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Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, once offered an important insight on the relationship between organizations and their workers: “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.”
The gauge of how well an organization takes care of its employees is employee engagement. In addition to measuring the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace, employee engagement enables an organization to measure and manage employees’ perspectives on crucial elements of workplace culture.
High employee engagement is good for business. It produces good business results and good returns on investments, and it benefits the organization’s bottom line. At the heart of this goal lies an effective facilities management program.
By examining the way high employee engagement impacts business results and the role of maintenance and engineering managers in creating a culture of high employee engagement, managers can better understand steps they can take to help their organizations improve employee engagement.
Employee engagement is a key driver of successful business outcomes in today’s marketplace. High engagement promotes and improves employee retention, customer loyalty, organizational performance and shareholder value. Beyond employee retention, high employee engagement improves employees’ productivity and loyalty.
Employee engagement also directly affects an organization’s financial health and profitability. About 33 percent of American workers say they are engaged at work, according to a Gallup poll. This finding means that a great majority of this subset of American workers are not engaged, and it leaves a great deal of room for improvement for many organizations. Diving deeper, 52 percent of respondents say they are just showing up to work. Many organizations have much work to do to unlock the full potential of their workforce.
Why should organizations invest in increasing employee engagement? Simply put, highly engaged employees are more productive and committed to the organization in which they work. Employee disengagement is very costly, to the tune of $500 billion annually in the United States, according to Jacob Shriar at Office Vibe. According to Todd Richardson at Emplify, the correlation between employee engagement and productivity is direct and tangible:
The Society for Human Resources Management offers two concrete examples of the way two companies achieved notable business results through high employee engagement:
At the beverage company Molson Coors, highly engaged employees were five times less likely than nonengaged employees to have a safety incident and seven times less likely to have a lost-time safety incident. By strengthening employee engagement, the company saved $1,721,760 in safety costs in one year.
Construction equipment maker Caterpillar's increased employee engagement resulted in $8.8 million annual savings from decreased attrition, absenteeism and overtime in one European plant and a $2 million increase in profit plus a 34 percent increase in highly satisfied customers in a start-up plant.
Before we get into the role of managers in improving employee engagement, it is first necessary to discuss in specificity the drivers of improved employee engagement, output, and productivity. Research by Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) and the Centre for Evidence Based Management has identified six factors that have the greatest impact on knowledge-worker productivity:
Effective managers can be enablers of each of these factors. Social cohesion, or business friendship, is characterized by bonds of friendship, caring, closeness and enjoyment of each other’s company. In this regard, the role of a manager is to create a workplace experience that allows social cohesion to thrive. This process involves the creation, operation and maintenance of spaces where employees collaborate and ideate for innovation. It also allows them to experience the comforts of an environment where they can execute their best work.
Investments in improving workspaces to accommodate this process show employees that their leaders care, which in turn improves the perception of support. Most companies are moving to more open office environments, a strategy that not only helps with social cohesion but also with the increased flow of information. These open office environments are characterized by non-dedicated workspaces, as well as non-traditional workstations.
Because these spaces are open, employees have the flexibility to work wherever they can to get their best work done. In addition to this concept, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for more hybrid work arrangements where employees have the capability of working remotely from home, at public locations such as coffee shops and within open spaces at their companies.
This flexibility for employees has shown to increase engagement because they have more of a say in the way they get their work done. It also supports a work-life balance because employees can take care of personal issues as they arise during a workday, as opposed to the past when this kind of arrangement might not have been possible because of traditional mindsets.
Organizations like General Motors have adopted policies such as “Work Appropriately,” which empower employees to accomplish their work in the best way possible. Such policies, along with investments in technology and workspace renovations to accommodate the strategy, speak not only to the trust the organization has in its employees to continue to be productive but also to the increased confidence employees have in their employer. This trust relationship contributes significantly to higher employee engagement.
What actions can managers take to help improve employee engagement in their departments and organizations? We can view this from two perspectives:
There are three primary reasons managers are critical to employee engagement, according to author and facilities manager James McDonald:
Managers have the power to create and provide inspirational workspaces that are flexible enough to support the workstyles of all employees. These workspaces contain elements that employees care about, including natural light, artwork and creative imagery, functional and reconfigurable furniture, collaborative and ideation spaces, bold colors and spaces for rest and relaxation.
Managers also are actively involved with choosing and implementing workplace technology. It is critical that managers work hard to accommodate the needs of the workforce in providing technological solutions that enable employees to perform their work.
Managers also must make sure they have the right relationship with decision makers so the right investments are made to accommodate the needs of employees in the workplace. This issue is in recognition of the fact that the decisions that will have the biggest impact on employee engagement are made by executive leadership.
Managers must make sure the members of their own teams are engaged, as well. It is important that management team members foster connections with each other. Managers need to make sure that their team members’ needs are taken into consideration and tools and resources are provided so that they too can do their best work.
Because management teams touch so many parts of an organization by nature of their role, managers can set an example and become ambassadors for employee engagement through their contacts throughout the organization.
High employee engagement yields high organizational performance. Highly engaged employees impact productivity and profits, enhance customer experience, foster brand loyalty and help organizational cultures thrive.
Management teams play an active role in this process because they create, operate and maintain the workplaces and workspaces where these employees execute their job functions. Managers must be the catalysts for impact because they not only lead the workplace transformation for employee engagement within the organization. They also lead the teams that are change agents and value creators for employee engagement through their workplaces.
Darrell X. Rounds leads electrical and mechanical engineering for General Motors’ facilities organization, Sustainable Workplaces. Rounds has more than 21 years of facilities management and engineering experience, and he has led operations and maintenance activities for facilities with more than 53 million square feet and $7.2 billion in asset replacement costs. He earned a Facilities Management Administrator designation from BOMI International and the Certified Energy Manager from the Association of Energy Engineers, and he is a member of the commission that developed the ProFM facilities manager certification.