Employee engagement critical to firms' long-term success

Mr Woon Wee Min's letter hit the nail on the head (Employee engagement a win-win proposition; Nov 17).

In my more than 25 years of experience in human resources, I have been engaged in many such initiatives.

Many organisations fail to harness the power of employee engagement and make it an active, ongoing effort supported by the most senior levels of management and not just something championed by the HR department.

Employee engagement involves not just listening to feedback but also being open with employees about the conflicting demands in running a commercial enterprise and getting them involved to think for the organisation as a joint owner and not just as a paid employee.

The key principle that underpins a successful employee engagement effort must be the message that everyone, from the chief executive to the most junior staff, has a part to play.

My experience in American and European multinational corporations as well as a local small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) suggests that Western organisations place much greater emphasis on this, even if they may not always reap the full benefits.

Local SMEs have a long way to go to catch up.

Paying lip service to employee engagement, as evidenced when a company's management and HR department send contradictory messages, is even worse than not making any effort at all, as the organisation's actions contradict what it professes to believe in.

One of the most difficult experiences in my career was having to lay off an employee with 15 years of service in a local SME.

This was exacerbated by the fact that the organisation was not willing to offer him a redundancy payout or outplacement assistance.

Not surprisingly, I, too, suffered the same fate two years later.

In both scenarios, an employee was made redundant way past the age when he could land an alternative position.

All our prior efforts at employee engagement had been neatly undermined by the manner in which the organisation had conducted itself in this regard.

It is my conviction that organisations must seriously consider how they position themselves as employers and how their actions can make a monumental difference in the lives of the people who work for them.

Engaging the hearts and minds of the workforce will continue to be a critical component of an organisation's long-term success.

Sean Patrick

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2018, with the headline 'Employee engagement critical to firms' long-term success'. Print Edition | Subscribe