“If the work you are doing is what you chose to do because you love it then it may well be your bliss. If not, then it’s your dragon.” (Joseph Campbell 2001)
I was reflecting on Campbell’s quote recently while re-watching Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil and was reminded of the Kurtzman dilemma I wrote about in Brand Engagement.
The Kurtzman dilemma alludes to the flawed notion that we can somehow entirely divorce the “work” me from the “home” me and is caricatured by the famous scene in which Mr Kurtzman, the sinister, institutionalised manager and un-civil-servant is undermined by his own “army” of clerks.
The scene starts when Kurtzman is suddenly disturbed in his grey factory of an office by the sounds of cinematic gunfire. When he throws open his glass office door to investigate, shouting for his deputy Sam Lowry, contrary to his suspicions that fun rather than work may be afoot, the general office of clerks is unexpectedly a hub of normal industrious activity. Behind his back, however, his personal monitor switches from the spreadsheets he’s been working on to a classic Western movie.
Returning to his office, the moment he closes his door the spreadsheets re-appear on his own pc and the movie resumes on the monitors in the general office, the clerks once again grinding to a leisurely halt as their movie re-starts.
The scene repeats itself several times over, the manager, Kurtzman obviously growing increasingly paranoid and agitated with every iteration.
As the viewer we’re complicit in the subterfuge which is revealed to us whenever Kurtzman opens and closes his office door. It’s a memorable parody of the “us” and “them” mentality and the way we’ve been conditioned to view work and leisure activity as polar extremes. It also illustrates how, despite even the most draconian of regimes, the human spirit of rebelliousness and mischief in pursuit of some form of involving interaction will out and ironically that this could and should be harnessed in some way.
In my experience of working with brands across sectors and with people at a variety of levels, it’s that self-same human spirit that makes or breaks organisations. Most people can force themselves to be “on brand” when on the spot. The trick is to ensure that they care enough to want to be “on brand” even when the boss isn’t watching. To this end, people are undoubtedly more comfortable, more engaged and more productive if they are self-aware enough to understand their deep-seated hopes, desires and ambitions and the values and behaviour that can lead to the fulfilment of those desires and dreams.
In turn, organisations are much more engaging, successful and sustainable if they care enough to be clear about their goals, values and culture and to engage their employees appropriately and sustainably. Put another way:
Employer brand (aspirational) minus employee brand = employment brand (actual)
Sure, it’s natural for leaders to become obsessed with survival and enforcing the ”day job” in the tough times. But the sooner we all recognise that it is the day job of leaders at all levels to encourage self-awareness, self-actualisation and to cultivate a true performance culture in which people feel free to be themselves and thereby share in the ownership of the organisation’s goals, the faster the recovery process will be.
And that’s in everyone’s best interests, isn’t it?
The controversial talk about cost cutting and “austerity measures” has been relentless in the lengthy aftershock of the financial crisis. Most worryingly for organisations in general is the apparent fact that what are wrongly referred to as the “discretionary soft skills disciplines” including training and development; internal communication/employee engagement; brand engagement and culture development are constantly under threat just when they’re needed the most.
A large part of the reason for this is that the finances for these disciplines wrongly fall into the discretionary spend category making them the first victims of cutbacks.
But there’s a very obvious flipside to the blinkered cost argument.
Market research leader Gallup asserts that in 2008 alone, the cost of disengagement to the UK economy was between £59bn – £64bn and an IES/Work Foundation report found that, if organisations increased investment in engagement practices by just 10%, they would increase profits by up to £2k per employee per year. (source Employee Engagement Today, vol 2, Autumn 09).
As someone who has first hand experience of the impact disaffected employees can have on business performance and brand management, I believe these to be conservative figures, but they still make a very strong point.
David Bolchover, in his book The Living Dead*, states that in the UK alone, doctors receive over 9 million “suspect” requests for sick notes per year. This is equivalent to the entire population of Sweden.
His book came out during the good times.
In addition one in three midweek visitors to a major theme park are reputedly “pulling a sickie” from work. Great news for the entertainment industry but worrying for HR departments. It also begs the question where do the theme park employees go when they fancy a duvet day?
A 2006 study by ISR found that a 5% improvement in the overall level of employee engagement converts into a 25-85% increase in profits for service oriented organisations.
A survey of 500 Fortune 100 companies, published in the book Optimizing Talent by Sharkey and Eccher in 2010 revealed that if you improved culture to support Talent Management 1 point you would generate a 10 percent gain in financial results. Conversely if you improved your performance management system by three points, you would get no improvement in business outcomes. Culture, Strategic Alignment and L&D came out as the top3 change levers.
Jack Welch, legendary former CEO of GE, identified employee engagement as the most important barometer of organizational performance (Business Week, May 3, 2006 “A Healthy Company).
The CBI reports that apparent sickness absence costs the UK economy more than £13bn a year, backed up in the 2011 PWC research into the direct and indirect cost of absenteeism.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s 2010 report, Creating an Engaged Workforce found that just under a third of employees are actively engaged with their work at any one time. The 2010 Putting it in Perspective report from ORC International found that although levels of job satisfaction have increased slightly across the UK, organisational pride and the confidence of employees to speak up and make their voices heard has dropped.
It’s literally “pick a survey, any survey” as they’re all saying virtually the same thing. But business case for employee engagement at an individual business level aside, recovery of these figures alone would go a long way towards solving the various national debt problems.
Yet encouraging people to “go the extra mile” is an apparent goal of the government-backed, so-called employee engagement task force and there is widespread acknowledgement that increasing levels of engagement across the UK could really help to boost productivity.
We need our organisations to function if the economy is to function.
There are no organisations without people.
Performance is not sustainable without engagement.
Most engagement initiatives can be at least cost neutral if properly conceived and implemented. The visionary organisations have already moved on from setting their HR and finance dept the task of proving the business case and have been energising, mobilising and re-connecting their people for some time now.
Begs the real question…..other than surveying your people, what are you doing to bridge the engagement gap where you work?