Revealing the secret to staff engagement

In the current economic environment it is imperative that organisations provide employees with career development opportunities as a means of fostering improved staff engagement.

Staff engagement is more than a management buzzword. It’s the key to having a satisfied, productive workforce who come to work because they want to, and do good work because they like it. Yet two thirds of Australian employees are not fully engaged by their work and organisation, according to a survey of more than 5000 people undertaken this year by Right Management.

The survey unearthed a wealth of information about engagement in today’s workplace – you can read more about it here. One of the most interesting aspects was the strong correlation between career development and engagement. In fact, respondents ranked ‘career opportunities’ as the second highest driver for positive workplace engagement – in fact, it was more important than ‘leadership’, ‘culture’ and ‘compensation’.

The data also showed that organisations which provide staff with consistent opportunities for career progression are six times more likely to engage their employees than organisations that do not. This makes sense when you think about it – no matter what age, level or industry we work in, we all want to know we are going somewhere, not standing still. Having clear career goals, and a sense that we have the tools and support to reach them, is therefore crucial to feeling engaged with our work.

When employers provide quality career development, it delivers a win-win for both employers and employees. The organisation benefits from a strong internal talent pool, as well as higher productivity and performance. In fact, the survey found that leaders in high performing organisations are more than six times more likely to offer on-the-job coaching and conduct regular career discussions than their peers in lower-performing organisations.

Frequency of leaders conducting on-the-job coaching and regular career discussion

Source: Right Management

How to provide practical career support

On-the-job coaching is an essential element to career development as it helps employees discover and cultivate their greatest strengths. This means that frontline managers and senior leaders need to be equipped with the knowledge, tools and time to conduct regular coaching sessions with employees.

Once this happens, business leaders can work with their team members to identify their long-term career goals and develop a relevant action plan, including timelines and goals for achievement. A great method for maintaining high employee motivation is finding ways to offer employees a variety of internal opportunities. I encourage leaders to look at development assignments, stretch tasks, external assignments, upward promotion and new projects to help add variety to individual job roles.

Many of the leaders we have worked with need to be educated about the principles of linking motivation with career goals and how to effectively manage a career plan. Most of us don’t just wake up one day with the skills to be a good leader, so it’s important to remember that developing leadership skills - such as effective coaching - requires patience, consistency and dedication. And most importantly, developing effective leaders needs to be on the corporate agenda, not simply relegated to being ‘a HR thing’.

Lead from the top

The success of any new organisational initiative depends on having buy-in from the senior leadership team. As with any good executive, they will want to see the return on investment and impact on the bottom line.

You therefore need to regularly evaluate the outcomes and effectiveness of programs and ensure they continue to align with overall business objectives. It’s likely that you will need to invest resources in equipping your managers and leaders with the skills to be good career coaches. Once you do, you will see an ROI in multiple areas, including:

– Decreased recruitment and on-boarding costs

– Increased workplace productivity

– Improved quality of career development plans

– Increase in internally filled roles

– Higher engagement levels

– Decreased absenteeism and presenteeism

– Promotion of high performers

– Retention of those demonstrating high potential

On the flip side, a failure to invest in career development means you risk losing your most talented employees, as they look for opportunities elsewhere. For organisations struggling to remain competitive in today’s economy, providing employees with career development opportunities is not a luxury, it’s an essential tool which cannot be ignored or left on the ‘too hard’ pile.

Bridget Beattie is regional general manager of Right Management.

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