Employee engagement – key to counter counter-productive organisational behaviour


Dr Teresa Kruger | Senior Manager | People and Business Solutions | BDO | mail me |

It is widely accepted that human capital is a company’s most precious resource. It is crucial that an organisation’s people be kept engaged. Where this is not the case, challenges must be identified and addressed as the risks of towing a disengaged workforce can threaten the very survival of the business.

Research shows that highly engaged people tend to be more vigilant and have an emotional connection to the organisation.

For these employees, the cornerstones of employee engagement namely meaningfulness, safety, and availability, translate to higher morale and greater productivity. Engaged staff are more likely to ‘do the right thing’ because they believe in their organisation.

The downside

The dark side of disengagement links to counter-productive organisational behaviour. While there are many contributing factors, employees’ level of engagement plays a key role in the equation.

Quite often, when you enhance employee engagement, you go a long way to combat counter-productive actions.

Counter-productivity can manifest in two forms: one type is less disruptive, mainly apathetic and with low motivation. Staff who are less engaged tend to be less vigilant. By doing nothing when they spot ethical lapses by their colleagues, they worsen the problem. The other type could display more serious behaviour: theft, corruption, badmouthing the company and active sabotage. The cost to business of the latter behaviours, has escalated significantly in the past decade.

The upside

Engaged employees will contribute beyond their job specifications, and firms will find they are able to unlock all they have to offer.

Engagement goes beyond the sum of its parts, though. An engaged person could also foster greater engagement among their colleagues – enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. While individual personalities can moderate the level of engagement, the same can unfortunately be said for disengaged employees – they can influence their colleagues, and multi-fold counter-productive actions.

For staff whose level of engagement is so poor that they are motivated to violate their company values and actively sabotage their organisation, formal labour relations practices would need to be followed. These might include performance management, grievance processes or disciplinary procedures.

Pro-active approach

However, the onus is on Human Capital professionals to be more pro-active in their approach, and place emphasis on those elements that stimulate high levels of engagement.

The first of these is to fully understand engagement, and the levels of engagement in the organisation. This can be done through engagement analytics, and mapped to risk mitigation measures. From here, suitable human capital interventions can be decided upon. These can be a company-wide change-management approach, or more individual techniques.

Secondly, the risks of disengagement make talent acquisition practices vital and in this respect the company has two responsibilities: to find a candidate with the right culture fit, and to communicate its values to new recruits. Once done, it is essential to live up to the expectation they have created, through providing support in stimulating high levels of engagement. Companies should aim to build a culture of ethics, and one that encourages engagement. This means ensuring that employees find their work meaningful; that staff feel safe – physically, emotionally and psychologically; and that they want to be part of the organisational whole. It is no longer about work, but about the holistic experience.

Thirdly, leading for engagement is becoming a key competency. Engagement as a metric is finding its way into key performance indictors at executive level, with good reason. For young professionals today, time in a position often averages only two years. To retain staff, organisations need to develop robust engagement practices so that new team members can quickly feel engaged.

It is the co-responsibility of leaders to create the ideal environment that will optimise the performance of all individuals and the organisation alike. Leading for engagement is no longer an HR gimmick, it is powerful business differentiator that makes business sense.