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Sustainable Engagement Proves Best for Business

Sustainable Engagement Proves Best for Business

A Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study of 32,000 employees worldwide found that companies with the highest “sustainable engagement” scores had an operating margin of 27 percent—almost twice that of companies with high traditional engagement scores. Companies with low traditional engagement had a 10 percent operating margin.

Traditionally, engagement is the willingness and ability to go above and beyond the requirements of the job. Sustainable engagement is maintaining not only that willingness but also energy over time. That’s not easy when a protracted economic slump has forced everyone to do more with less, and when technology keeps us connected to work around the clock. Sometimes it can seem like the biggest job requirement is endurance.

According to the study, the drivers of sustainable engagement are primarily cultural—“the nature, style and quality of organizational life”—and culture is reflected in policies and programs. Companies looking to foster sustainable engagement might want to start with reducing stress by giving people greater control over when and where they work and otherwise improve their work/life balance. Evernote, which offers all its employees house-cleaning services twice a month, is a good example.

While policies and programs can energize people, Herman Miller believes that the office itself is energizing when workers have, for example, access to daylight and a variety of settings in which to work, e.g., coffee bars, touch-down spaces, and casual spaces that feel more like a living room (Google), hotel lobby (AOL), or even Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (Zynga) than like a traditional office. Office space reflects and reinforces culture, just as programs and policies do.

And just as managers do. The study shows that there’s plenty of opportunity in the area of overseeing, coaching, and mentoring people. Seventy-one percent of those who are highly engaged agreed with the statement “Manager has time to handle the people aspects of the job.” That drops to 43 percent for the traditionally engaged and 21 percent for the disengaged. Based on its research, Towers Watson sees the manager as the linchpin to sustainable engagement: “When it comes to actions that can support both enablement and energy, few things can have as much immediate impact as an effective relationship with one’s direct manager.”

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