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Employee Engagement in a Recession

For Release Upon Receipt - Friday, April 4, 2014

As Barbados faces major job losses in a crippling recession, a management researcher is pointing to the critical nature of employment engagement for both public and private sector organisations.

Lecturer in the Department of Management Studies at UWI, Cave Hill campus, Nicole Knight says even after recruiting the “right” employees into the organization, employers are presented with the challenge of motivating them beyond the “honeymoon” orientation phase.

“Engaged employees work with passion, feel a profound connection to their company, drive motivation and move the organization forward” she says. “Engagement speaks to the “harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances”. Disengagement therefore is the “uncoupling of selves from work roles”; where people withdraw and defend themselves physically, cognitively, or emotionally during role performances.

According to Ms Knight, employee engagement has been linked to other important organizational outcomes such as employee satisfaction, organizational effectiveness, productivity, profitability, Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), commitment, safety and customer satisfaction.

She adds: “Achieving a highly engaged workforce however, is not an easy task. During recessionary times it becomes even more challenging to maintain high morale within organizations. Thus, the organization must work to develop and nurture engagement, which requires a two-way relationship between employer and employee. The Barbadian workforce is currently experiencing job cuts within the public and private sector. How can we attempt to achieve high engagement in these times? How can management ensure that staff remain engaged so that service quality and commitment isn’t compromised?

She suggests:

1. Job specific orientation into the mission, vision, values of the job is necessary. Job design is critical to ensure person-environment fit.

2. Engagement must begin at the top of the organization. Managers must lead by example.

3. There must be opportunities for career development. This becomes particularly relevant when attempting to incentivize highly trained employees, who desire self- actualization.

4. Equip employees with the requisite tools to function in their jobs. Working conditions should also foster positive social relationships at work

5. Provide appropriate training for employees. This creates a more confident, competent and possibly more committed employee. In recessionary times the right employees need to be targeted for training.

6. A robust feedback system must be developed. Managers as well as employees must be held responsible for their levels of engagement. Performance appraisal systems must be tied to the overall objectives of the organization. Employee engagement surveys can assist management in developing SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, results oriented and time bounded) goals for the organization.

7. Incentives are critical. Research shows a strong positive relationship between employee performance and enhanced pay, recognition and praise. Management can focus more attention on recognition and praise of excellent employees.

8. By placing emphasis on top performers and engaging them it reduces the turnover of the high performers within the organization. Employers should also seek to highlight all employees’ strengths during performance appraisals.

9. Two way communication. This is vital during recessionary times. In addition to sharing decision making etc. it is critical for employees to be kept abreast of organizational changes. When employees are unclear of objectives, goals and initiatives it causes mistrust and promotes a disengaged workforce. Wherever possible employees should be informed in a timely manner of impending changes. Employees must be given the opportunity to air their concerns to management. If the organization is fair and treats its employees with respect, there is a greater likelihood that employees will be motivated to work.

10. Creating a culture of engagement. A strong effective culture is necessary to immerse new employees into the norms of the organization. Moreover, by creating a unique and distinct culture (spirit), gives employees a true sense of belonging which encourages engagement. Transformational type leaders who foster a supportive and Innovative organizational culture are needed in recessionary times.

“Finally, it is important to underscore that employees must take responsibility for their personal work ethic. In these challenging economic times employers are faced with difficult decisions and cost cutting measures are unavoidable. As a direct result, employees must ensure that their performance levels are high and that they are contributing to the well- being of their organizations. The current economic landscape can no longer tolerate mediocrity. That being said, in order for organizations to derive maximum productivity and profitability (which is so necessary in this economy) greater effort must also be placed on strategies that will cause workers to go “beyond the call of duty” and be truly engaged,” Knight says.


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