Committed employees & how to get them.

Here is a set of statistics from Simon Caulkin’s management column in yesterday’s edition of The Observer. 

A survey by management consultancy Hudson found that three-quarters of senior executives would do an annual cull of their workforce to boost productivity and performance. One in six think they could get rid of 20 per cent of employees without damaging performance or morale; nearly half reckon firing up to 5 per cent a year would be a good thing.

Those of us who have spent our lives working in industry for more years than we want to admit or care to remember will find none of this at all surprising. In fact the only thing that surprises us is that anybody should find it surprising. 

Even though only 4 per cent actually carry out this threat, it is still a revealing, even breathtaking, finding. This is what executives really think of their ‘most valued asset’: fodder to be disposed of against a mechanical target. Not only that, it utterly ignores their own contribution to their employees’ underperformance, raising so many questions it’s hard to know where to begin.

Ignoring their own contribution to employees’ underperformance is a requisite skill of almost every get-ahead executive. I cannot recall ever meeting or working with an executive who, when a mistake was made, or who when something went wrong, asked how he or she might have contributed the problem. When the question of who was to blame for this, that or the other, was brought up you could always bet your bottom dollar that the questioner was implying with some considerable force that he or she was not.  

But I digress. 

The last UK survey for Gallup‘s Employee Engagement Index makes similarly grim reading. In 2005 just 16 per cent of UK employees were ‘positively engaged’ – loyal and committed to the organisation. The rest were unengaged or actively disengaged – physically present but psychologically absent. And it is getting worse: since 2001 the proportion of engaged employees has fallen, while those actively disengaged have increased to 24 per cent.

Again none of this comes as much of a surprise to us. Indeed, we have taken it so for granted that we have we’ve stopped wondering what the cost might be,

Gallup puts the cost to the economy of active disengagement at £40bn, as employees express their disenchantment by going sick, not trying, leaving, or threatening strikes. The culprit, says Gallup, is poor management. ‘Workers say they don’t know what is expected of them, managers don’t care about them as people, their jobs aren’t a good fit for their talents and their views count for little’. Disaffection grows with tenure, so ‘human assets that should increase in value with training and development instead depreciate as companies fail to maximise this investment.’ 

Is there anything that can be done about this? Caulkin does have some common-sense suggestions which are worth thinking carefully about. Whether or not they will be given anything more than a passing glance by executives thy are aimed at is the big question.


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