Employee frustration: The bane of workplace productivity

Workplace frustration is a silent epidemic creeping through organizations, yet it is rarely confronted or even recognized. Frustration wears down motivated, dedicated employees who really care about their jobs but can’t get the organizational support they need to get things done. Focused on making contributions, these employees often hide their frustration, leaving managers in the dark about their discontent.

Just as the epic Batman movie finds the masked superhero struggling to hold his own against Bane, his sinister nemesis; there is a silent bane to productivity lurking in our workplaces – frustration. While many organizations proclaim that people are their most important asset, a good many fail to act as though they really believe it.  But that doesn’t make it any less true that talented and engaged employees can provide the most sustainable source of differentiation; a competitive advantage that competitors simply cannot replicate.

Though frameworks for understanding employee engagement vary, it commonly looks to capture levels of commitment and discretionary effort demonstrated by employees. Simply put, engaged employees are more likely to be willing to go above and beyond formal job requirements (the ‘discretionary’ effort), make for better organizational citizens, and devote greater effort and ownership towards their work.

Despite the plain stating, this remains a challenging issue for organizations to address. In a climate where they are straining to do more with less, organizations cannot afford to squander the energy of engaged and motivated employees. Tapping into the discretionary effort of engaged employees has become all the more imperative given today’s business outlook. The ever-increasing pace of change in modern organizations calls for employees at all levels to be able to face unanticipated and ambiguous business conditions. In this case, organizations that are able to get engagement right can count on their employees to act in ways that are consistent with the organizational objectives, given the employees’ alignment with organizational values and standards. Finally, the relevance of engagement comes from employees themselves, who today are in charge of their own work paths and the definition of career success. More and more employees are looking for environments where they can be engaged and contribute to the larger picture.

Here is the catch. Many companies enjoy high levels of engagement, yet still struggle in terms of performance.  Unfortunately, high employee engagement alone does not guarantee an organization’s effectiveness. You also need real employee enablement – developing systems that provide for better support for the success of employees. Hay Group’s research suggests that frustrated employees represent a significant lost opportunity for organizations – individuals who are aligned with corporate goals and energized about making a difference, yet are held back by roles that do not fully leverage their skills, or by work environments that are not supportive or create barriers in the way of accomplishing their work.

From a motivational perspective, leaders have these employees right where they want them. But when it comes to allowing them to be as productive as they can be, leaders are missing out. The truth is, frustrated employees are unlikely to persist over the long-term in this state, no matter how motivated they are. Engaged employees need to have the confidence that the organization is doing all it can to promote their success, rather than having to worry about obstacles in the form of non-essential tasks or procedural red tape.

An ‘enabled’ work environment essentially points to two do’s. The first, optimized roles, allows employees to be effectively aligned to their job roles, such that their skills and abilities are being put to good use. The second relates to a supportive environment, where work arrangements are structured in a way to facilitate, rather than hinder, individual productivity. For true enablement, employees must have all essential resources at hand that are required to get a job done – information, technology, tools and equipment, and financial resources.

Effectiveness, when implied as a result of ‘engagement’ and ‘enablement’, has proven to impact the bottom line. Our research with hundreds of companies shows that organizations in the top quartile on engagement exhibit revenue growth 2.5 times more than those in the bottom quartile; but the companies in the top quartile on both engagement and enablement achieve revenue growth 4.5 times greater! Companies with high engagement levels also demonstrate 40 per cent lower turnover rates than those with low engagement; but those that both engage and enable employees display a 54 per cent reduction in voluntary turnover rates. Clearly, this shows just how central employee engagement can be to an organization’s success when combined with appropriate levels of employee enablement.

How can your organization listen for signs of employee frustration? You can ensure you are doing the best possible job of enabling your employees with the following in mind:

  1. Managers must combine engagement (the use of motivational tools), with enablement (the act of providing employees with effective resources), in order to reach optimal levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.
  2. Managers must listen carefully to their teams for common frustration themes, and address them by prioritizing goals, advocating for resources and minimizing workflow disruptions.
  3. Organizations with supportive environments limit the extent to which work tasks ‘crowd out’ personal time by permitting employees to complete the most vital tasks as efficiently as possible. Employees are likely to feel better about staying late or coming in early if they are working on tasks with a clear purpose and are given the authority necessary to make decisions about how best to accomplish their objectives.
  4. Instead of waiting for the annual review to discuss performance, managers should create a culture of dialogue about goals, priorities and challenges throughout the year.
  5. Organizations must provide adequate training, support, and discretion to grow—and not hold employees back with excessive procedures, decision processes, lack of resources and overly narrow roles.
  6. Conflict between the operational goals of different departments often diminishes cooperation. To fix this, interdepartmental communication must be strengthened by sharing both people and information.
  7. Managers need to identify where individual goals are competing with shared goals and must work to eliminate, or at least minimize these obstacles.

