Employee engagement: Leading from the front

Putting in long hours for a corporation is hard…Putting in long hours for a cause is easy.

Following on the theme of last week’s post about the role senior leaders can play in employee engagement — and how engagement creates business results — a quote from Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

2020 Workforce news roundup

Enough about Introverts: Mastering the Way to Work with Extroverts (FastCompany): The work styles and preferences of introverts have been a popular topic in the news recently, but even introvert advocate Susan Cain (author of Quiet) recognizes that more outspoken employees need quiet time and focus, too.

A Job Description Written for Exactly One Person (The Atlantic): Santa Clara University recently published a job posting so specific, only one person was qualified—the current man in the position.

Nearly half of Millennials aren’t saving for retirement (Baltimore Business Journal): According to a recent Wells Fargo survey, 47% of Millennials are putting at least half of their paychecks toward debt, but they aren’t able to save for retirement—suggesting that companies looking to hire younger workers should consider offering simple financial plans and advice to their employees.

Remember that aging workforce the feds kept talking about? Well, it’s still a problem. (Washington Business Journal): A new survey of federal CIOs shows that the federal workforce is still dealing with the threat of an aging workforce and their inability to attract younger employees to replace them.

Employee engagement and CEO engagement

As results from our global survey come in, preliminary findings indicate a gap between what motivates and engages employees and what their companies actually deliver.

Another preliminary finding shows a worrying lack of qualified leaders to guide companies through the challenges ahead — a perception shared by executives and employees.

I was thinking about these data points last week while listening to a presentation about patient safety and satisfaction at Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, NC. This acute-care facility in an old tobacco town has won national recognition for high levels of employee engagement. President Mickey Foster described a degree of worker buy-in to Annie Penn’s mission that he says makes the high scores possible.

Nurses, doctors, and staff take the possibility of a hospital-caused infection as a personal challenge — they are invested in the health of the patients, and of the hospital itself. Part of that comes from the nature of the work, and part from the pride the community takes in its hospital. But a lot of it, I think, comes from Foster’s leadership. 

This is a CEO who will grab a mop if he sees a spot on the floor. He has cycled through several front-line jobs, from food-service to mail delivery, to better understand what his workforce does every day — and build camaraderie in the process. His own commitment to quality, and to his people, drives the culture of the entire place.

One question I had at the meeting — and I should mention that as a member of the Annie Penn advisory board and a trustee of its parent health system, I’m an interested party and a fan of Mickey Foster’s — was how well that kind of lead-from-the-front style can scale. Annie Penn is significant organization, but not a huge one.

We’re about to find out. Foster was just named President of a much larger hospital in the same system. My guess is that the top boss can set the tone even in very big enterprises, and that CEO engagement is a key to employee engagement.

China moves to improve worker skills

Employee skill sets are top of mind as demand for digital capabilities increases. The gap between what companies need and what employees have to offer is an issue everywhere, but especially so in China, where over 7 million graduates are entering the workforce this year—many without the skills they need, according to Reuters.

The Chinese government is planning to restructure the education system to address these gaps; by replacing liberal arts courses with technology-focused curriculum, universities hope to produce graduates more suited for today’s workforce. The government is also changing a key college entrance exam, adding a technical section alongside the academic section in the hopes of increasing attendance at vocational schools.

China’s focus on addressing the systemic issues in skills gaps points to the economic impact of a strong, skilled workforce, and the massive effort required to develop it.

2020 Workforce news roundup

Work-Life Balance through Interval Training (Harvard Business Review): Scott Behson reviews the concept of the “corporate athlete” (a term coined by authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz). According to the authors, work-life athleticism comes down to three critical dimensions—mind and body, performance and development, and exertion and recovery.

What It’s Like to Deliver Bad News for a Living (The Atlantic): For those who spend their working hours delivering bad news—like oncologists, first responders, and consultants handling massive layoffs—the job can be psychologically and physically damaging.

TSB Freezes CEO Pay, Pledges Free Employee Shares in IPO (Bloomberg): As the gap in pay between high-level executives and mid-level employees attracts more attention, TSB Bank has frozen its CEO’s salary and limited his bonus.

How Greyhound Is Trying to Stay Relevant at 100 Years Old (FastCompany): Over the past few years, Greyhound has restructured its business to stay successful. One of those changes is making sure employees are empowered and equipped to handle their jobs.

It’s up to senior leaders to boost employee engagement

We’ve been talking a lot about the relationship between employee happiness and productivity and the factors that contribute to engagement—topics that are in the news more and more as companies realize the value of cultivating a positive corporate culture.

Last Sunday, The New York Times published an article (“Why You Hate Work,” Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath) from the leaders at The Energy Project, a consulting firm built on the idea that “the way we’re working isn’t working.” The company recently teamed up with the Harvard Business Review to survey 12,000 employees about their engagement and productivity levels.

Their study found that employees whose physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs are met at work report higher job satisfaction and levels of focus. The researchers also found that, while senior executives are typically aware of the correlation between engagement and performance, most are not investing in meeting the needs of their employers or promoting work/life balance as much as they probably should.

 The energy of leaders is, for better or worse, contagious. When leaders explicitly encourage employees to work in more sustainable ways — and especially when they themselves model a sustainable way of working — their employees are 55 percent more engaged, 53 percent more focused, and more likely to stay at the company, [The Energy Project’s] research with the Harvard Business Review found.

As evidence that engagement leads to productivity grows, senior leaders should plan to in the wants and needs of their employees in the years ahead—to ignore worker satisfaction any longer may be detrimental to the overall health of the business.