About Ed Cone

Edward Cone is a managing editor in the Thought Leadership group at Oxford Economics.

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.

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.

Reluctant-to-retire Boomers alter workplace dynamic

American workers are increasingly putting off retirement. And that has major implications for workforce planning as organizations struggle with the diverse needs and abilities that define each generation.

Driven in part by a lack of retirement savings, older employees are staying in their jobs longer than was the norm just two decades ago. That creates challenges — and opportunities — for employers as younger generations crowd into the workforce.

We hear a lot about the wants and needs of Millennials, and these younger workers will be a key focus of our work here. But other demographics are important to our story, too, and we’ll be giving them plenty of attention.

We’re fortunate to have Karie Willyerd, the author of this post (and co-author of The 2020 Workplace:How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today) involved in our research project. She was an integral member of the team that created our two global surveys, and will play an important role in analyzing the data and shaping our narratives as well.

A scientific approach to work/life balance

“After more than a decade in People Operations, I believe that the experience of work can be — should be — so much better.”

With all due respect, most of us reached the same conclusion by the end of the first week of our careers.

More seriously:

We all have our opinions and case studies, but there is precious little scientific certainty around how to build great work environments, cultivate high performing teams, maximize productivity, or enhance happiness.

Google is doing a major, longitudinal study about work/life balance and the factors that shape employee attitudes and behaviors. One outcome should be a better understanding of the well-being of workers. But there may be other benefits as well:

Beyond work-life balance there are any number of fascinating puzzles that we hope this longitudinal approach can help solve. For a given type of problem, what diverse characteristics should a team possess to have the best chance of solving it? What are the biggest influencers of a satisfying and productive work experience? How can peak performance be sustained over decades? How are ideas born and how do they die? How do we maximize happiness and productivity at the same time?

That last question is a good one. One answer is that productivity can be a component of happiness. I’m not sure where I fall on Google’s spectrum of “Segmentors,” who uncouple work stress from the rest of their lives, and “Integrators’” who never quite unplug. Work is in my mental RAM even on weekends, but I also take the time to walk my dog during the workday. Feels like balance to me.

The workforce of the future

Jean-François_Millet_-_Gleaners_-_Google_Art_Project_2Nothing is more critical to the success of a business than its people. Workforce issues have become a high-level strategic concern in a global, technology-saturated economy — and a growing challenge as well. Executives must make sure that talent and skills are available when and where they’re needed, and that the shifting expectations of a diverse, mobile employee population are Chaplin_-_Modern_Timesanticipated and satisfied.

Employees, meanwhile, have come a long way from the old days of field and factory (represented here by the work of Jean-François Millet and Charlie Chaplin). They must compete for jobs with people around the world, and master a changing set of skills, and adapt to the demands an ever-changing economy. At the same time, they want jobs that fit their personal and generational preferences for compensation, workplace environment, and meaning.

How well are executives prepared for the challenges of Workforce 2020? How many of them have a strategic vision, much less an action plan, and how well do those plans match the views of their employees? The answers will help determine financial results and competitive outcomes, and separate the winners from the rest of the pack.

These issues are the focus of this blog and the research program behind it. Over the next several months we’ll share results from our global surveys of 2,600 executives and 2.600 non-executive employees in 26 countries; publish excerpts from our series of exclusive interviews with corporate decision-makers; analyze news and break down trends; and preview the original reports and infographics that come out of our research. We’ll also share expert opinion and insight – including yours, if you wish to join in.

Look for us on Twitter and LinkedIn, too.