How a great workplace drives profits

By |  September 22, 2021
Pennsylvania State University’s William Rothwell says periodic conversations with employees will reveal issues about their working conditions. Photo: izusek/E+/Getty Images

Pennsylvania State University’s William Rothwell says periodic conversations with employees will reveal issues about their working conditions. Photo: izusek/E+/Getty Images

That popular mantra for creating a productive workforce has always been easier said than done.

Today, the challenge is tougher than ever, thanks to slim pickings in the candidate pool. Many workers furloughed or exiled to home offices during the pandemic have been rethinking their personal goals. Do they really want to return to a workplace where they never felt engaged? Or join one that promises nothing but dull routine?

Today’s tighter labor environment comes at a time when hiring errors and subpar performance can seriously impact the bottom line. As advances in technology have reinforced the need to exceed the competition’s productivity levels, employers need workers who will perform at the highest levels possible.

“In this competitive environment, companies have downsized considerably,” says Pete Tosh, founder of The Focus Group in Macon, Georgia. “As a result, they really need to accomplish more with fewer employees.”

Understanding engagement

The good news is that businesses can take steps to attract and retain “A” players. The process begins with an understanding of the forces that propel top achievers.

“There is a difference between motivation and engagement,” says William Rothwell,  professor of workforce education and development at Pennsylvania State University. “Motivation is internal to people while engagement is a passion for what they do. Engagement requires a match between the person’s passions and their daily work activities.”

Employees who are both motivated and engaged contribute maximum value to their employers. Not only do they get more easily into the flow of their work, but they reduce costly turnover by sticking around longer.

“A recent Gallup survey shows that engaged employees drive 12 percent more profit,” Tosh says. “They are far more productive and lead to higher customer satisfaction.”

Before taking steps to improve employee engagement, a business needs to assess how its staff currently feels about their work environment.

“The most common misconception by employers is thinking people are engaged when they aren’t,” Tosh says.

A close look at employee attitude is likely to be eye opening. A recent Gallup report revealed that only 36 percent of employees at the typical business are fully engaged, which means giving their best efforts or working to their full potential. Fully 13 percent are “actively disengaged,” which means they are miserable in their duties and spreading unhappiness to coworkers – and, presumably, customers.

Perhaps as alarming was Gallup’s finding that 51 percent of employees are “not engaged”– psychologically unattached and just “going through the motions.” In other words, a majority of employees are not pulling their weight.

The best way to assess employee engagement is to speak with them one on one.

“Periodic conversations with employees will reveal any issues about their working conditions,” Rothwell says. “The business environment is one thing, but how people perceive it and feel about it is very often another.”

But the supervisor plays a key role here.

“Effective supervisors are catalysts,” Tosh says. “They impact and utilize employee talents to achieve business goals.”

It’s the frequent touchpoints of supervisor and employee, he adds, that offers the greatest potential.

“Each interaction, even momentary, is an opportunity to build the relationship, to coach and to improve the employee’s performance,” Tosh says.

Unfortunately, too many supervisors see worker interactions as interruptions rather than opportunities. Other times, supervisor personalities clash with their charges. And that can be a major demotivator.

“An employee’s perception of their relationship with their manager is far more important than their perception of the organization as a whole,” Tosh says.

Still, does an organization do with the subset of employees that always seems to have a negative interpretation of workplace events? Bob Verchota, senior consultant at RPVerchota & Associates, suggests organizations harness their energies.

“Sometimes your cynics are your best critics,” Verchota says. “Make a focus group out of them. Then, you can really work on removing barriers to efficient employee performance.”

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