It’s unfortunate that most of the growing army of critics weighing down the creaking
employee engagement bandwagon come from the camp of the bleeding heart. They’re the
ones with the “staff are our greatest asset” t-shirts who trot out unsubstantiated clichés about obligations, rights and respect. Sadly they damage rather than help their cause by undermining the credibility of the people-focused functions through failing to work with the prevailing culture in order to influence that culture for the better.
The fact is that there’s a far more compelling case for employee engagement and culture development than empathy and magnanimousness. Finance directors seldom liberate budgets without a compelling business case. It’s also a fact that, unlike much external investment, the majority of culture development and internal brand engagement activity is reliant upon discretionary spend. We all know how hard it is to loosen the discretionary purse strings in the good times let alone in a downturn.
So how do you build a business case for employee engagement? I believe it’s important to keep things as simple as possible. David Bolchover, for example, in his book The Living Dead*, states that in the UK alone, doctor’s receive over 9 million “suspect” requests for sick notes per year (equivalent to the entire population of Sweden). In addition one in three midweek visitors to a major theme park are pulling a sickie from work. Do the maths for your organisation and you’ll soon have the makings of your own business case for engaging employees in the business by engaging them with the brand.
If this is still too abstract, you could adopt the en vogue concept of employer brand as your starting point. Employer brand is shorthand for the brand projected to employees and recruits. It is reliant upon the close management of key people processes like recruitment, induction, performance management and internal communication. Employee engagement and employer brand are very close bedfellows and the business case for investing in either should be built on a platform that includes:
- The true cost of recruitment and retention (including agency fees, salaries, advertising, induction and orientation etc)
- The cost of non-conformance (This is the impact of failing to fulfil brand promises to employees and new recruits. It is not just whether recruitment partners in the supply chain perform but whether your recruitment professionals are recruiting to a model based upon the desired future culture rather than fit with the existing culture. In the UK alone around approximately 365 million pounds is wasted on ineffective graduate hires**)
- The impact of creeping brand death and deadweight (What percentage of your employees turn up but have switched off or worse still, have switched allegiance? If you have employee surveys do they role model your brand values in the way they are implemented? How do they feed back into strategy and are you even bothering to measure employee engagement properly?)
As Steve McKevitt illustrates in City Slackers***, spotting the brand dead is a tricky task to implement from the heady heights of the C suite. But if I tell you that a group of disengaged public sector employees recently brought down their own CEO by leaking their version of the stories their Communications Director had carefully spoonfed the press you’ll get the idea about how important it is. Now picture how long and how widely these disaffected individuals had been bad mouthing the organisation and the impact on internal morale as well as public opinion. Time to start dusting down those surveys or reprioritising that engagement research?