Read more about keeping your workforce switched on in our Employee Engagement e-report,

Engagement alone is passé. Think ‘Engagement + Enablement’

You want to develop an effective workforce. But at the same time, you believe that engagement is enough to keep your employees involved. Time to introspect, we say.

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Every company wants to create an engaged workforce. But how many of them are consciously working to both engage and enable their employees?

In every organization, there are a few select people, who are completely committed to their work and their organization. These are those members of the workforce, who go the extra mile, above and beyond their roles. Not only do they produce work of superior quality, but they also demonstrate the potential to be the leaders of tomorrow. The key word here is ‘potential’. It is therefore, no surprise that organizations too want to leave no stone unturned, in their effort to retain this valuable talent. So what do most companies do to hold on to their high performers? Let’s see. I am sure you can think of the usual employee engagement methods. Surveys, training programs- you know. The works. After all, we all know that our workforce is our greatest asset, right? Wrong.

Organizations may think that they are doing enough by engaging their precious resources. But, here’s a fact. Engagement is not enough. Your efforts to engage your workforce are not enough. This will not keep them from walking out the door.

The ‘frustrated’ employee

Now that we’ve stated some blunt facts, here is an elaboration.  Yes, ‘engaged’ employees are ‘motivated’ employees. But in the wrong environment, these valuable assets can end up as ‘engaged and frustrated’ employees.

Since, these employees are motivated, they do put in the extra effort to ensure they do a good job to match your expectations.  But, here’s what we want you to pay attention to. What if you have a highly motivated employee in a mismatched, unsupportive environment? In this unfavorable situation, it’s only a matter of time, before the negative and harmful feeling of frustration sweeps in.

What do frustrated employees do? Break through, break down or break free?

In The Enemy of Engagement, Mark Royal and Tom Agnew identify three things that could happen with highly engaged, but frustrated employees. Number one- these individuals could break through the barriers in their path and reach their goals, through sheer perseverance. Number two- these high potential employees could break down in the face of the obstacles and simply reduce the amount of effort they put in. Or number three and the most likely of all, they could just break free and move on to greener pastures.

So, what’s the solution?

Here’s what we suggest. Identify the ‘missing link’ and do something about it. Engagement is not enough; employees need to be enabled too. To frame it in one phrase, think ‘engagement + enablement’.

Our extensive research displays that organizations are not focusing enough on ‘employee enablement’, which essentially involves creating an environment conducive for getting things done. Enablement could take on various forms, such as supporting employees in reaching their goals, removing needless barriers to productivity and ensuring that the right people are doing the right jobs.

The best recipe for success in the workplace is a combination of engagement and enablement. Engagement can help create feelings of motivation and commitment to the organization, and enablement will help sustain this.

Take the case of an online money lending firm, which was undergoing a massive strategy and brand change, during the time it decided to have an employee effectiveness survey done. The survey ensured that all the employees’ concerns about the changes were sufficiently addressed, by linking the effectiveness parameters to the key performance indicators of the business. The result? The survey confirmed that 49% of the employees expressed a desire to work for the company for more than 2 years, as opposed to only 27% of them just six months ago.

So, here’s what every organization can do to retain its talent. Study various parameters, such as performance management, employee empowerment, the availability of resources and training opportunities, the degree of collaboration present, and structure and process of the work. Only through an elaborate process like this one, will you be able to identify the barriers to employee effectiveness. And as we all already know, step one of solving any problem, is to acknowledge that you have an issue at hand, which needs to be fixed. Our first piece of advice- take the crucial first step.

Read more about keeping your workforce switched on in our Employee Engagement e-report,

The New Rules of Engagement

Articles, studies, surveys and research- employee engagement is a popular topic of discussion amongst consulting firms, HR professionals and business media. But, how often does an organization really change its employee engagement strategy? Research demonstrates that by the end of 2018, almost a quarter of people worldwide will have changed jobs. Does your organization have all the strategies needed to retain your employees in place? Or are you going to allow your workforce to be a part of this 23.4 percent?

A highly global scenario, coupled with digitization and technology has paved the way for a massive change in the global business environment. At this point, the need of the hour is to have another look at your employee engagement strategy and form a new set of rules to handle the six megatrends that are causing the evolution around you.

Globalization: When you have offices all over the world and a workforce which comprises various nationalities, it goes without saying that balancing global objectives with the local scenario is significant.

How you can handle this trend: Multinational companies have to alter their plans according to the needs of the employees on ground, but without obstructing the overall action plan of the organization. To frame it in one phrase- driving alignment is of key importance.

Environmental Crisis: Climate change and lesser availability of raw materials is a reality that we cannot ignore any longer. High costs and volatility are inevitable; and so is a rise in the concern sentiment amongst employees and stakeholders.

