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Employee Engagement and the Government of Canada (Part 2)

Debra Sunohara

In the case of the public sector, government debt and deficits create a compelling argument to cut costs.  In both cases, what employees want and expect from their employment relationship, and what employers can afford to deliver, are often at odds.

Employees must trust that the political leadership has the best interest of both them and the Canadian public as they attack the budget deficit while striving to improve the overall performance of the public service.

So then, how do we reconcile these dueling priorities — improving the functioning of the public service while reducing its resources?

Productivity Rationale

While the solution is multifaceted and difficult – what Peter Denning might call a Wicked Problem, the only way out of this situation is improved productivity. At the root of above average performance is a workplace culture that engages employees.  It is typically a necessity, and often, the only solution. Consider the recent data from Aon Hewitt on employee engagement:

  • 4 employees out of 10 are not engaged
  • Engagement rates are not improving significantly

Research has time and again proven the powerful connection between employee engagement and employee performance – and how that connection results in organizational success.   To good leaders this is not news; it is something that has been intuitive to them for some time.

DonkeydIf you dig into the research a little further, you quickly come to the realization that we don’t have an employee engagement problem; what we have is a failure of leaders and managers to create an engaging work environment.

This picture results in a virtual “call to arms” for managers to reconsider their personal conception of the practice of management, leadership, and employee engagement.

Unfortunately, while organizations are trying to be more effective with the same or fewer resources, initiatives that target management and leadership development are typically dropped and employee engagement takes a hit!

Measuring Employee Engagement

While the Gallup instrument or the Conference Board “Employee Engagement Barometer” can provide managers with reliable information regarding employees’ attitudes and engagement levels, it might be more useful for leaders to hold up a mirror and take stock of their own attitudes and behaviours to better understand their impact on employees.

What would your responses to these questions be and what do they reveal about your employees’ engagement?

  • My employees are proud to work for (organization name).
  • My direct reports enjoy working for me.
  • My employees have the materials and equipment that they need to do their job to the best of their ability.
  • I value the opinions of my employees.
  • I regularly speak with my direct reports and discuss their plans for professional development.
  • My employees know where they stand with me at all times – they know exactly where I feel their strengths and weaknesses lie.
  • My employees are committed to doing quality work.
  • My employees are motivated to contribute more than what is expected of them in their jobs.
  • My direct reports are not planning to leave my unit or the company.
  • I provide my employees with the opportunities they need to learn and grow.Mr chimp
  • My employees feel a sense of accomplishment in their jobs.
  • Overall, my employees are satisfied with their jobs.

Our Challenge to You

I would challenge every manager:  if you do find that your employees are not engaged, then as their manager, you are responsible for their engagement.

To (yet again) quote Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO at Gallup:

DHS employees aren’t miserable for the reasons Congress heard. They’re miserable because -- unlike the employees at Wells Fargo -- they have lousy managers and supervisors. Yes, lousy managers, not lousy benefits, create miserable workplaces. And lousy managers tend to create lousy, miserable employees.

What actions can leaders take to improve their employee engagement?

A good first step is to review The Ten C’s of Employee Engagement, a list in which Gerard Seijts and Dan Crim from the Ivey Business School summarized what they found in the literature.

Engagement = Caring

Engagement is not something that just happens – it is the result of involved leaders who carefully create a work climate that supports employees with the right skills, knowledge, and development opportunities. And most importantly, who support them when the going gets tough – and it always does get tough.


(Click here to read Part 1)

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About this Article

Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on January 14, 2013

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Categories: communication, engagement, leadership, management, public service renewal