employee engagement

Last week in my blog post entitled What can we do to Improve the Story of Facilities Management? I wrote about the emerging internal problem our clients have in respect of employee engagement. I outlined why Facilities Managers need to change their focus from matters technical to supporting their client’s management and HR agendas to tackle this growing problem. In today’s blog, I offer two practical ways to use the workplace to assist our clients in achieving higher levels of employee engagement and, thus, assist our clients’ organisations through better workplace performance.

In last week’s blog, I referred to a worldwide survey, conducted by Gallup in 2013, which paints a fairly dismal picture of the state of engagement in our workplaces globally. I highlighted in particular that the statistics in South Africa were referred to by Gallup as “depressing” with only 9% engaged employees and a massive 45% actively disengaged employees, a ratio of 5 to 1. Well, I have some good news, rather than languishing near the bottom of the global league table, South Africa places fourth behind India, Mexico and the UAE for engaged employees as highlighted in another report by Steelcase entitled Engagement & The Global Workplace. Whilst both reports share a similar global perspective, showing only a 13 % highly engaged workforce, South Africa scores well with 19% highly engaged employees, 6% above the global average. Only 10% of the 802 South African Steelcase respondents were recorded as highly disengaged as opposed to the 45% in the Gallup survey. This is far above some of our auspicious cousins with the USA only placed sixth and the UK who placed 11th.

What does this tell us, apart from the vagaries of opinion survey results? Well, perhaps as is human nature in these circumstances, we tend to focus at the extremities of the survey. The ability to really affect change, however, lays in those participants in the ‘messy middle’ that are noted to be only slightly or partially disengaged.

As one might surmise, coming from a furniture manufacturer, the Steelcase report offers us more practical suggestions in how to use the workplace as a tool to improve employee engagement. Jim Keane, the CEO of Steelcase, says: “The Steelcase Global Report is the first study that explores the relationship between employee engagement and how people feel about their workplace. Its key findings affirm our belief that the places where people work can influence not only productivity but also shape employee attitudes and beliefs. It demonstrates that the workplace can be part of a holistic strategy to increase engagement”

The survey arrived at five key findings, the last one of which our first world cousins may find surprisingly counterintuitive.

  1. Employee Engagement Positively Correlates with Workplace Satisfaction
    • Workers who are highly satisfied with their workplace demonstrate higher levels of engagement. Highly engaged workers are also more greatly satisfied with various elements of their individual workspace, such as its size, furniture, lighting, ambient noise level and temperature. Thus, indicating that a workplace environment is an important tool for organisations to deploy to improve engagement.
  2. Engaged Employees Have More Control Over Their Experiences at Work
    • The data shows that those that have a greater degree of control over where and how they work are empowered both by organisational decisions as well as the spaces they working in. This is shown to be key in managing the need for privacy and for concentrated individual work. This leads us to the conclusion that workplaces need to provide a range of spaces for both groups and individuals as well as mobile and resident workers for them to be able to make individual choices about the best ways to work.
  3. Fixed Technology Exceeds Mobile Technology by 2-to-1
    • In line with the previous item, if the engaged employees need a greater degree of control over where and how they work, access to mobile technology is a significant contributor to employee engagement. The most highly engaged workers are more likely to have laptops, mobile phones and tablets than those that are desk-bound by landline phones and desktop computers.
  4. Traditional Work Styles Persist
    • The rise of popular culture firms, such as Google and Facebook with their slides and ball pits, have given rise to the perception that the workplace has changed dramatically. This may be true in some places, but around the world, most people still work in traditional office environments with cellular offices and desk-based individual work.
  5. Cultural Context Influences Engagement Levels
    • Perhaps the most surprising key finding is that the largest concentration of the most satisfied and most engaged workers were in emerging economy nations, where the opportunities are still plentiful. A significant determiner for high levels of engagement were the individual countries, culture, energy and optimistic attitudes. This accounts for the high placing in the study of countries like India, Mexico and South Africa

Having come up with these key findings, the Steelcase study goes one step further in indicating how we can turn these into practical workplace strategies to support employee engagement. The report outlines two distinct opportunities.

  1. Design for Well-Being: The workplace needs to be designed and operated to support the well-being of its occupants. The broad dimensions of well-being are defined as;
    • Physical – Be healthier
      • The spaces need to encourage movement throughout the day, to support healthier postures that help people stay comfortable and energised.
    • Cognitive – Think better
      • The workplace needs to allow the occupants’ spaces for focus and rejuvenation. Individuals need to be able to congregate in teams to think clearly as well as concentrate individually, solving problems and generating new ideas.
    • Emotional – Feel better
      • Workspaces need to encourage the social nature of work by nurturing a sense of belonging and fostering connections not only between people but also between the organisation and its employees.
  2. Create an Ecosystem of Different Spaces – Diversity in our workplace, both in terms of the people and the spaces, is critical for success. People need to focus, collaborate, rejuvenate, socialise and learn throughout the day. No single type of space can effectively support the diverse needs of individuals and groups. The workplace needs to be designed as an ecosystem of interconnected spaces and settings where people have choice and control over where and how they work and who they work with. This diversity will help an organisation to be more resilient and use its real estate more effectively and efficiently. The workspace needs to support well-being in the following ways:
    • Posture: Movement and Variety – The workplace needs to encourage regular movement throughout the day and offer options for people to work in sitting, standing or lounging postures.
    • Presence: Digital and Analogue, Physical and Virtual – Spaces should enable quality interactions with teams that are both locally based as well as distributed across continents and time zones.
    • Privacy: Focus and Rejuvenation – The work environment needs to provide places that offer varying ways to achieve privacy both for individual work and for confidential conversations. Privacy is important for all workers and a vital component of both focus and rejuvenation.

I attach hereto my slide-deck from the 2016 SAFMA Conference which illustrates the contents of this post


Question – How does your workplace support you in the work that you do?