Driving Performance by Building Employee Satisfaction and Engagement

By Lavigna, Bob | Government Finance Review, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Driving Performance by Building Employee Satisfaction and Engagement


Lavigna, Bob, Government Finance Review


In a recent conversation, the CEO of the Gallup Organization (which has done extensive research on employment, in addition to conducting its famous polls) mentioned a large corporation that wanted to do a customer satisfaction survey He advised the company's executives that, if they really wanted to get maximum bang for their buck, they should focus on employee engagement. That's because when an organization has high levels of engagement, customer satisfaction - and performance - will follow.

It is a revealing anecdote, and one that is backed up by private-sector research. In one study of 50 global companies, the researchers found that the firms with high levels of employee engagement produced dramatically better bottom-line results than the companies with low levels of engagement. In three key metrics - income, income growth, and earnings per share, the high-engagement organizations performed up to 43 percent better.1

But that's the private sector. Does this finding translate to government, and to public-sector financial management?

The answer is an unequivocal yes.

It's hard to imagine a time in recent history when government has faced bigger challenges, including huge budget cuts that are forcing downsizing, layoffs, and furloughs. At the same time, governments are being asked to provide more and better services as America faces a new set of public challenges: fixing our economy, maintaining the quality of life in our communities, and expanding opportunity by improving schools and providing affordable health care.

Good government requires good people, which is why the key to meeting these challenges is talent - committed and engaged talent. The Partnership for Public Service, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, provides the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings as a tool to help achieve its goals of helping government attract talented people and helping transform government. The Best Places rankings are based on employee satisfaction surveys, and its results and take-aways apply to all levels of government.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MEASUREMENT

You can't manage what you don't measure. That's why the Best Places rankings are an important tool for managers who want to maximize employee satisfaction. By shining light on what drives employee satisfaction, Best Places helps provide a roadmap for organizations and managers to better engage their employees. In addition to ranking federal agencies on a satisfaction index score (calculated based on employee survey data collected by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management through its Federal Human Capital Survey), the Partnership for Public Service also calculate scores in ten key workplace dimensions (e.g., "effective leadership," "employee skills/mission match," and "work/life balance") and in ten demographic categories, including race/ethnicity and age. To dig deeper and make the results more useful to ail levels of government, the data is analyzed to find out which of the ten workplace dimensions best predict overall employee satisfaction. These drivers are relevant to all organizations that want to understand and improve employee satisfaction.

WHAT DRIVES EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION

The top four drivers of employee satisfaction are: 1) effective leadership, 2) employee skills and mission match, 3) work/life balance, and 4) training and development. In other words, organizations and managers that focus on these four factors will have the best chance of improving employee satisfaction - and therefore improving organizational performance. But what do these dimensions really mean, and how can managers and organizations make the best use of this inforation?

Before answering that question, it's important to be clear on one point. Employee satisfaction doesn't mean that work is easy or that employees are always happy. Instead, satisfaction means committed employees - what one observer referred to as public servants who are willing to give their "discretionary energy" to their work. …

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