Is Employee Resilience Key to Business Success? A Discussion with Dr Natalie Baumgartner of Achievers

May 31, 20211:39 pm1767 views

In the wake of the global pandemic, businesses are recognizing the importance of employee resilience as a critical element of long-term business stability. However, is a resilient workforce enough for employers as they navigate the uncertain post-pandemic landscape?

Dr Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist, Achievers is here with HR in Asia to share her thoughts on this matter through a more scientific lens. Get ready to be enlightened? Read on…


Question: A recent study revealed that resilience and engagement are correlated, but each is independent of the other. How is it possible to be resilient but not engaged? And how will it affect job performance?

Answer: In the workplace, resilience refers to a person’s ability to survive and thrive through adversity, while engagement indicates the degree to which an employee is an advocate for, committed to, and enthusiastic about their role and company. While these two are different concepts, it is certainly possible for them to exist independently. This means that employees in a resilient workforce may be resourceful problem solvers who are able to support the business during challenging times but may not feel as passionate or inspired in their job. In this instance, resilient workers can have the capabilities to effectively navigate unforeseen circumstances, but they may lack dedication and motivation to actually carry the process through – thereby, affecting their overall performance in their role.

That said, when managed well, both can exist cohesively. From our 2020 Culture Report, we see that a correlation exists between the two – organisations that experience greater workplace resilience are better able to maintain the engagement of their employees before, during, and after any challenge that comes their way, whether unexpected or not. It is also evident that resilient organisations enjoy stronger, sustained engagement, while organisations that lack the foundational elements of resilience struggle to maintain a healthy employee experience. Given the above, the presence of both engagement and resilience are mutually reinforcing, and are undeniably vital in ensuring long-term employee well-being and sustainable business performance in the workplace.

Question: The survey suggests that Singapore workers are highly resilient, but not fully engaged. What does this finding imply?

Answer: The survey findings seem to suggest that in Singapore, resilience and engagement are independent of each other, and that companies will need to re-examine their workplace strategies and increase investments in programs and initiatives to drive each of them more effectively. While most companies understand the importance of supporting employee engagement, they are often poorly executed with limited support, communication and even awareness across the entire business. In fact, according to a study by The Institute for Adult Learning Singapore, low employee engagement levels have been a longstanding issue in Singapore due to reasons such as the lack of non-pay benefits and career advancement opportunities.

This, therefore, underscores the need for employers to adopt a comprehensive employee engagement strategy in order to tackle these underlying factors. For a start, companies can look at developing and maintaining effective communication with their employees in order to find out what truly matters the most to them, and take actionable steps to work towards cultivating an engaged and resilient workforce.

Question: Many believe that resilient employees create resilient businesses. Do you think it is enough for long-term business sustainability?

Answer: While resilience is not the only factor that determines long-term business sustainability, organisations with resilient employees are more likely to survive and thrive through adversity. In the long run, when businesses face difficult times, resilient employees will have the ability to identify and focus on problem-solving, as opposed to getting mired down by obstacles. They are resourceful, willing to ask for help, and can leverage the expertise of others, rather than try to do everything on their own. Most importantly, they are able to maintain a strong sense of optimism and a positive outlook throughout any crisis.

For example, when the onset of COVID-19 last year threw curveballs at one of our manufacturing clients, they were able to navigate through the challenges effectively despite parts of their business being shut down. During that period, they were looking for low-cost yet widely applicable methods to improve organisational resilience. Leveraging our recognition programme and tools, our client ensured that transparent communication is being relayed from their leadership to the rest of the organisation, and that their staff, from frontline to senior management, felt heard, recognised, and supported. Through systematically creating clarity, alignment and connection with their staff, our client successfully navigated some of their worst experiences caused by the pandemic, and emerged stronger on the other end.

As such, by building up organisational resilience, employers can continue to effectively support their company while staying prepared for the long-term, so as to ensure that their business can consistently thrive regardless of the challenges ahead. 

Question: So, what is the value of a resilient workforce, and why is employee engagement needed to strengthen resilience?

Answer: A resilient workforce will not only be able to withstand both planned and unplanned challenges, but also recover more quickly and emerge stronger. Ultimately, resilient workforces live beyond the individuals that comprise them. They are built upon thoughtful policies and practices that empower people to consistently thrive, regardless of the challenges they face.

Although resilience and engagement can exist independently, given that engaged employees are more dedicated and passionate about their role and company, they will be better motivated and prepared to support the company through high pressure and challenging situations. Therefore, to foster long-term organisational resilience, companies can look at adopting employee engagement strategies. For instance, organisations can define a set of core values to help establish employee alignment, enable them to understand the larger meaning of their work and to feel inspired in their daily responsibilities. At the same time, these values also drive resilience by providing a sense of consistency and stability that employees can rally around during times of change.

Another employee engagement strategy that can drive resilience is enabling effective communication. On a day-to-day basis, robust and comprehensive communication between the leadership and employees can help foster a sense of trust which improves employee morale and productivity. When transparency is maintained in the long run, employees will also feel assured that this line of communication will always be available to them, thereby giving them the confidence to succeed through any difficult situation.

Question: What value can play as a mediator between resilience and engagement? And how can organisations achieve the right balance between the two during times of uncertainty?

