Workplace Culture

Taking Care of Business Starts With Taking Care of Employees

By Bob Nelson

Nov. 30, 2009

It’s no secret that employee morale, motivation and productivity have taken a nose dive of late following extensive layoffs and the ongoing stress and strain experienced by most employees in the economically tight times we’re in. Nearly 50 percent of workers surviving layoffs say they have taken on more responsibility, with 37 percent saying they are handling the work of two people; 34 percent of workers are spending more time at the office and 22 percent are working more weekends, according to a recent survey. Indeed, 40 percent of the “undownsized” report being less motivated, and 41 percent now view their employer with less respect, according to Drake International, a global HR firm that conducted a large survey on the topic in April 2009.

Clearly, the recession has been a long, hard road for most employers, and the challenge of leading workers to the promised land of more favorable economic times is great.

But employers can significantly influence, if not control, how motivated and satisfied their employees are. Results of a recent national comparative study conducted by Quantum Workplace of U.S. companies during the latest recession found that 66 percent of the firms saw decreases in employee engagement. To explore the issue further, the company conducted an analysis of 210 companies in which they compared those companies with higher engagement scores with those companies whose scores had dropped off, identifying five key differentiators that reveal how some employers are improving during these challenging times while others are losing ground.

For example, the study noted, “While some companies may be cutting back on perks, others are continuing to find ways to reward those employees that are performing, taking care of customers and keep them coming back.” A key category for doing this was through employee perks and benefits “that demonstrate a strong commitment to employee well-being.” While some employers are scaling back such employee benefits, others are committed to helping maintain a positive working environment for those who work for them.

What kind of benefits and perks? These can be simple things such as a policy that allows for flexibility of working hours, enabling employees to better manage their lives in ways that balance the demands at home as well as work. Or being able to readily get help and answers to questions about health coverage, investments and retirement planning. Or even something as basic as a good cup of coffee.

Effective work environment incentives are impobecause they offer a simple way to remind employees that the company cares about them and their well-being at work. It’s true that twice a month employees receive a paycheck for the work they do, but the feeling they have while they are doing that work occurs minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day—and that’s where a lot of opportunity exists to let them know you care.

The link between valuing employees and employee engagement, satisfaction and loyalty is clearer than ever before. When employee appreciation becomes a fundamental part of the company’s culture, it also becomes a critical competitive differentiator for the company as well. In the current competitive environment, simple forms of employee appreciation can thus take on a whole new level of significance and relevance to the organization and its mission and success.

A recent report titled Linking Organizational Characteristics to Employee Attitudes and Behavior by the Forum for People, Performance and Management at Northwestern University sums up the benefit of showing employees they are valued: “Employee satisfaction is a key antecedent to employee engagement. Organizations with engaged employees have customers who use their products more, and increased customer usage leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction. It is an organization’s employees who influence the behavior and attitudes of customers, and it is customers who drive an organization’s profitability through the purchase and use of its products.”

It’s true: If you want to take care of your business, start with taking care of your employees.

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