Calculating the Cost of Workforce Zombies

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

In Category: Corporate Culture, Executive Communication, Human Resources, Social Media, Workforce Engagement

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Dom Crincoli

Show 8 Comments
  • Shara Sokol March 25, 2013, 3:31 pm Link

    Excellent points Dom. Well written.

  • Dom March 26, 2013, 5:21 am Link

    Thanks for the interaction, Shara. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Chris S. Cornell March 26, 2013, 1:48 pm Link

    Great column Dom. I’d love to see more of your thoughts on social media, and how it can actually be used to make people and organizations more effective. Love your willingness to explore these topics with no smoke & mirrors.

  • Dom March 29, 2013, 12:45 pm Link

    Thanks Chris- working on it, buddy. Hope all is well and thanks again for your thoughtful opinion.

  • Alma Kadragic April 17, 2013, 3:09 pm Link

    Can’t speak for what goes on in the US these days because I just came back from the Gulf where I worked the past eight years, but I can say that in most companies – whether private or government controlled – disengaged employees are the default mode. Why? Because most who work there aren’t interested in sticking their necks out on the job nor are they encouraged to do it by senior management. Certainly companies aren’t calculating the cost of a disengaged workforce – they can’t imagine anything else.

  • Donna Hamilton April 22, 2013, 2:00 pm Link

    Great column. I have worked in Internal Communications most of my career and see this all the time. You must ignite and engage with a passionate workforce to truly drive productivity and bottom line results. The cost of not taking care of your people and nurturing relationships is often overlooked, forgotten, or simply ignored.

  • Dom April 22, 2013, 2:04 pm Link

    Thank you, Donna. Well put. Glad this resonated with you.