Most business professionals know that employee engagement is important. They also know that employee engagement is historically low on management's priority list. This is how Amazon went from being a notoriously difficult place to work to one that's become one of the most enjoyable.
A Sordid Past
Amazon, like most global companies, had experienced their share of criticism about their labor practices. Retail companies have a notorious reputation of having low pay, high demands, and mediocre career stability. Turnover rates were high and employee satisfaction rates were at a record low. In fact, The New York Times recently released a scathing report that highlighted the unpleasant work conditions for white-collar workers at Amazon, the world's largest online retailer. The report noted that new hires were encouraged to work late, follow unreasonably high standards and sabotage co-workers through surreptitious criticism to management. However, since then, Amazon has made remarkable employee engagement changes.
After facing mounting criticism from advocacy groups, Amazon unveiled an innovative program designed to improve employee engagement and satisfaction. In fact, the aptly dubbed Amazon Connections program has already been used by operational warehouses for a year. Amazon simply adapted the program for their corporate offices. The new system anonymously collects information from employees before it is organized and provided to management. Similar data can also be gleaned from HR software. Critics complain that the new system is more comprehensive than the feedback program to warehouse workers and that it has a strong Big Brother element. However, honest feedback is essential for business success and positive employee engagement.
Why Employee Engagement Is Important
Research by Gallup shows that employee engagement is one of the key elements of sales growth, which results in business and employee growth. According to Gallup, employee engagement decreases workplace accidents by almost 50 percent and product or service defects by over 40 percent. Even more astounding, turnover rates in high pressure companies are reduced by almost 70 percent. Clearly, employee engagement is the key to maintaining a thriving company full of proactive employees. When employees are emotionally engaged and feel passionate about their work, creativity and enthusiasm become standard components of the company culture. However, there are natural barriers to employee engagement.
Obstacles to Employee Engagement
Amazon's highly publicized employee engagement problems are actually very common in the business world. For example, upper management often lacks a clear and concise employee engagement strategy. Instead, they take their employees for granted and this often leads to them treating their customers the same way. Therefore, executives need to set the example through creating and sharing their engagement strategy with employees and the public alike. In order for this to be successful, there must be objective, measurable goals, transparency must be a priority and management must be held accountable. Consequently, executives who have successfully created an engagement strategy will still fail if middle management fails to support the program. Therefore, getting buy-in from managers can only be accomplished through an executive order. Finally, management and executives must not limit funding to support employee engagement efforts. In fact, the most successful companies don't limit themselves to anonymous reporting, but follow the ideas below to increase employee engagement.
How to Increase Employee Engagement
Employee engagement surveys must not only be accurately reported, but the questions must correlate to actionable responses and recommendations. Therefore, surveys must be carefully designed to highlight weaknesses and identify improvement opportunities. However, employee engagement can only improve through proactive interaction with management. Thus, management must be trained and expected to understand and develop a professional relationship with employees. After this occurs, management can identify individual strengths and weaknesses for coaching and career development purposes. In the end, employees will be empowered, challenged and highly engaged.
Overall, Amazon historically struggled to treat employees respectfully and properly engage them. However, through their new anonymous feedback system, they are improving work conditions for their employees.