Posted on 08 Mar 2016
If you think employee engagement is all about offering cool perks like on-site massage services and ping pong tables, think again. The concept of employee engagement has been tarnished by the “perk era” of the 1990s, says Zrinka Lovrencic, Managing Director of Great Place to Work Institute Australia.
“It’s the number one excuse we hear – that a company can’t increase employee engagement because it doesn’t have the money to do it. There’s a general sense that engagement can’t be improved without perks, which leads to the misconception that it’s expensive,” she says.
The revenue of companies on the best employers list is 20 percent higher on average, despite employing fewer people.
In fact, the best companies today are accomplishing more, and engaging more effectively, using fewer resources. According to the Institute’s research, the revenue of companies on the best employers list is 20 percent higher on average, despite employing fewer people. Companies that are not on the list of best employers actually employ 38 percent more people on average, pointing to higher costs and lower productivity.
Companies with growth in engagement see growth in their bottom line, and it’s not just in overall revenue. The Institute uses a revenue-per-employee measure to level the playing field for companies of all sizes, and those numbers continue to illustrate the importance of engagement – for companies with highly engaged workforces, revenue-per-employee is 13 percent higher than for companies with less engagement.
The numbers don’t lie, and they are causing more companies to sit up and take notice of the correlation between engaged workers and higher productivity levels. But that hasn’t always been the case. Zrinka notes that when the Institute first began in the early 1980s, there was a feeling of apathy amongst a lot of senior leaders. Employees were seen as expendable – “if they don’t like it, let them go” was a common mindset. But by the 1990s, when skilled workers were in shorter supply, that indifference quickly turned to desperation – “what can we do to make them stay?” was heard more often than not.
Employers are taking a long-term view and engagement has become about creating sustainability.
“It’s only been in the last decade that people have become interested and concerned about employees, what motivates them and drives them,” says Zrinka. “Employers are taking a long-term view and engagement has become about creating sustainability. Companies want to know how to create an environment where people want to come to work, want to think outside the box, want to help the company achieve outcomes, want accountability and want to stay.”
This engagement evolution is particularly satisfying for Zrinka who has witnessed the changes firsthand through leading the Institute. Now, in the vast majority of meetings she attends, senior leaders are hungry to learn how to create a great workplace. They are looking for ways to galvanize their workforce and encourage employees to come to work, love what they do and be more productive.
Zrinka believes the changing concept of engagement is less about employers’ efforts to forge an emotional connection to work and more about a natural progression of the growing role that work plays in our day-to-day lives. Since work has now become such an essential part of most peoples’ lives, why shouldn’t they enjoy it?
Employees of this generation want to find their niche and know what role they will play in achieving their organisation’s mission.
The increasing emphasis on our work lives, however, means that work-life balance is the next area that will need to be redefined, says Zrinka. Flexible schedules and locations are on the rise, which has led to a new need to accommodate both work lives and personal lives sufficiently in a 24-hour period. Although Zrinka sees this as being a social change that spans all generations of workers, she thinks the growing millennial workforce is the perfect cohort for the workplace experience of the future, with their focus on “working to live” rather than “living to work.”
For younger generations of workers in particular, providing a vision that is greater than themselves leads to higher levels of engagement. Rather than job hopping, Zrinka says these millennials are seeking an organisation that will give them a cause and allow them to take ownership in the mission and vision. More so than workers in the past, employees of this generation want to find their niche and know what role they will play in achieving their organisation’s mission.
Rather than focusing on short-lived perks and fads then, Zrinka asserts that companies that can align with this growing cause-driven movement will experience higher levels of engagement.
About The Author
Managing Director, Great Place to Work Institute Australia
Since 2008, Zrinka has been working with leaders and managers in a wide variety of industries to assess their workplace cultures and support them as they seek to transform their organisations into great workplaces. Zrinka is a featured speaker on workplace trends, management strategies and people practices aimed at improving workplace productivity.