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In challenging times businesses cannot afford the luxury of unproductive staff. Every Australian business will be looking to cut costs as they negotiate the unknown waters of the next 3 months. But just cutting costs can be short sighted. Strong businesses will continue to focus on people – and have a team of ‘A’ graders who are truly engaged.

Getting people more productive will have a much bigger impact more quickly than simply cutting the stationery or the Christmas party budget. Unproductive staff cost Australian businesses $32 billion per annum* That’s three times the federal budget surplus and enough to comfortably build new hospitals, better rail networks, or reduce payroll tax.

Now is the time to reduce such a waste. To be competitive is to have a focused, team of engaged employees – who are there for the long haul. In troubling times it is those that focus on their people that will be able to maximise the opportunities that will arise.

Employee Engagement is becoming the holy grail of organisational success.

It’s a person’s emotional and intellectual commitment to an organisation. The key: capturing the hearts and minds of employees. The catch: finding out what inspires employees to make that extra discretionary effort. The payoffs: work becomes pleasurable, more productive and more profitable.

If you don’t catch the hearts and minds of your people – no amount of money will keep them long term – and when there is no cash to splash around and bonuses are non-existent then smart companies are looking for alternatives.

Research by Hewitt suggests engaging staff is a challenge for many Australian businesses with the nation’s average engagement score only at 54%.

At RedBalloon we were recently awarded an engagement score of 97% by Hewitt Associates, we clearly practice what we preach – so I thought I would share with you some of what we do.

Here are my top five steps to employee engagement.

1) Be nice

    • People are people – and we all like to be noticed and treated well. Simply noticing people’s contribution will make a huge difference. Everyone likes to feel they are doing a good job and that what they are contributing is making a difference. Dr Anthony Grant Director of Coaching Psychology, University of Sydney says high performing teams have five times the number of positive interactions than low performing teams. “This includes positive reinforcement and meaningful compliments, saying thanks and “good job”

2) Right resources to get the job done

    • You’ve got to give people the tools to get the job done – by nature people do want to do a good job – but if they are stopped because they haven’t got the right resources then they are going to be far less productive – At RedBalloon it is a continual process of review…and learning. Even small things can make a big difference.

3) Inspiring leadership and individual autonomy

    • As a leader – you’ve got to tell it how it is – there is no point trying to dress things up. The people who can help the most to get you through tough times are your people. They’re the ones with more ideas on how to save or make money than you have. Listening is an essential part of leadership. Then being decisive and getting the whole organisation aligned to the single purpose – will make the biggest single difference to employee engagement. Dr Grant says “Good relationships work when people don’t feel the other person has a hidden agenda”. If businesses are to make a contribution toward the billions of dollars wasted each year due to unproductive and disengaged employees, they need to focus on Leadership behaviour to produce engagement results across their teams.

Sork HC works with numerous clients and says the main area of focus for sophisticated businesses today: “Beyond individual competency, it is Leadership Behavior that sets individuals, teams and organisations apart from the rest.”  A third of people leave because of ‘bad management’ – most say they were simply not noticed.

4) Saying thanks in an authentic way

    • Being noticed authentically, but people want to be noticed in different ways – this is not a one size fits all solution. Some prefer a quiet note from their direct boss, others prefer acknowledgement from their peers. But the thing to note is that according to Gallup people will have forgotten the acknowledgement as little as seven days later. So you have to do it regularly… and in a real way. Dr Grant – “If rewards come from higher up they can be meaningless, like having a great distant auntie giving you a grey jumper, you think: this person doesn’t even know me!”

5) Personalised, Non- monetary rewards

    Shared experiences produce relationships, they generate conversations, create memories and build emotional bonds; they are the currency of making dreams come true. York says “Salary and remuneration are essentially regarded as compensation for minimum performance. Acknowledgement and recognition is a key ingredient or driver of discretionary effort.”

It does not have to cost a lot to be effective. In fact, much of employee engagement is simply about making sure that people know what they are there to do in the day, that they have the tools to get the job done, that they are noticed for what they contribute and they go home feeling like a winner.

If you do that you will be on a winning formula – that will greatly enhance your competitive edge.


Reader Interactions


  1. Thanks for being so generous with your comments and congratulations on such an excellent score from Hewitt Associates.
    You obviously have built an incredible culture at RedBalloon.
    It will be fascinating to see how employees react to the different economic conditions we’re starting to experience. Gen Y have been a real challenge whilst boom conditions were around and they could pick and choose between jobs.

  2. Good article. Indeed businesses cannot afford to have unproductive staff at any time, namely in challenging times as you have highlighted.

    For some businesses a tough economic environment highlights for them what they have been neglecting and hence the need to loose staff. For others that have their business in order, cutting staff as you have indicated is not the answer particularly if you have a solid and committed team of great people who are passionate about your business. For businesses to ride the wave and come out on top, they need to be sure that they have the best team to harness the opportunities both now and in the future.

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