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26 Dec. 2011 | Comments (0)

The world has changed. The workplace has changed. Should we look at employee engagement differently?

I think so. In recent years, massive layoffs and restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, government bailouts and regulations, geo-political turmoil, and natural disasters have taken their toll on employee psyches. Particularly acute in the developed markets of the West, financial pressures at home and increased workloads in the office can impact employees -- the lucky ones who remain employed -- in terms of focus, productivity, teamwork, and innovation.

Those remaining employees at companies in “survival mode” face additional pressures: constant change, 24/7 accessibility, heightened production goals, a frenetic pace and shortened innovation cycles impact people and organizations, causing burnout and decimating engagement levels.

VUCA -- Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous -- it’s an accurate description of the work setting, and often the world, in the “new normal” in this Great Recession. What does employee engagement mean in such an environment? What is the state of engagement? What questions correlate with engagement now? What drives employee engagement? What can business leaders and human capital professionals do about raising levels of employee engagement? What’s the business impact if they are successful? What’s the business impact if they are not?

Human Capital Professionals get it. Do leaders get it?

I think so. Our most recent The Conference Board CEO Challenge™ (2011) found that the people-related issues of talent and engagement are very much on the minds of the CEOs who responded to the annual survey.

Reflecting their views during the fall of 2010 when the survey was fielded, CEOs identified talent as the second most important challenge, after business growth, that they will face in 2011; CEOs in Asia ranked talent as their number one challenge. All CEOs listed attracting, developing, and retaining talent; improving the quality of leaders; and raising engagement as strategies to address this talent challenge. Asian and U.S. CEOs listed engagement among their top five strategies.

Knowing engagement needs to be addressed is not enough. CEOs and leaders need a roadmap. We’ve chosen to serve our members by creating one.

Why measure Employee Engagement?

Understanding engagement at your company allows you to answer these questions: Do you know if your employees are engaged at a level that can drive the business performance needed to survive in this new world? Do you know if the critical talent you need to achieve the strategic goals are engaged? Do you know if your emerging leaders are engaged and intend to stay?

To stay competitive, companies need employees who are passionate about, and committed to, the work they do. A growing body of research supports what many human capital professionals have long maintained: employee engagement is closely tied to the bottom line. Research, ours and that of others, shows the high correlations between employee engagement and productivity and performance -- financial, sales, and employee performance -- as well as customer loyalty and employee retention, especially top talent and future leaders.

What do you think? What are you doing differently (if anything) in this VUCA world?

  • About the Author:Rebecca L. Ray, PhD

    Rebecca L. Ray, PhD

    Rebecca Ray is the Executive Vice President, Human Capital, at The Conference Board. She leads the US Human Capital Center and is responsible for member engagement and retention as well as the overall…

    Full Bio | More from Rebecca L. Ray, PhD


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