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Employers and Employees - Making the Marriage Work: The Importance of Employee Commitment

The first in a 4-part series on the "4Cs" of employee engagement and satisfaction.

As many companies are finding out, the old adage that "a good man (or woman) is hard to find" is becoming increasingly true and government predictions suggest that even in times of high unemployment, the dearth of skilled employees is only going to get worse.

Factors such as a changing economy and an aging workforce can join together to create an employment environment where competent employees who are unhappy in their current situations are motivated to find a new place to "hang their hats." When these factors are combined with the apparent weakening in employee engagement, employers may find themselves faced with a confounding problem: Unwelcome employee turnover.

In fact, the 2005 Insightlink National Employee Study shows that only 21% of U.S. employees feel fully committed to their employers and only 12% agree that their employers are fully committed to them. Not surprising, however, the degree of commitment between employees and employers is directly linked to the level of job satisfaction expressed by employees. Among employees who are extremely satisfied with their jobs, 94% also feel extremely or very committed to their employers. Compare this to those employees who are not very satisfied where only 13% feel that level of commitment.

As in any marriage, trust, security and the knowledge that your needs and opinions are being considered are among the traits that keep commitment strong. At work, these qualities can be even more important than the value of monetary compensation and rewards - in fact, emotional rewards can actually have a larger impact than monetary rewards on overall employee satisfaction.

In other words, although employees might leave one job for another with better pay, their cause for leaving might not be salary at all but a myriad of other reasons - often more than likely having to do with mistrust of the company, feeling unappreciated, not respected or not recognized for the time and effort they have put into their work. The primary implication is to emphasize the importance of employee-employer relations and the need for organizations to really demonstrate that they are serious about their workers.

There is substantial research indicating that employers can favorably influence how their employees feel by taking positive steps to create a work environment that indicates, by action, that the employee is valued. Although important, pay is only one part and employers must also address fairness, quality of supervision and support for employees to successfully achieve a work/life balance.

The following specific factors and initiatives have been shown to positively affect employee satisfaction:
  • Clearly stated guidelines defining appropriate work behavior and job requirements.
  • Supportive communications with immediate supervisors and senior management.
  • The quality of the supervisory relationship.
  • Favorable developmental training and experiences.
  • Clearly-defined career goals and paths.
  • Frequent recognition, both formal and informal.
  • Fair and objective feedback on performance, provided on a regularly-scheduled basis.
  • Personal and family-oriented policies and actions.
  • Sufficiency of pay, benefits and rewards.
The strongest organizations are able to successfully develop the ideal combination of (1) quality products and/or services, (2) economic viability and (3) a positive work environment based on fairness, recognition of employee needs and adherence to the organization's values. Such combinations are not easily created and need to be carefully nurtured if the organization is to continue to thrive.

The importance of these factors and policies are the basis behind Insightlink's 4Cs model of employee satisfaction, with the four key drivers being Commitment, Culture, Communications and Compensation.

Adopting a deliberate focus on Commitment requires organizations to recognize the fundamental role that employees play in the success of the organization. This means thinking beyond the traditional emphasis on physical and investment capital and incorporating the value of "human capital" into the calculation of success, especially with the development of the knowledge economy.

Commitment is one of the factors that can help "inoculate" an organization against turnover, at a time when there is an increasing need for companies to find and hold onto their most talented employees. These days, the success of an organization is even more dependent on having a stable and committed workforce whose contributions coalesce into productive group actions.

An important contributor to this need is the fact that it is becoming more difficult to replace employees because their knowledge and skills are often more refined and specialized than in the past. Finding and keeping good employees in this environment is imperative but it is not going to be easy - according to Insightlink's Employee Norms for 2005, three-in-ten employees do not expect to stay at their current organization for more than 2 years.

