Employee Engagement During Difficult Times

Here’s another article I’m working on. If you have any suggestions, please email me at mstallard@epluribuspartners.com.

During difficult times it’s natural for anxious individuals to retreat into isolation, a state that nearly always results in diminished productivity. When it comes to the amount of effort employees put in their work, research by the Corporate Leadership Council has shown that emotional connections are on average four times as important as rational factors.  Emotional connections arise when employees feel: 1) proud of their organization’s mission, values and reputation, 2) valued by their supervisor and colleagues, and 3) informed and that their opinions and ideas about matters that are important to them are considered by decision-makers before decisions are made. 

Recently I visited an impressive organization that is poised to continue performing well even through the challenging economic environment we are presently facing. The Beryl Companies is a Bedford, Texas-based organization that focuses on call center support for hospitals.  Its three-year average operating margin of 15 percent is more than double that of its next best public competitor. The firm is widely considered to be the crème-de-la-creme provider in its industry.  Beryl has also been recognized as one of the best workplaces in America.

One key to Beryl’s success is that makes its employees feel proud.  In the company’s “Right Start” program for new employees they not only learn what Beryl does but why they do it.  Beryl’s mission is to “connect people to healthcare.”  In the middle of the call center floor there are electronic scoreboard-like screens that continuously track a variety of metrics including the number of connections Beryl call center workers have made year-to-date with individuals seeking physician referrals. The day I visited Beryl, the board showed an astounding 4.1 million connections had been made through early November.

Google makes employees feel more connected by showing that it values them. It does this in a variety of ways.  Brian Fitzpatrick, head of Google’s engineering office in Chicago (recently rated the best workplace in the Windy City), takes an active interest in the careers of the employees he is responsible for leading.  He encourages them to learn and grow by taking risks and trying new approaches.  Fitzpatrick recently told me that his goal is to make the workplace so attractive that people would rather be there than work at home (which they have the flexibility to do).  To that end, his office includes amenities such as free gourmet food and a masseuse who comes to the office each week.

Organizations can also make employees feel connected by keeping them well informed and considering their opinions and ideas.  One way to do this is hold frequent lunches or roundtable meetings where groups of employees meet with a leader.  In these meetings the leader updates attendees on business issues that are important to them and seeks the attendees’ opinions, ideas and concerns. When I was visiting Pixar Animation recently, one producer told me that every Monday he gathers the entire group of 200 or so people who are involved in one of the films he is working on to keep them updated on the film’s progress and to keep them feeling connected to the team. Another organization’s president told me he keeps employees feeling connected by sitting with a different group of employees at lunch each day in the organization’s cafeteria.

Every organization would be wise to make sure its employees feel connected to their organization, especially during these anxious and stressful times.   Keeping employees connected will improve morale, trust, cooperation and the amount of effort employees put in their work. The future of many organizations may depend on it.

Michael Lee Stallard is the president of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training and development firm.  He is also the primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out.

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