Employers "frighteningly" unprepared for recovery: Report
20 October 2009 8:23am
The downturn will last 12 months longer for organisations that fail to address employee engagement issues now, says TMP Worldwide head of employer branding, James Wiggins.
TMP Worldwide recently surveyed around 200 employers about their recovery strategies, describing the findings as "both gratifying and frightening".
Less than one third of organisations have formally developed - or plan to develop - a recovery strategy, the survey found. "Even with the remaining uncertainty around the timing and nature of a recovery, the timeframes required to plan and gain organisational and funding approval for any strategic initiative, would suggest this is a risky oversight," Wiggins says in Surviving and recovering from the downturn.
He attributes the lack of urgency to "vast overestimation of the current level of employee engagement and a corresponding underestimation of its very tangible impact on the bottom line".
Some 94 per cent of organisations surveyed believe three quarters or more of their current workforce are actively engaged, but independent research among employees leading up to the downturn had consistently placed the level of active engagement at closer to just 25 per cent, he says.
He expects many employers to be taken by surprise by a spike in voluntary turnover just as they gear up for growth.
"Those who don't prepare by addressing engagement issues now, will be among those organisations caught in the turnover merry-go-round as employees act on the pent-up frustrations created by the downturn. The downturn will likely last 12 months longer for these organisations than those who work now to ensure they have truly high active engagement levels."
Initiatives to focus on
Wiggins urges employers to focus on seven key initiatives to position themselves to take advantage of the upturn:
Understand engagement - "Organisations need to formally identify what situations, experiences, systems and processes, and attitudes and beliefs motivate employees to apply discretionary effort and which motivate them to withdraw effort."
While many employers measure engagement levels in various forms, very few pragmatically track the relationship between engagement and tangible organisational outcomes, he says.
Employers should use qualitative research - involving focus groups and interviews - to uncover and understand these tangible causes and effects, he says. "No doubt this will involve a fundamental change in how many organisations conduct, report and use existing engagement research."
Bravely tackle the right quick wins - Once they have the information, employers need to "look at what they find from research objectively and with an open mind, to do what they need to, not just what is easy", Wiggins says.
Many of the things that need changing will involve "how things are done" and how people - in particular managers - behave.
"Changing these are never easy but some have truly amazing ROIs. Activity and behaviour effects need to be quantified in whatever metrics your organisation values most (productivity, costs, revenue, customer satisfaction, product quality, etc) in order to establish engagement ROIs that will convince even the most sceptical in your organisations to change."
Re-evaluate and agree on what success is now - Most organisations hold their managers accountable to certain business or financial outcomes but not to how they should be achieved, Wiggins says. "Bearing in mind the traditionally poor people-skills of most managers and the increasing levels of employee disengagement and withdrawal of discretionary effort, this has now become a dangerous omission. Even more dangerous when you consider the true cost of voluntary staff turnover to organisations as we head towards the inevitable 'resume tsunami'."
Make internal communications a fundamental risk management tool - "Organisations need to stop using internal communications as an organisational and/or leadership ego builder and start using it to guide employee behaviour and influence employee beliefs," Wiggins says.
"For many this will involve a reassessment of the messages, communications channels and materials, and specific responsibilities of individuals - including frontline managers - within your internal communications system. This should also involve the preparation, in advance, of communications contingency plans to deal with emerging issues and situations to mitigate these identified business risks."
HR is best placed to identify what candidates and employees need to hear in order influence beliefs, behaviour choices and decision-making, Wiggins says, while marketing is best placed to decide how to craft this content into effective messaging and media channels.
"If organisations want to utilise internal communications as an effective, bottom-line impacting business tool, it is imperative for HR and marketing to collaborate more on internal communications - and for both to better guide leadership."
Add internal communications objectives to your other business metrics - It's easy to communicate information, but it's harder to communicate in a way that influences behaviour, Wiggins says.
Every internal communications activity should have a defined organisational goal, he says, and that outcome should be measured. "These outcomes and measurements should even be extended to line manager/supervisor KPIs because of the critical importance of these on day to day employee attitudes and behaviour."
Review, seriously, the entire candidate-employee lifecycle in your organisation - Some candidate and employee experiences are more important in effectively attracting, engaging and retaining the right people than others, Wiggins notes.
Candidate care resources, recruitment and candidate assessment processes, induction and on-boarding programs, performance management programs should all be under review and redevelopment now, he says.
Rethink your relationship with the candidate market - "The meteoric rise in use of social media environments has changed the way [employers will] establish and manage candidate relationships, forever. Organisations - public and private - need to understand this and rethink not only the media channels they use to recruit but the entire way they interact with candidates, both passive and active."
Candidates are listening to employment messages more now than they did during the boom years, Wiggins says. "Now is the time to work out what messages underpin the relationships you need to build with candidates and employees into the future, in order to meet your organisational goals and objectives."
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