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What to look for in a great place to work

01 Jun, 2020 Employee engagement, experience, satisfaction

Most organizations of a reasonable size fall well short of maintaining happy workers and achieving high productivity. In my own observations over 25 years, a top employer is rare to find. Despite great advances in management training and in technology, most companies still don’t succeed – for many reasons.

How does your employer rate? And what can you do as a communicator to improve it?

What makes a great workplace?

The Great Place to Work Institute says engagement is the key. High engaged workplaces have employees who:

  • go beyond the minimum
  • willingly help others, even if it is not their job to do so
  • go ‘above and beyond’ for their customers
  • fix problems and suggest improvements to the way things are done
  • feel supported by and trust their immediate managers
  • have confidence in the senior leadership and direction of the organization.

A positive approach to increasing happiness and productivity in the workplace

  • A helpful approach to increase the levels of happiness and productivity at work has been developed by a UK firm, Company Debt. Here are their six low-cost recommendations.

Why seek to have engaged employees?

Engaged employees move the organization forward. Un-engaged workers basically sleepwalk through their workday, putting time but not energy, into their work. Actively disengaged workers cause damage their employer by actively undermining their own expected work and the work of others, thus causing billions of dollars in lost productivity.

ADP Research Institute poll

Only around 16% of workers worldwide were engaged at work in 2019, according to a global survey of 19,000 workers by the ADP Research Institute. The US average of around 16% seems to be in line with the average result around the world.

The study focused on aspects of engagement that an organization can influence rather than those that are usually beyond its control — such as political, economic, or individual concerns. ADPRI sought to capture the essence of engagement by asking every team member about the extent to which they agreed with 8 simple statements, on a 5-point scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” These statements, the early formulations of which were first presented by researchers at Gallup and which have since been refined by researchers at Deloitte, Cisco, ADP, and several other companies, “have proved to be the most reliable and powerful way to explain the difference between the best work experiences and the rest,” according to ADPRI.

The 8 statements in the ADPRI study capture the emotional and attitudinal components of engagement, and the productive employee behaviors that flow as a result.

  1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.
  2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.
  3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
  4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.
  5. My teammates have my back.
  6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work.
  7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.
  8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

Better results in annual Gallup poll

Better news in Gallup’s annual engagement survey results, reported in May 2020, which found US engagement levels had reached a 20-year high of 38%, and conversely, disengagement levels averaged a record low of 13%. Gallup attributed the good 2020 result to three main factors:

  1. The employer approach to employee well-being is improving due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  2. The employment base is smaller. There is a trend of newly unemployed workers having lower engagement levels before they were laid off. The net result after their departure is that current employees have slightly higher engagement levels.
  3. Current employees feel fortunate to have work.

(The 38% average US engagement levels shown in the Gallup survey for 2020 seem to be based on a slightly different focus from the ADPRI survey.)

Gallop’s annual employee engagement poll has been based on these 12 questions for 20 years:

Improvements in engagement

Gallup research attributes the improvement in overall employee engagement to changes in how organizations develop employees. High-performing organizations focus on creating high-development cultures, where people can see their impact on the organization and its customers through their work. They have opportunities to develop their strengths and purpose into a career. Gallup has identified four themes in organizations with high-development cultures:

  1. High-development cultures are initiated by the CEO and board.
  2. Managers are educated on new ways of managing – moving from a culture of ‘boss’ to ‘coach.’
  3. Communication is practiced company-wide.
  4. Managers are held accountable.

Interestingly, the communication component mentioned in item 3 above seems to totally ignore the Internal Communication role. For item 3, Gallup merely states that:

  • “The best organizations have exceptional Chief Human Resource Officers who build systems that teach managers how to develop employees in line with their innate tendencies.
  • These organizations have a designated ‘champions network’ that communicates, collects best practices and answers questions.
  • The ongoing collection of best-practice examples creates a vivid picture of what highly engaged teams look like.”

Mutual trust is key to great workplaces

Great workplaces are built through the day-to-day relationships that employees experience. According to the Great Places to Work Institute, the key factor in common in these relationships is trust. Trust is the defining principle of great workplaces — created through management’s credibility, the respect with which employees feel they are treated, and the extent to which employees expect to be treated fairly. The degree of pride and levels of authentic connection and companionship employees feel with one another are additional essential components.

From an employee’s perspective, a great workplace is one where they:

  • trust the people they work for;
  • have pride in what they do; and
  • enjoy the company of the people they work with.

From a manager’s perspective, a great workplace is one where they:

  • achieve organizational objectives;
  • work with employees who give their personal best; and
  • work together as a team/family in an environment of trust

How managers can create trust and credibility with employees

There are nine ways – or practice areas – where leaders and managers create an environment of trust. Great workplaces achieve organizational goals by inspiring, speaking and listening. They have employees who give their personal best by thanking, developing and caring. And they work together as a team/family by hiring, celebrating and sharing.

How does management achieve credibility? By consistency, fairness, modelling desired behavior, maintaining good values and treating employees with respect. Good communication is central to all of this by directly influencing three key drivers of employee engagement:

  1. Employees’ relationship with their supervisor or manager
  2. Line of sight – the extent to which an employee can see how their work contributes to the whole organization
  3. Involvement – knowing their opinion counts and can be heard.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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