As noted earlier, although six-in-ten employees see themselves as being generally committed to their organizations, almost the same proportion do not believe that their organization is committed to them. Although external factors, such as the health of the economy and the availability of work, influence the level of turnover, many organizations fail to recognize that employer/employee relationships are often weak and that it is up to organizations to demonstrate, in a very real way, that they are serious and committed to their employees. In order to achieve and maintain success, organizations need to recognize the following three components of building and managing a truly committed workforce:
  1. Attracting qualified employees
  2. Developing those employees over time
  3. Building a bond of trust and commitment with those employees
Organizations necessarily need to establish a "reservoir" of prospective, talented employees and a very important element of this is how attractive the organization is as a "mate" (building on the notion of a "marriage" between employers and employees.) The organization's reputation, to those outside of the organization as well as inside it, has a vital impact over its ability to continually attract talented employees.

It is very well established that, if an organization treats employees well, they will give back as much or more in terms of both physical and emotional commitment. Corporate respect for employees is manifested in a wide variety of ways, including fairness in the application of company policies, opportunities for growth and development, recognition of employee needs and a clean, safe working environment. A good relationship is exciting and it develops and grows. There is camaraderie around shared values and interests and the enduring sense that each will "be there" for the other when needed.

Organizations that are able to create commitment among their employees realize that commitment is ultimately personal. This is the hard part of commitment that has profound implications for corporate conduct. It requires consistency in action at the same time as recognizing the need for flexibility and requires making decisions about what employees are prepared and not prepared to do. It requires the patient and concerted attention of the whole organization.

Some of the essentials for building commitment include communicating with employees in an honest and open way, realistically assessing their capacity to engage in various initiatives, giving worthwhile feedback, making effective decisions and taking chances.

Every organization needs to enhance the capabilities of its workforce over time, which is why many organizations offer both formal and informal training. However, employees themselves also have to be willing to make the effort needed to improve their skills to help them better meet organizational goals.

Commitment to one's occupation is a helpful stimulus for personal growth and Insightlink's Employee Norms suggest that this level of commitment is quite high, since almost seven-in-ten agree that they are committed to their careers and the type of work they do.

However, the organization must foster the type of environment that encourages and facilitates the "natural" desire on the part of the part of employees to continually refine and develop their skills and knowledge. Importantly, this should include having clear career development plans for employees, since lack of such opportunities is an important contributor to employee turnover.

Organizations need to avoid creating a scenario in which their employees act and are treated more as a collection of independent contractors rather than as a united and cohesive group. Or, to continue the marriage analogy, employees who see their relationship with their employers more as "dating" than as "marriage" are, by definition, not going to be as committed or willing to go "the extra mile" for their employers when necessary. Daters have relationships that are transient with no substantive long-term obligations and do not engage in activities that would be part of a more enduring relationship. On the other hand, "marriage" infers a strong expectation of permanence and a range of obligations on both sides that are intended to improve the quality of the relationship over time.

As a first step towards improving employee retention, conduct an employee opinion survey (EOS). Such surveys are conducted for many reasons, from measuring the overall employee experience to finding out their feelings on a particular issue, plan or change within the organization. How well do employees communicate with each other and with management, what's hurting or helping their morale, how do they feel about the pay and benefits provided and how committed are they to the organization as a whole? These are only a small sample of the questions that can be addressed with a survey. More importantly, a company's culture has a very powerful influence over its work environment, which means that culture directly impacts employee satisfaction, morale and the level of commitment they will feel towards that company.

Insightlink's 4Cs Employee Survey can help organizations determine how well their company's values and mission fit with those of their employees and how strongly employees are committed to the company's current strategic direction. Understanding the extent of employee commitment is critical to maximizing the success of a company. Insightlink Communications has developed a proprietary matrix-based evaluation methodology for analyzing employee commitment that will give a clear "snapshot" to track over time.

Even more critically, conducting an employee opinion survey with Insightlink lets organizations compare their performance on a wide range of measures against Insightlink's nationally representative and validated EOS normative database.

Insightlink benchmark norms are derived from an independent study conducted by Insightlink on an annual basis among employees in the U.S. This study is based on a representative sample of employees that is rigorously designed to match the most recent U.S. Census demographics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics industry distribution and includes benchmarks not only for all employees in the U.S. but for all major industry classifications as well.


  

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