The Engagement Factor.
Efforts to cascade initiatives to increase employee engagement throughout an organization can be difficult. Some managers — who often have more influence with employees than HR professions — resist such efforts. Offering transparency and opportunities for involvement in company decision-making may help.
By this point, nearly everyone in HR knows the importance of employee engagement. But do the line managers in your organization?
Gallup, the Omaha, Neb.-based polling firm, announced the 27 winners of its 2012 Great Workplace Awards earlier this year. The awards are given to organizations that it feels are doing the best job of, among other things, connecting employee-engagement initiatives to business results.
“The most important criteria is, not only are they doing the right things to engage employees, but are they taking a workforce that’s psychologically committed to their jobs and leveraging that to impact the business?” says Larry Ruhlman, Gallup’s global practice manager for workplace strategies, who helps oversee the awards.
Gallup chooses the winners from among companies that are using its tools for measuring engagement.
The criteria for even being considered is quite strict, says Ruhlman. Of the firm’s 250 clients, only 20 percent even meet the minimum threshold to apply: They must survey their entire employee population, not just segments of it; have survey-response rates of at least 80 percent; and cumulative engagement scores of at least 4.15 on a 5-point scale.
Among this year’s winners is Hendrick Health System, a group of hospitals and clinics based in Abilene, Texas. It’s the 2,800-employee organization’s sixth consecutive appearance on the list.
“Our culture emphasizes compassionate care for patients, and that carries over into the entire organization,” says Director of Human Resources Susan Wade. “We work hard to establish a friendly, family-like environment here.”
In addition to offering a plethora of wellness programs, leadership-development activities and employee-recognition awards, the organization periodically rents a restored, historic theatre in downtown Abilene for “family movie nights,” in which employees and their families can see a movie for free, she says.
Hendrick Health System also puts a priority on transparency, says Wade, giving employees regular updates on the organization’s financial health and getting feedback on its new, multi-million dollar expansion project.
“We solicited their input on things like office layout and equipment placement, and gave them a preview of the designs,” she says. “We try and get as much employee input on major decisions as we can.”
The organization credits these efforts with helping it to achieve high rates of patient satisfaction and low turnover, says Wade.
In general, HR hasn’t done particularly well in connecting greater engagement with business outcomes, says Will Werhane, vice president of Hay GroupInsight in Chicago.
“For HR leaders at our largest clients, this is at the top of their agenda: ‘How do we create a closer link between what we’re doing and business metrics?’ ” he says.
“But focusing on hard metrics alone will cause you to overlook some of the more qualitative measures that ultimately lead to better results,” Werhane says. “For example, do the people in your organization seem energized and collaborative, or are they just sitting in their cubes working in solitude?”
Efforts to link engagement with reducing healthcare costs can be especially tough for HR, says Erin M. O’Connor, HR practice leader at Cammack LaRhette Consulting in New York.
“People tend to listen to their boss, not necessarily to HR,” she says. “So to get those gains in productivity and reductions in benefits spend, you’ve got to have engaged managers and business leaders promoting health and well-being.
“The problem is, many managers resist this role — it strikes them as ‘nannyish’ and intrusive.”
O’Connor suggests finding ways to demonstrate the impact that poor employee health can have on individual business units, such as reduced productivity and high absenteeism rates, to get managers on board.
“It will certainly get their attention,” she says.
In most cases, the impact of engagement programs on the bottom line won’t be apparent for a while, says Werhane.
“Any sort of change takes time to sink in and then translate to business performance,” he says.
“If you’re looking to engagement as a short-term fix, you’re going to have a tough time,” Werhane says. “But if you’re in this for the longer term, as in two or three years, that’s the sort of timeframe and persistence you’ll need in order to see the connection between greater engagement and actual business outcomes.”