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Say, Stay and Strive (or How to Engage the Modern Employee)

In the golden, gilded glory days of Canadian industry — the ones that saw our suit-jacketed fathers and grandfathers delivering themselves to the office in an orderly fashion every single damn day, rain or shine, sickness and health — well, the world clearly bred a different kind of employee.

Alongside tales of barefoot school-bound odysseys in shoulder-high snowdrifts, add nostalgic cogitations about a time when employees were so devoted to their jobs that they actually made it a lifelong priority.

The modern worker is a more delicate soul, it seems, vulnerable to all manner of forces that apparently conspire to keep him from his professional obligations. What sent us off the rails, then, and how can we climb back aboard already?

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Two words: employee engagement. As Jack Welch once so wisely opined, “[No] company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the [firm’s] mission and understand how to achieve it.”

The recently released list of Canada’s Best Small & Medium Employers underscores this conviction, with research revealing an average employee engagement score of 84% for the 50 best, versus 61% for the rest. “Employee engagement is key for all organizations no matter their size,” said Einar Westerlund, director of project development at the Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing, part of the Queen’s School of Business, which produced the inventory in partnership with Aon Hewitt.

According to Aon Hewitt, employees are engaged when they “say, stay and strive.” In other words, they speak positively about the organization to others, are committed to remaining with it and are motivated by its leaders to contribute to business success.

Taking action to shift staffers into this mindset is a tremendously worthwhile undertaking for managers. Employees who are engaged in their work and dedicated to their employers are more productive and less given to turnover than their less committed peers. Engaged employees at Molson Coors were five times less likely than non-engaged employees to suffer a safety incident, and Caterpillar saved $8.8 million a year at its European plant (from decreased attrition, absenteeism and overtime) and experienced a 70% increase in output in fewer than four months at its Asia-Pacific plant, thanks to its engagement initiatives.

So make your New Year’s resolution about investing in policies and practices that foster engagement among your workforce. If your workers are satisfied with their efforts, take pride in their employer, believe in what they do and feel valued by their superiors, the rewards will pile up like a snowdrift from yesteryear.

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