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Employee Engagement Boosts Productivity, But Should Productivity Be the Only Focus? | HR Asia


As we move into the middle of 2021, it’s difficult not to look at everything in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With it, we have ushered in a new era of corporate habits, and while many of these have been learnt in a reactive state of mind as a means to overcome an immediate crisis, collectively these habits have formed a corporate revolution of sorts. And this is only the beginning of that change.


In 2019, before the virus made its presence felt, Singapore’s corporate realm had to grapple with the challenge of below-average employee engagement levels – as made apparent by reports that came out in the beginning of 2020. Falling well behind the global average, the numbers were a wake-up call not just for Singaporeans, but also for a large part of Asia. Come 2021, and the numbers from 2020 were out, showing that the city-state’s engagement levels went from 47% to 56% in just the span of a year.


Something clearly changed in the course of the pandemic.


One of the changes was a widespread acknowledgement of the fact that employee engagement is not confined to merely one activity, one policy-level initiative or one day in the week. It is a sum of every single experience an employee has at a company. Which is why, the case for employee engagement cannot revolve solely around productivity. Productivity means that “good work” is getting done in a reasonable amount of time. Taking a step beyond that basic level of judgement, here are some important questions for organisations to introspect on:

Is this “good work” getting better? Is disruptive innovation and creativity leading to greater success? Is top talent being retained? Are your employees acting as advocates for your brand? Are companies building leaders rather than doers?


The questions are numerous, simply because the truth is, happy employees are good for the business in more ways than one can imagine:


  • Higher employee engagement levels lead to 41% reduced absenteeism at work.

  • In a long-term study conducted over eleven years, it was found that companies with a performance-enhancing corporate culture saw an average revenue growth of 682% over the period. Companies without such a culture saw a mere 166% revenue growth over eleven years.

  • A 2018 survey also indicated that around 33% of employees cite a feeling of boredom at work as the main reason for quitting.

  • An Aon survey found that with every 5-point increase in engagement, there is a 3% increase in revenue.

While this has been widely studied, it hasn’t led to widespread implementation of culture-building measures. Too often, improving work culture comprises everything but the actual work itself. Yes, team building activities, celebrations and unwinding sessions matter and must be emphasised for holistic employee wellbeing. However, this doesn’t mean that we stop working on making the job itself more enjoyable and the environment more conducive for growth.


For instance, here are some oft-ignored factors that are very much a part of engagement:

  • A clear vision and attainable but ambitious goals

  • Well thought-through policies and guidelines

  • Inclusion across hierarchies, from interns to the C-Suite

  • Zero tolerance towards harassment and discrimination

  • Transparency in communication

  • Empathetic and compassionate leaders

  • Robust and thoughtful rewards mechanisms

  • Personalised/need-based learning opportunities

  • Room for growth, and a safe space to express ideas and opinions

  • Formalised feedback mechanisms and regular surveys to help employees feel heard

This list can never be exhaustive, as we will never know absolutely everything there is to know about employee engagement and wellbeing.


That’s exactly why companies that constantly revisit their policies and operations, and are open to learning and change, are the ones that get better at creating a healthy, holistic work culture. Employee engagement can never be a 100% game, simply because it concerns dynamic and evolving human beings. Unexpected changes are bound to come our way, and the best thing to do is to learn from them.


To conclude, here’s an illustrative example of how employee engagement studies continue to throw up novel findings: A global survey conducted by Qualtrics in December 2020 found something remarkable – The foremost driver of employee engagement is a sense of belonging – An aspect that is derived out of a variety of factors, from recognition and empathy, to learning opportunities, reliable leaders and above all, inclusive practices. A sense of belonging is something that seems so intangible and utterly abstract. And yet, it rests on extremely tangible, executable factors that organisations can begin to implement as soon as today.


This article was first published in HR Asia, Issue 53, 2021.