When employees are treated with respect, they take pride in working for the company.

Globally, there is increasing concern and awareness about the concept of employee engagement. Judging from the number of articles dedicated to the subject in business and management discourse, with Forbes.com publishing at least one article a day on employee engagement this year, it is clear they are on to something. Malaysian organisations can ill afford to miss the boat.

Far from being just a buzzword for the human resources industry, employee engagement is a real concept and strategy that can make or break growth in organisations. Creating and maintaining a high productivity workplace that churns out impactful results is easier said than done. Employee engagement is the science of instilling enthusiasm and commitment among employees, measured by increased performance, productivity, customer satisfaction, profitability and other positive business outcomes.

Based on data from 230,000 employees in 142 countries, Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report shows that only 13 per cent of employees worldwide are “engaged” in their jobs. This small minority of employees are the ones who are most likely to contribute positively to their organisations, driving innovation, growth and revenue, ultimately spurring the economy.

The majority of employees (63 per cent) are “not engaged”, and worryingly, the proportion of “actively disengaged” employees (24 per cent) outnumber engaged employees nearly two-to-one. These statistics serve to confirm the common belief that work is often a source of grievance than satisfaction.

Gallup’s report also noted that Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have among the highest proportions of “not engaged” employees in the world. In particular, in Malaysia, only 11 per cent of employees are “engaged”, 81 per cent are “not engaged” and eight per cent are “actively disengaged”.

Despite having a lower than average number of engaged employees, there is an abundance of potential to fully engage many more employees through strategic interventions to help employees connect to their organisation’s vision.

Today, with people less willing to stay in the same job their whole career, experts predict that turnover rates may rise to 65 per cent. The ability to retain talents can play a significant impact on the company’s bottom line.

Dale Carnegie Training found that disengaged employees are more than 13 times more likely than engaged employees to change jobs for as little as a five per cent pay increase. Laszlo Bock, senior vice-president of Google’s People Operations, commented in an interview last year that most companies do not know how to hold onto their best people. “People don’t stay for the money,” Bock said.

Bock opined that people stay on with an organisation because of the quality of the people they work with and the feeling that their work is meaningful. Unfortunately, the high number of disengaged employees pose a significant constraint to positive workplace dynamics and may drag down motivation levels.

Employees who are not engaged feel undervalued and will be unwilling or unable to put in any extra effort in achieving the organisation’s goals. Disengaged employees are even more dangerous to a company as they exhibit negative behaviours and undermine the accomplishments of their coworkers. This group may cause a decrease in output and an increase in accidents, absenteeism and staff turnover.

A Dale Carnegie Training White Paper also noted that while employers may choose to let disgruntled workers go, the problems may persist when these former employees carry their discontent outside, damaging the organisation’s reputation with customers and potential future hires. Furthermore, with the advent of employer review apps such as Glassdoor, the impact estranged employees can create is amplified.

Replacing employees is a costly and time-consuming exercise that eats into a company’s bottom line. According to the Institute of Research on Labour and Employment at University of California, Los Angeles, the cost of replacing an employee is estimated at 150 per cent of the person’s salary. Hence, it makes sense to initiate strategies that improve talent retention simply because turning disengaged employees into engaged ones is always going to save a company money.

The argument for employee engagement is cogent. Engaged employees drive business and create sustainable success. Indeed, organisations with engaged employees outperform the competition by as much as 202 per cent. Yet, Dale Carnegie Training found that 75 per cent of organisations have no engagement plan or strategy.

But, what drives employee engagement? Dale Carnegie Training surveyed more than 4500 people globally and found that the three key factors that impact engagement are:

RELATIONSHIP with immediate supervisor;

BELIEF in senior leadership; and,

PRIDE in working for the company.

The attitude and actions of immediate supervisors can spur engagement or discourage it. Indeed, a caring manager is one of the key elements to employee engagement. People want their personal lives, health and wellbeing to be supported, so a supervisor’s ability to build strong relationships hinges on his ability to lead in a person-centred way.

Believing that the senior management is listening to their input also helps employees become engaged. Senior leaders are the visible face of the organisation who set strategic and cultural goals that steer employees in the right direction. Senior leadership that is inclusive can involve and inspire all employees to put in the necessary effort to achieve the organisation’s goals.

Last but not least, people also want to feel they belong to a community that shares their values. When employees are treated with respect, they tend to take pride in working for the company. Perhaps, the most challenging aspect in engagement is the need to create an environment where the values of the organisation and the employee can align, so that employees see organisational behaviours that reflect their personal identity.

When employees are fully engaged, companies can focus resources on building talents for impactful results. In this age of the digital economy where efficiency and productivity are key priorities, organisations in Malaysia can certainly benefit from making the workplace human again. After all, people are indeed a company’s biggest asset.

Datuk Wan Hisham Wan Sallehis president and chief executive officer of Dale Carnegie Training Malaysia

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