easily get lost in the cracks of the largest organisations. Such ambivalence is consistent with the fact that almost one-half of the C-suite respondents (43%) say that employee engagement is “occasionally”, “rarely” or “never” discussed at board level. Outside the boardroom, 69% doubt that regular discussions on engagement take place at board level, and only 3% agree that it is “a consistent agenda point for all major meetings.” Thus, a substantial proportion of company boards do not discuss engagement regularly, and of those that do, many do not take decisions sufficiently meaningful at their meetings to attract the attention even of those immediately below them in the hierarchy.”

Also, 33% of the C-suite occupants tend to think of their ‘under 25’ employees as being difficult to motivate, whereas only 13% of line managers – who are the people in-the-know - feel the same.

This glaringly inequitable way of perceiving which person makes any contribution to a business, almost seems to endorse the slackers way of working and taking home a paycheque. What’s more, since the top management thinks they have all the solutions, they might think sacking non-performers is not required because a pep-up speech just might help…or even a guest appearance on the ‘shop floor’ might do the trick.

But in reality, this survey pointed out that 39% of managers felt that their motivational skills mattered the most, 38% credited a friendly workplace as being important, 36% said values from senior management mattered, 33% felt clear vision from the management team was important, 27% said the immediate line manager’s competence mattered, 24% said brand reputation of the company mattered, 20% said profitability counted, 19% said the line manager’s enthusiasm at work mattered, 16% said senior management’s charisma charmed and motivated employees, 13% felt personal interaction with the top people mattered, while 4% felt staff diversity was the key.

This report comes to the conclusion that “it would appear that sufficient understanding or action by corporate leaders is lacking. Indeed, many leaders may well be grossly overestimating their own influence on engagement vis-à-vis that of middle managers. It is one thing to identify disengagement as a serious commercial threat, but seemingly another to take the logical next step to tackle continually disengaged employees and their negative influence. Many, though certainly not all, top executives professing to worry about engagement don’t even see fit to discuss the issue in board meetings, a finding that prompts the question as to whether the C-suite genuinely believe the issue is as serious as they claim it to be.”

Damn shame really – many C-suites may have a serious disengagement problem within, itself!

Read the full report here - http://www.businessresearch.eiu.com/sites/businessresearch.eiu.com/files/LON%20-%20PL%20-%20Hay%20report_WEB.pdf

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