Boosting IT employee engagement

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In the aftermath of the government shutdown and amid continued uncertainty about the next budget impasse, employee engagement in the federal government is under pressure. IT managers have an opportunity in the current environment to take concrete steps to re-engage their staffs and make significant improvements in employee retention and productivity.

CEB defines engagement as the amount of commitment, effort and intention to stay that employees exhibit based on their past experiences, present events and future expectations. Our research has identified four key engagement strategies that have the greatest impact in the current federal workplace. They can result in as much as a 30 percent improvement in employees' willingness to go above and beyond their current responsibilities and a 36 percent improvement in their intention to stay with the organization.

The strategies are:

1. Reconnect employees to the organization's mission. Employees who have a clear understanding of their connection to mission success increase their discretionary effort by more than 30 percent. This level of engagement requires an open dialogue around three major concepts: who we are as an agency, why the agency exists and, most important, how a particular individual contributes to the agency's mission.



Employees who feel empowered have engagement levels more than 20 percent higher than those who are less empowered.

2. Navigate role complexities. In a global survey of more than 23,000 employees, more than two-thirds reported that their jobs are more complex than ever. More than 60 percent reported an increase in collaboration and coordination with peers. Given this increasing complexity, IT managers need to guide their teams in adapting to rapid changes. Attempts to protect employees from complexity often backfire and can come across as micro-management. Instead, our research indicates that managers should focus on fostering key relationships, clarifying roles, and providing advice and context. Those types of activities are six to eight times more effective than attempting to over-simplify complex realities or filter information.

3. Empower workforce contributions. Employees who feel empowered have engagement levels more than 20 percent higher than those who are less empowered. Empowerment is not about expanding authority in decision-making but instead should focus on enabling employees to make greater organizational contributions within the scope of their authority. Approaches that empower employees, such as supporting risk taking and encouraging broader communications, result in engagement levels that are about 10 percent higher than average.

4. Focus employees on the future. We conducted a survey of more than 10,000 employees worldwide and discovered that past events, present experiences and future expectations all shape an employee's engagement. Most organizations focus on building positive present experiences and recovering from past events and often overlook future expectations. Managers can build higher employee engagement by having an honest dialogue about employees' desired capabilities, career interests and potential networks. In fact, organizations where employees have high levels of engagement can see a 17 percent increase in an employee's willingness to accept a new role in the organization and a 38 percent increase in the willingness to accept additional responsibility.

The government shutdown and the impending budget battles of 2014 are not the first, nor will they be the last, organizational upheavals that the federal IT workforce will face. Although many external forces are beyond their control, managers have the ability to address all four of the proven drivers of engagement. Even better, those strategies do not focus on changing existing compensation structures or performance models but instead stress the importance of effective communication and a connection to mission.


About the Authors

Kris van Riper is a managing director at CEB.

Sig Libowitz is a director at CEB.


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