Answer: Culture alignment, known as the degree to which all decisions made by a company align to the company’s core values, can be a mediator between the two factors – especially as it has been found to be a driver of engagement and key ingredient within the workplace resilience models. However, during the onset of COVID-19 last year, we found that the percentage of leaders whose strategic decision-making was ‘very aligned’ to company values actually fell by one-fifth. This impacted cultural alignment, which in turn resulted in employees feeling less supported and engaged during the pandemic. As such, it is pertinent for companies to achieve the right balance between the two during similar times of uncertainty – and this can be done by targeting culture alignment on three fronts: championing recognition, leveraging employee voice, and supporting managers.

Firstly, as companies with a more frequent recognition rate are found to be 34 percent more likely to see an increase in employee engagement, leaders must ensure that recognition continues to be communicated even amidst remote working arrangements – and this can be done via incorporating digital avenues of recognition, such as employee engagement software, that reach employees regardless of their physical location. The next step for companies would be to act on employee feedback. We have seen a clear connection between regular feedback mechanisms and engagement, as our 2020 Culture Report found that employees whose organisations sought feedback more than four times a year experienced higher levels of employee engagement. Additionally, feedback mechanisms, be it pulse surveys or one-on-one check-ins, ensure employees feel heard and valued, which is essential during times of uncertainty when employees may feel isolated and stressed.

Finally, companies must be able to support their managers, as those who are not adequately supported may risk spreading their burnout and fatigue to the rest of the team. In terms of senior leadership, we found that C-suite and executives feel the most supported, with 46 percent of them have said so. Conversely, managers report feeling the least supported, with less than one in five agreeing they were very well supported. Given that feeling supported correlates with engagement and confidence, supporting managers in times of uncertainty should be considered business-critical for all.

Question: Based on your experience as a workforce scientist, what are the factors that can fuel a resilient workforce?

Answer: A resilient workforce is not defined by having a large number of resilient employees, but one that maintains strategies, structures and processes that ensure it can thrive in the face of any challenge. To fuel a resilient workforce, the three key factors to consider would be culture alignment, continuous conversation, and active engagement.

Firstly, culture alignment is one of the most powerful factors underlying workplace resilience. Research has shown that what your company’s specific values are is less important than how well your company aligns to that small set of core values that sit at the heart of your company. During challenging moments, culture alignment creates clarity and direction, and ensures that the organisation pulls through the crisis together with the same values in mind. The next factor, continuous conversation, requires leaders to communicate and listen to employees in an ongoing cycle. This can be done via one-to-one check-ins or employee feedback platforms – the more channels employees have to share their feedback, the more valuable insights the company would be able to gain. Finally, companies should close the loop by communicating back to employees on what they have heard and how they are acting on the feedback. Such transparency will help boost employee confidence and morale.

The last factor that can fuel a resilient workforce is active engagement. Companies need to avoid perceiving engagement as generic or responsive to a one-size-fits-all solution, or as if it were automatic, and that it can be improved via data collection and action planning alone. Instead, companies need to treat engagement as highly fluid, exceptionally personal and an aspect that requires real-time micro-action – only then would leaders be able to understand and address engagement issues, before they drive a negative impact on organisational performance. To sum it up, a resilient workforce can be achieved, as long as companies address these underpinning factors and build a strong foundation from it.

Question: Resilience and engagement is not something that can be achieved overnight. How can cloud-based solutions like Achievers help employers identify problem areas and address them?

Answer: It will certainly require a long-term concerted effort to create a workplace environment that accelerates employee engagement and resilience on a daily basis. However, to aid in the process, companies can adopt cloud-based solutions to ensure that their employee engagement programmes are effective.

For instance, cloud-based solutions, like Achievers’ employee engagement platforms, offer comprehensive data analytics, a seamless software integration experience and mobile access, to provide a reliable and centralised platform that automatically identifies, examines, and addresses resilience and engagement issues. Information stored in the cloud can be automatically tracked and analysed to identify any problem areas in resilience and engagement, which is useful for companies when amassing vast amounts of data from both employers and employees. Further, employers can leverage personalised insights from cloud analytics to customise their employee strategies. For example, our employee engagement platform incorporates mechanisms that automatically and regularly gather feedback from employees – enabling employers to obtain real-time data and insights to identify problems that can potentially impact resilience and engagement negatively.

Moreover, with cloud-based solutions’ seamless software integration and mobile access, employers can manage employee engagement and recognition without disrupting their workflow. To give an example, we embed recognition tools into the work platform that our customers are predominantly using – be it Slack, Teams, Gmail, or SharePoint. Not only does this enable employers and employees to easily send recognitions without leaving their main platform of use, but these recognition tools can also be accessed on-the-go, as information on the cloud syncs across all devices in real-time. Thus, through the adoption of such cloud-based solutions, businesses would be able to harness the immense transformative power of a strong organisational culture, and maintain a highly engaged workforce.

About

Dr. Natalie Baumgartner serves as the Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, an industry-leading provider of employee recognition and engagement solutions. She was appointed to the newly-created role in 2017, where she is responsible for driving the translation of engagement and culture research and theory into SaaS-based software, and ultimately helping businesses achieve goals that advance their performance.

A thought leader on engagement, culture and organisational transformation, Dr. Baumgartner is an expert in understanding how employee engagement and values alignment can drive strategic business outcomes. She has spent her career advising companies of all sizes – from entrepreneurial startups to Fortune 500 firms – on issues relating to company culture. Specifically tackling key hire assessments and portfolio due diligence issues, she has found success in analysing what has been most overlooked in the workplace – the human element. In 2009, she also founded Roundpegg, a culture and employee engagement technology company that uses cultural science to galvanise workforces.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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