How to keep employees happy and productive

One out of three employees in 17 of the world’s most important economies are disengaged at work, according to a study by office furniture manufacturer, Steelcase. Using data collected by global research firm Ipsos, from 12 480 workers in 17 countries, the study reveals how the workplace and worker engagement influences employee satisfaction.

Organisations are seeing the need to develop a corporate culture with resilience, which will allow them to overcome challenges and survive in a competitive environment, says Catherine Gall, director and researcher for Steelcase Workspace Futures EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). This requires having engaged employees who are energised, can generate ideas and strategies and solve problems. 

“Worker engagement is key because it shows how strong your corporate culture is in overcoming challenges and difficulties that we go through every day,” says Gall. Employee engagement drives results, she adds. Engaged employees work more, produce more, and there is less absenteeism.

Arthur Goldstuck, director of World Wide Worx, says people at every level of the organisation want to feel that they are making a difference. According to him, the bigger difference they feel they make, the more likely they are to stay with a company.

Here are two key findings from the Steelcase study to improve employee engagement:

1. Employee engagement positively correlates with workplace satisfaction

There is a clear relationship between workplace satisfaction and the level of employee engagement, says Gall. Employees who are highly satisfied with various aspects of their workplace also demonstrate higher levels of engagement. Globally, only 13% of workers are highly engaged and highly satisfied with their workplace. Conversely, 11% of workers are disengaged and dissatisfied. In South Africa, where 802 employees were polled, 19% of workers are highly engaged and highly satisfied at work, it found.

In order to improve the levels of employee engagement, companies should provide substantial support for employees’ physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, she says. Employees’ physical wellbeing is, for example, supported by workspaces with good quality air flow, suitable temperatures and that incorporate trends such as office equipment that supports good posture. For mental wellbeing, workspaces should be designed to allow for creativity, concentration and thinking.

Workspaces should also support the employee’s emotional wellbeing. Employees need to feel that they matter to their team and that their work is valued. “If people believe the company they work for is giving them meaningful work, that they can relate to the strategy, and that they are making progress, they will be encouraged to do what they need to,” says Gall.

2. Engaged employees have more control over their experiences at work

An employee’s level of choice and control in their workplace impacts on their level of engagement. An engaged employee has a greater degree of control over where and how they work. This includes the ability to work from different places, explains Gall.

Technology is also transforming the idea of the workspace, adds Goldstuck. More people are moving into a “third space” away from the office, but where they can still be productive in generating output.

Employees should also have access to privacy when they need to concentrate, or break away from teams. Workers also want to be able to change their settings, such as adjusting the height of their desks, says Gall. Working while standing is a popular trend. “The bigger amount of choices you give [employees] to work, the happier they are, and the more productive and the more engaged they are.”

While employees like to have more flexibility, the study shows that companies offer employees twice as much fixed technology as mobile technology, Gall adds. Globally, 86% of workers said that they are equipped with landline telephones and 80% are equipped with desktop computers. Only 13% of workers said they are equipped with tablets to work.

A fixed desktop doesn’t match the way we work today, Gall says. Employees don’t have to go to the office to work; they prefer to work wherever they are. They often buy laptops for work, and then also use them in a private capacity, she explains. “[Companies] need to give people the tools to work from anywhere.”

This article originally appeared in the 24 March 2016 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here

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