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Shyamal Majumdar: Meaningful engagement

Will your employees go to any length to help your business achieve its goals?

Shyamal Majumdar  |  Mumbai 

Will your employees go to any length to help your business achieve its goals?

At a time when many consider themselves plain lucky to have a job — just any job — the findings of a survey by Kelly Services (published yesterday) may be taken with considerable cynicism. The survey says Indians would rather contribute to something more important and meaningful than take home a fat package.

“No survey needs to tell me this. It’s as if employees have an option. Forget fat packages, every single employee has to do more to justify his/her existence in the company in such difficult times,” says the head of a large brokerage. It’s easy to understand such cynicism as the brokerage’s business is almost at a standstill now.

There are also many companies which are now trying to get even with their employees after being on the defensive over the past three or four boom years when getting people to stay on was a Herculean task.

But if one goes beyond such knee-jerk reactions, the survey gives some interesting insights to those who wish to stay in business for the long-term. For instance, the survey produced some other interesting results: Over half of GenY — those aged between 18 and 29 — long considered to be more materialistic, are prepared to forego salary and position advantages to do something more challenging.

Considering that over 70 per cent of your employees must be in that age bracket, that calls for serious introspection over the way businesses are being managed. For, some of the companies have grown so fast, you often have 25-year-olds managing 23-year-olds, who in turn are in charge of a bunch of 21-year-olds.

A certain gentleman called N R Narayana Murthy understood this long ago. Listen to what he said, and it would be easy to understand the employee value proposition of Infosys: “Our core corporate assets walk out every evening, mentally and physically tired. It is our duty to make sure that these assets return well rested, energetic and enthusiastic the next morning. Our respect for our professionals can be summed up by our belief that the market capitalisation of Infosys becomes zero after working hours end at 5 pm, no matter what it was during that day.”

Keeping your employees engaged through meaningful work isn’t just a management fad. Research has proved a clear numerical relationship between good human capital management and enhanced financial performance. Consider, for instance, a Hewitt research, which showed that stocks of the best employers outperform comparable indices and industry performance metrics by over 15 per cent.

The annual profit growth of the best employers is also 15 to 200 per cent higher than the industry average. Also, employee retention. Employee turnover in the best employers in India is 45 per cent less than that of others. The monetary implication of this is huge as a frontline employee in a top company costs 40 per cent of salary to replace and top management costs 150 to 200 per cent of salary to replace.

The moot point is that giving meaningful roles doesn’t always require having to give promotions. Look at Microsoft, which has created a separate status scale for its software engineers who can get higher external profile than their managers, the basic idea being that managers gain promotion as they take on more people and greater responsibility and software engineers gain in status as they demonstrate brilliance.

In their book, Leadership Talent in Asia, Hewitt researchers Mick Bennett and Andre Bell have observed three key behaviour in employees that indicate high levels of employee engagement.

Engaged employees stay — they have an intense desire to be a member of the organisation; say — they are passionate advocates for their workplace and speak positively about the organisation to co-workers, potential employees and customers; and strive — they go beyond what is minimally required to produce extraordinary service and results for customers and colleagues.

Look at this example of how P&G employees act like an owner of the company, treating the company’s assets as their own. During a period of heavy rain which had caused severe flooding, the government declared a holiday for all its offices, but a lot of P&G material was awaiting clearance at the customs office. The plant engineer had valid reasons to wait for a day, but he took the initiative: He braved the rains to pick up a customs official from his house and took him to his office to authorise its clearance. He then made sure that all the raw materials were delivered to the plant on the same day. As a result, the production lines didn’t have to stop.

Would your employees go to such lengths to help your business achieve its goals? If the answer is yes, you have done your job as an employer. If not, take the Kelly survey seriously before it’s too late.

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First Published: Thu, March 05 2009. 00:07 IST