The Secret to Keeping Employees Committed

Julie Shenkman
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Recently, we hear of companies laying-off employees at the mere anticipation of a market slow-down. Conversely, many employees have become so aggressive in promoting their careers that they "hop" from one company to another at nearly the speed of a video game.

The concept of commitment almost seems old fashioned. Ironically, companies want to benefit from the lower turnover and higher performance of committed employees. At the same time, employees search for companies that are willing to be more committed to them (i.e., organizations who are more sensitive to their needs and who won't lay them off during economic slumps).

Whether your company is 5 employees or 500,000 - commitment matters. Benefits to the Bottom Line Employee survey research shows that committed employees are more likely to give your customers better service, they are willing to take the time to solve difficult problems, their work is of higher quality, and they are more likely to stay with the organization. Qualities of Commitment Committed employees tend to have personal values that are similar to those of the company. They are proud to be a part of their company, care about the fate of the company, and recommend the company as a great place to work. Distinguish "Commitment" from "Turnover" Some managers believe that committed employees are those who remain employed with their organization. This is not necessarily so. While it is true that committed employees are more likely to stay with an organization, factors in the workplace, management styles, or changes in the organization can drive out committed employees - leaving behind those who either cannot leave (e.g., for some personal reason) or who simply don't care. This can be devastating to the future prospects of a company. Downside Occasionally, committed employees can be intolerant or territorial. They can be intolerant of employees who do not meet their standards of commitment, quality, etc. Committed employees may also be intolerant of changes to their "creation" (e.g., the department, procedure, or process they helped create). In reality, this behavior is not very common.

The damage done to organizations by employees who don't care far outweighs the inconvenience of an occasional employee who cares too much.

Important: Commitment is not just a personality trait; commitment is a quality that can be strategically influenced. The company is a white-collar, service company in the telecommunications industry. It has over 3,000 employees in main corporate offices and in small, outlying sales offices. It has been aggressive in adopting new technology and has tried to be progressive in how it treats its employees. Prior to conducting an employee survey, employees struggled with uncertainty caused by corporate mergers and acquisitions which lead to decreased levels of employee commitment. For this project, some employee surveys were administered via paper while most were administered via the Internet. Results were reported at the company, departmental, and workteam levels. Based on the analysis of the employee survey results, workteams implemented improvement projects that produced measurable increases in employee commitment within only 3 months.

Which factors in the workplace influence commitment?

This is what our employee survey research found: Job Satisfaction Employees who like their jobs are more committed to the company. Are your employees enthusiastic to come to work each day? Is their work satisfying?

· Identify the factors that satisfy employees. (What do they like about their jobs and the company?)
· Identify factors that are a source of dissatisfaction.

Long-term Prospects

The more that employees believe an organization will meet their long-term needs and goals, the more committed they are. How do employees see their future with your company?

· Is your recognition program meaningful to employees? Our data suggest that few recognition programs are effective. Some even decrease morale and increase turnover!
· Establish clear career paths.
· Establish mentors to advise employees about career management inside the organization.
· Identify development projects that would be interesting to experienced employees and beneficial to the company.
· Identify other benefits and "perks" that can be used to reward good performance. Consistency of Values and Behaviors
Employee survey data has shown organizations who "walk their talk" benefit from employees who are more committed.

· The company demands cost cutting, while it sends executives on expensive trips.
· The organization claims to be "family-friendly," then regularly demands overtime on nights and weekends.
· Conversely, an organization may express the importance of "giving to the community" and then senior managers work shoulder-to-shoulder with employees in a Habitat for Humanity project.

Employees notice and it matters.

· Make sure your organization's values are clear, communicated, and practiced. Employee surveys have shown that frequently, value statements are posted, then ignored. Clear values help establish teamwork, cooperation, and standards of behavior within an organization.
· Examine the consistency of your actions, policies, and procedures with those values.

Manager Work Standard

Managers who have high work standards engender higher commitment in their employees.

· Make sure your organization encourages high work standards.
· Make sure your organization actually supports those high work standards. This may seem redundant, but some organizations expect high quality work, but then don't give workteams the equipment or time it takes to do a good job. When production gets behind, quality is a secondary consideration.
· Establish communication between customers who use your product (or service) and those that create it. Employees start to see customers as real people who are personally affected by the quality of their product or service. Work quality becomes personal, rather than just a mathematical exercise.

Trap: Job Security

The previous four factors significantly affect commitment. However, they can be negated by low job security. A work environment that would otherwise foster commitment can be hobbled by imminent or regular layoffs.

Our employee survey white papers illuminate the important qualities of successful organizations, but an employee survey is the only way to accurately identify the specific issues unique to your organization. An employee survey will identify the improvement projects required to create and maintain a competitive edge.

Dr. Jan Stringer, has her Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral Degrees in Psychology from Southern Methodist University. You can get more information about improving employee commitment by clicking here

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