How three companies get their employees to care about their work

It’s easy to spot engaged employees. They come to work early and stay late, ask good questions and have good suggestions. They double-check their work after completion and respond quickly to an emailed or phoned message. They like to talk about their work and remind supervisors of something critical that might be overlooked.

Employees who care about their work are consistently more productive and less likely to switch jobs. They’re natural innovators and brand ambassadors for their organisation.

Companies world-wide know this well. But they also know employee engagement can be hard to come by.

A Globoforce poll of 770 human resource leaders world-wide found that employee engagement is foremost on their minds, but it’s also their biggest challenge.

More than one-third of the global workforce lacks motivation about the job and is potentially looking to change employers, according to a study by global management consultancy The Hay Group. And that cuts into productivity.

In the US, for example, employees who are actively disengaged, who are unhappy with their jobs and act out their unhappiness, cost the economy an estimated $350 billion in lost productivity per year, according to Gallup. A 2012 Gallup analysis of 1.4 million employees world-wide found that employee engagement:

  • Lowered absenteeism up to 37%.
  • Reduced the number of safety incidents up to 48%.
  • Lowered turnover up to 65%.
  • Reduced the number of production defects up to 41%.
  • Improved productivity up to 21%.
  • Increased profitability up to 22%.

So what can managers, executives and HR leaders do to create a company culture that fosters employee engagement?

Start by taking a look in the mirror. “Use yourself as an example of an engaged employee,” says David Wu, CPA, CGMA, general manager and managing partner at Shanghai management consultancy GMP Talent International.

He suggests asking yourself four questions:

  1. Do you look forward to coming to work each morning with a high energy level?
  2. Do you know exactly what you need to do at work and what the rewards of doing a good job are?
  3. Do you often work late voluntarily to drive for better results, not just to complete work?
  4. Do you often talk about your company and job unconsciously at free time?

“If most of your answers are ‘yes’, then you are a highly engaged employee,” Wu said.

Executives of three companies addressed their employee-engagement activities in recent earnings calls:

  • Union Pacific Railroad, one of North America’s premier railroad franchises, developed an initiative that reduced at-risk behaviours by employees about 80% since 2005. The initiative combines peer-to-peer feedback, continuous improvement and safety leadership development. 
  • DTE Energy, a US electricity and gas supplier, formed employee resource network groups, which encourage employees to share their experience, ideas and opinions. Groups include the Hispanic Resource Group, the Asian & Middle Eastern American Forum, the Emerging Leaders Network and the Women’s Leadership Forum.
  • Intercontinental Hotels Group, a British multinational with more than 4,600 hotels world-wide, developed hiring and training tools to make sure customer service is the same quality across the hotel chain. Employee engagement is essential for guest satisfaction, and IHG regularly polls employees about their engagement.

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At Work, Engagement Is Lacking; So Is Meaning”: The global workforce is less than enthusiastic about work these days. Leaders hoping to improve levels of engagement should consider three steps, beginning with creating meaningful work, an expert on retention and rewards says. The engaged worker is more productive – and less likely to go to work elsewhere.

How HR Leadership Can Drive Business Performance”: Maximising operational efficiency alone is not enough to keep up with quickly changing global business trends. Successful companies also managed to transform their workforces. Those companies have eight traits in common, PwC and HfS Research found.

Sabine Vollmer ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.