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How to Engage Employees for High Performance
Sustaining a productive and committed workforce has become increasingly critical to achieving high performance. A disengaged workforce vastly damages all industries with lost productivity, a culture of negativity and unhappiness and, sometimes, loss of key talent. Organizations that fail to recognize—and rectify—low employee engagement see harm to their business as employees disengage from their work or, ultimately, leave.
While employee engagement is a universal challenge for organizations in both the private and public sectors, some challenges are specific to nonprofits. Based on our research and experiences, Accenture recommends tactical and scalable steps that nonprofits can take to increase employee engagement:
Employee engagement measures how emotionally involved employees are with their work, including attitude, productivity and overall satisfaction with employment. When employees are engaged in their work, they invest physical, mental and emotional energy in completing their daily tasks. Engaged employees actively seek new ways to contribute to the success of their team and the organization as a whole.
Countless studies have shown that engaged employees are more productive, more sharply focused on customers and more likely than their disengaged counterparts to stay with their organization. Research from the Accenture Institute for High Performance found that even 25 percent of devoted employees—those with the highest measured levels of engagement—were “likely” or “extremely likely” to actively look for a new job within the next year. This figure suggests that both creating and sustaining high engagement are major challenges facing companies.
As noted in the 2012 Nonprofit Employment Trends survey, staff retention is a significant challenge among nonprofits and requires investment from leaders. One key reason for the attention may be that a strong correlation exists between employee engagement and overall organizational performance. For example, low employee engagement related to factors such as burnout lead to as much as $300 billion in losses per year.
While employee engagement symptoms and solutions are as individual as each organization, several clear overarching themes cut across industry, geography and sectors. Many companies view the biggest challenge around disengaged employees as undesirably high attrition and the additional costs associated with recruiting and training employees to replace those that choose to leave.
However, in the nonprofit sector, a more prevalent occurrence is employees who disengage yet choose to stay with the organization. For example, employees who strongly identify with the organization’s mission may stay even when they are not fully engaged. This can lead to lower organizational effectiveness and efficiency as productivity and employee morale decline.
While the challenges associated with disengaged employees can be daunting, nonprofits can take these straightforward steps to facilitate and build engagement: Respond, Invigorate, Adapt, Build and Reward.
Attributes of an Engaged Employee
Ultimately, research boils trends down to this: organizations whose cultures are characterized by trust and respect—critical foundations to any kind of strong relationship—have a better shot at developing and retaining an engaged workforce. Accenture has found that employees are four times as likely to have serious intentions of staying—and five times as likely to be engaged—when their organization’s culture is characterized by trust and respect. By addressing employee engagement, leaders create an environment that employees want to be a part of.
However, nonprofit leaders should also recognize that, regardless of actions and programs, some employees will always choose to leave. The career path of an individual may not align with what opportunities the organization can provide. In these cases, the employee and the organization can work to find a reasonable alternative—perhaps through contacts with other organizations or other career planning activities—which will lead both parties to more satisfactory outcomes.
This discussion—and ultimate decision— is not an easy one to have. However, for an organization that makes employee engagement a priority, the solution to individual mismatches is just part of a broader approach to management.
Small changes can have large, positive impacts in the workplace. We know that 97 percent of the most highly-engaged employees are willing to go “the extra mile” in order to do their job well. For organizations that are willing to reciprocate by responding, invigorating, adapting, building and rewarding, the mission impact can be direct. When a workforce deeply trusts that their employer’s intentions are genuine and opportunities are real, enduring and focused on development, engagement is no longer a goal—it becomes a reality.
May 11, 2012
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