Sunday, January 16, 2011

Is Engagement More Important Now?

Work is drastically different today than 30 years ago. Does this change the extent to which employee engagement matters?

I would argue YES, employee engagement is more important now.
I wonder if employers have considered this change and its implications.

Employers are getting more from employees. Since the 1950 labor productivity (output per employee) has soared globally. US productivity is high but other countries are even higher, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Much of this productivity increase is from employee creativity and good judgments in alignment with organizational strategy. As the BLS summarizes the gain is due to the “joint effects of many influences, including new technology, capital investment, capacity utilization, energy use, and managerial skills, as well as the skills and efforts of the workforce.”

In other words, work is more complex, there are more “knowledge workers,” and people work hard! As our jobs become more complicated, employee autonomy and self-direction becomes more important for organizational success. Engagement is about employees’ connection to the organization and to a degree it controls how he or she will act when not formally and directly supervised.

US employees' work has become more knowledge oriented. Managerial and professional jobs have increased as a share of total employment from 22%in 1979 to 37% in 2010! The rate of increase for professional jobs is even higher, according to the BLS.   


The shapes of our organizations have changed too. Many now work in matrix organizations where lines of authority are fuzzy and we have multiple bosses influencing our behavior through feedback and coaching. Spans of control are wider so we receive less supervision. And, knowledge workers receive less direct supervision, perhaps because of their specialization. The sum result is increased employee autonomy.
I am merely summarizing the effect that the transformation to a new economy has had on our jobs and our work environments.  

Underlying this transformation is a change in the relationship between employees and employers. In most cases, the relationship has become less formal and more incentivized. Jobs are more specialized and autonomous. Direct supervision has been replaced by informal control systems. In this context, employee engagement has become much more important.

Is your organization relying more on incentives and informal controls systems to manage employees? If so, are you assuming employee engagement to get better results?


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