Consider a traffic light with its red, green and yellow lamps. With the first two colors, the actions you must take are clear — stop or go. But with the third, things can get a bit murky.
Employee engagement is a bit like that. Those who track what people think about their jobs use those colors as descriptors, said Merle Riepe, principal in the Human Capital Consulting Division of SilverStone Group.
Highly engaged “green” workers are prized by employers. Such workers are loyal, go above and beyond to get work done and speak positively about the company among prospective employees. On surveys, they are enthusiastic about the company, Riepe said.
“The reds are kind of the bottom, where 'I hate everything, my boss is awful, I don't like these people I work with, my job is boring.' That's the disengaged,” he said.
The yellows — the middle group — tend to be neutral about their employers.
“They're not mad at you, but they also don't love you,” he said, adding that for some companies, yellow is OK.
“There's a lot of organizations that are content with saying, 'Our people are happy, they're not head-over-heels about us, but it's enough where they're loyal, they show up, they're dependable and things like that.'”
Riepe, who helps interpret results of the Best Places to Work in Omaha survey for participating companies, said nearly 15,000 Omaha-area employees were represented in the latest survey, which measures employee engagement. The 37-question survey, which is primarily administered online, is the basis of the Best Places to Work in Omaha Competition.
Here are the top finishers in this year's competition:
4th: American Title Inc.
(25 to 200 employees)
4th: Team Software
Quantum Workplace collects the survey data. The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and Omaha law firm Baird Holm LLP sponsor the competition.
Employee engagement includes factors such as team effectiveness, retention risk, trust with co-workers, manager effectiveness, satisfaction with pay and benefits, trust in senior leaders and satisfaction with current role.
For companies that want to improve employee engagement, the key is moving some of the yellows over to green.
“What we've seen is that you're not going to move the reds,” Riepe said. “The best thing to do with the disengaged folks is to help move them out of the organization. Help them find a place where they're going to be more happy.”
Though there's no magic formula to increase engagement of neutral workers, key factors include improving communication and building trust in work groups.
“You can probably put 80 different tools under communication,” Riepe said, “but people want to know what's going on, I guess would be the bottom line. ... People like to know that what they're doing is contributing to something beyond themselves.”
Building trust in work groups can be accomplished by offering development opportunities through mentoring, coaching and skills training. Offering those kinds of opportunities shows that the employer is committed to the employee.
Riepe said the employee will think, “'Well, they must value me enough that they're going to spend this money on me to go here and take this class. And because I have this knowledge, then all of a sudden I'm a bit more important to them as well, so they're probably going to want to hang onto me.' It's that kind of relationship that starts to build some of that trust.”
With a certain amount of effort, companies can hire individuals who are likely to become highly engaged. Riepe said a key is to learn the qualities of the company's top performers.
“We tell our clients, if you could take their DNA and replicate them and create a whole army of them, who would be those folks that you would want to go after? You try and find out, what is it that makes up that person? What are their personality characteristics? What are their backgrounds, histories, all those types of things?
“Once you have that, and you know what that looks like, you've got to go out and recruit for it,” he said.
For the interview process, companies need to look at the hiring tools they use.
“If a hiring tool is off the shelf, then it's probably not measuring your profile, right? It's just measuring a profile,” he said, adding that customizing standard tools will help companies match the desired profile.
But recruiting and hiring aren't the end of the story. Riepe said it's a mistake to hire someone who matches the desired profile without “onboarding” them — bringing them on in a way that makes them immediately feel part of the team and part of the culture. “It's not as easy as it looks on paper,” Riepe said.
Results of the most recent Best Places to Work in Omaha survey are consistent with employee engagement levels in recent years, he said.
“There hasn't been anything that's really gone down, like we might have seen during the recession several years ago, as people were losing their jobs,” he said. “What I think we've seen is that some organizations have really made some significant changes over those years and have kind of bolstered up.
“Statistically speaking, a lot of these top organizations are really, really close to one another. But you've got to draw the line somewhere, because we do have so many really great organizations in town. So that's why you're seeing some of these jump over others. In all cases, it's not the fact that these other organizations have backtracked, it's that some have really, really focused on improving their score because they wanted to get in as finalists.”
The winners in medium- and large-business categories will be honored Thursday during a luncheon at the annual Labor and Employment Law Forum presented by Baird Holm.