When times get tough, there’s one big workforce management mistake that tends to get made by many businesses . . .

Employee engagement falls off the radar.

The Forgotten Case For Employee Engagement

It depends on who you talk to, of course, but most HR-minded folk would agree that there is a fairly strong business case in favour of increasing employee engagement.

After all, here’s what the hugely influential Gallup organisation had to say about employee engagement as part of their ongoing assessment in which they interviewed more than 3 million employees since 1997:

Employee Engagement“Engaged employees are clearly more valuable to your company than disenchanted ones. Great managers and leaders know this instinctively, and The Gallup Organization’s latest research into employee engagement levels among the U.S. workforce confirms it. In fact, according to Gallup’s calculations, actively disengaged employees – the least productive – cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity.”

At an individual employee level, Gallup calculated that each disengaged employee costs businesses approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 paid in salary. Click to tweet

In contrast, Gallup suggested that engaged employees were far more productive and profitable due to their very strong customer focus and heightened sense of self-accountability. These types of employees were also noted as being stayers – their average tenure within organisations is longer and so they continue to contribute to economic grow over the long term.

In an economic downturn, this sort of real data and positive reviews would reasonably be expected to lead all organisations to eke out maximum business performance by further encouraging employee engagement efforts.

However, we continue to see industry surveys and reports that show that many employees are either dissatisfied or actively disengaged in their work.

In Australia, a recent large-scale workforce survey conduct by Insync found that just over half of all people voluntarily leaving their employers were doing so due to disengagement. Click to tweet

A Focus On Survival

The most likely reason for a company’s loss of focus in this vital area is the simple need for survival.

In tough economic times, many organisations will focus all their energy on purely operational matters.

Some short-sighted companies have seen the economic downturn as an opportunity to get rid of the ‘dead wood’ but such an approach is rarely done with longer term consequences in mind.

Jack Welch became known for his tough approach to performance management and firing but he was careful to combine this with a very strong focus on employee engagement for those who remained.

Organisations that lose sight of the needs and expectations of their workforce at any time place the future in jeopardy.

This is especially true in hard times.

Indeed, our friends over in the UK recognised this fact with a report commissioned by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills arguing that: “wider delivery of employee engagement could have a positive impact on UK competitiveness and performance both during the downturn and in powering through to recovery.”

How To Benefit From A Recession

A time of recession or low growth is exactly the right time to be maximising the performance and discretionary efforts of the workforce.

Any person who thinks that an economic downturn is no time for achieving businesses management excellence should keep in mind the findings from the well-known Kauffman Foundation study of a few years ago. The study revealed that just under half of Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies and 57% of the Fortune 500 companies had been founded during a recession or bear market. Click to tweet This included many companies that value and encourage discretionary effort and staff motivation such as Sears, General Electric, 3M, Ford, Boeing, State Farm Insurance, and Delta Air Lines.

Tough trading conditions are no excuse to drop the ball by not seeking maximum levels of staff motivation. In fact, they offer proactive businesses a competitive advantage.