Calculating the Cost of Workforce Zombies

by Dom Crincoli on March 25, 2013

In looking for ways to innovate and grow how many organizations have placed renewed emphasis on workforce engagement? Along with profit-to-earning-ratios how many have calculated the cost of workforce disengagement?

7346606900_d5d4811f36The cost of creating workforce zombies in a down economy is considerable because motivated and engaged workers are the ones that help struggling organizations back to profitability.

Corporate Culture & Discretionary Effort

I’ve spent most of my career on the staff side in corporate communications but also have experience in the trenches, on the business side in marketing. I know what it means to beat the pavement for a sale and what it means to cold call, mustering the courage to be appropriately persistent yet again with that business prospect you’ve nurtured over many months.

Motivation comes from within and yes, we all need to cultivate our own inner fire. But corporate culture is the often-overlooked outlier—the real game-changer for getting that extra measure of workforce engagement and discretionary effort. Workers look before they leap, asking: Are senior leaders trustworthy and transparent? Are they using two-way communication channels to incorporate workforce feedback into the decision-making process? Do they recognize workforce contributions to the bottom line? Have they created a career-path for workers, developmental opportunities, and work-life balance? When it comes to capturing discretionary effort company culture and the value of the employee deal can determine success or failure.

The Business Value of Dialogue & Conversation

Yet many organizations are slow to capitalize on the value of interpersonal connection. Senior leaders who reason that organizations can’t control two-way communication channels like social media may vote to leave them outside the workplace, failing to see their business value.

The reasoning of communicators like Stacy Wilson seems prescient: “Even the term social media is driving fear. Along with podcast, blog, wiki, etc., these are just different technologies that can serve as different communication channels to enable culture change—they can drive collaboration and dialogue more effectively than traditional channels. If we work with senior leaders to help them understand the business value and benefit of conversation, dialogue and collaboration, the fear melts away,” says Wilson.

“Innovation is an important business driver because it takes a lot of ideas in the pipeline to come up with that one marketable or patentable idea; conversation and dialogue help to generate a constant stream of ideas,” she adds.

Winning with Workforce Engagement

We have not yet begun to fight, said that lion of perseverance, Winston Churchill, as he faced down the adversities of World War II. Similarly, the battle for corporate profitability is over before it begins if we haven’t cultivated the indispensable asset of workforce engagement.

During a business visit to a Fortune 500 company in the Midwest I learned that workforce retention is no longer a concern for certain talent management professionals. Since jobs are scarce, they reason, where will workers go? What’s more appalling is that many workers are told that job elimination is a distinct possibility or that it’s being explored, yet no voluntary package or reasonable severance is made available for them to move on with dignity. So they remain in their jobs, plodding on like corporate zombies, waiting for the axe to fall.

Much of this was reflected in a Business Week story, which suggests that improving employee engagement is the surest way to turn the economy around. Less than 30 percent of corporate workers really care about their jobs—and nearly 20 percent actually want to undermine their co-workers, according to the Gallup study, yet boosting engagement just a tenth of a point can have a huge impact on a company’s sales, they reason. Is this not common sense?

For one example of a company that understands culture and workforce engagement check out this presentation from Netflix: Seven Aspects of Culture.

Let me know what you think.

Photo Credit: Archie McPhee Seattle’s Photostream, Creative Commons License, & Wikipedia

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