How you can handle this trend: Put an effective plan in place to fulfil environmental responsibility. Engage your employees and commit publically to your environmental objectives. That way those who work for you will know you are committed to this purpose.

Demographic Change: One of your employees is 64 years old and the other one is 22 years old. Will you use the same strategies to retain both these individuals?

How you can handle this trend: Understand their respective motives and goals and merge their diverse skills. You have to tailor their training and ensure that you develop a relationship of trust.

Individualism: What do you do when you have all the money in the world? You begin to focus on your individual needs. Globalization and an increase in wealth are directly proportionate to each other.

How you can handle this trend: As the focus shifts to personal goals and work-life balance, an employer will have to learn to meet individual needs. You can start with promoting individual recognition. But while you encourage feedback and knowledge training, don’t forget to ensure that individual objectives never overpower the team.

Digitization: Our entire lives get played out through social media. Is there really a difference between private lives and professional lives anymore? Sharing information and personal opinions is easy. You can access an alternative anytime you want.

How you can handle this trend: Learn to use technology in your favor. Increase knowledge sharing and collaboration. Protect work-life balance and analyze your rewards. At the same time, encourage face-to-face interactivity.

Technological Convergence: More and more technological breakthroughs, new product markets, fast paced change- what does all of this lead to? Possibly a confused and demotivated workforce which spends most of its time grappling with ever-increasing targets.

How you can handle this trend: Maintain transparency and communicate effectively. Promote benefits and ensure your managers are aligned with your direction. Learn from the past and help your employees develop skills that will better their performance.

Once, you have your individual strategies to deal with these megatrends in place, implementing them in a systematic manner will be a relatively easier task. This is a crucial time, so formulate a plan now. If you want to sustain the success of your organization and take it to new heights, reshaping your engagement strategy must be on the top of your agenda.

What’s better than employee engagement?

While many organizations proclaim that people are their most important asset, a good many fail to act as though they really believe it. But that doesn’t make it any less true that talented and engaged employees can provide the most sustainable source of differentiation; a competitive advantage that competitors simply cannot replicate. Tapping into the energy of engaged employees has become all the more important in a climate where organizations are straining to do more with less.

But, here lies the catch. Many companies enjoy high levels of engagement, yet still struggle in terms of performance. High employee engagement alone does not guarantee an organization’s effectiveness. From a motivational perspective, leaders have these employees right where they want them – but when it comes to allowing them to be as productive as they can be, they are missing out. The truth is, engaged employees need to have the confidence that the organization is doing all it can to promote their success, rather than having to worry about obstacles in the form of non-essential tasks or procedural red tape.

What employees need is enablement– systems that support them in achieving their goals. An ‘enabled’ work environment essentially points to two do’s. The first, ‘optimized roles’, is to ensure employees are aligned to their job roles such that their skills and abilities are being put to good use. The second relates to a ‘supportive environment’, where work arrangements are structured in a way to facilitate, rather than hinder, individual productivity. For true enablement, employees must have all essential resources at hand that are required to get a job done – information, technology, tools and equipment, and financial resources.

How can your organization listen for signs of a gap in employee effectiveness? Here’s my take on it:

  1. Managers must combine engagement (the use of motivational tools), with enablement (the act of providing employees with effective resources)
  2. Managers must listen carefully to their teams for common frustration themes, and address them by prioritizing goals, advocating for resources and minimizing workflow disruptions
  3. Employees are likely to feel better about staying late or coming in early if they are working on tasks with a clear purpose and are given the authority necessary to make decisions
  4. Instead of waiting for the annual review to discuss performance, managers should create a culture of dialogue about goals, priorities and challenges throughout the year
  5. Organizations must provide adequate training, support, and discretion to grow—and not hold employees back with excessive procedures, decision processes, lack of resources and overly narrow roles
  6. Interdepartmental communication must be strengthened
  7. Managers need to identify where individual goals are competing with shared goals and must work to eliminate, or at least minimize these obstacles

Effectiveness, when implied as a result of both ‘engagement’ and ‘enablement’, has proven to impact the bottom line.  Our research with hundreds of companies shows that organizations in the top quartile on engagement, exhibit revenue growth 2.5 times more than those in the bottom quartile; but those in the top quartile on both engagement and enablement achieve revenue growth 4.5 times greater!

Employee Performance Employee

Retention

Customer Satisfaction Financial Success
Increase in employees’ above performance expectations Reduction in turnover rates Customer satisfaction rates Revenue growth
High Employee Engagement 10% 40% 71% x 2.5
High Engagement + Enablement 50% 54% 89% x 4.5

Companies with high engagement levels also demonstrate 40 per cent lower turnover rates than those with low engagement; but those that both engage and enable employees display a 54 per cent reduction in voluntary turnover rates.

Clearly, this shows just how central employee engagement can be to an organization’s success – but only when combined with appropriate levels of employee enablement.

#EmployeeEngagement