Driving Engagement through Career Opportunities.

Building employee engagement has been a challenge for organisations on a global scale. Forbes has termed employee engagement to have taken the centre stage in Human Resource (HR), acknowledging the pivotal role it plays in motivating employees to achieve higher standards of productivity and the influence it has in building loyalty and commitment of an employee to an organisation.

Global trends have seen an adverse effect on employee engagement levels.

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According to an Aon Hewitt report on Trends in Global Employee Engagement, a significant majority of regions are experiencing a decline in employee engagement levels. The recent spate of human capital challenges rising over the past decade, coupled with the economic downturn beginning in 2008 have not only impacted employee engagement levels and perceptions globally, but has had resultant changes with regard to the drivers of employee engagement.

Given the significant role employee engagement plays in the workplace, an understanding of its key drivers would enhance the ability of the management to execute relevant and necessary decisions to strengthen the overall engagement of employees. The report further conducts employee engagement surveys to measure the level of employment experience across differing aspects of the work environment. An “impact analysis” is then conducted to determine key drivers and subsequently prioritises these factors in influencing engagement. The table below showcases the drivers identified in 2010, both globally and regionally.

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 The segmentation of these key drivers thus serve as a framework for management when deciding the route to take in increasing employee engagement, through focusing on increasing the level of engagement within the specific drivers that rank higher on the totem pole, thereby improving overall employee engagement in the process.

Career opportunities, in this instance, is undisputedly the highest ranked driving factor of employee engagement. As such, employers can tailor their HR practices in accordance to that through providing employees with avenues for career advancement. Whilst career advancements and progressions are more apparent in certain organisations or in specific industries, every organisation should work toward establishing a career development path for all employees, with the knowledge that this serves as a key driver to engagement. As improved levels of engagement greatly influence the retention rate for an organisation, it will benefit the organisation to building career opportunities as part of increasing employee engagement. This can occur in 2 phases:

1. Recruitment/Orientation

Upon recruitment or during the orientation stage where a new hire is assimilating into the company, it would be beneficial to discuss with the employee their expectations in terms of career progression and develop ways in which the company and the manager can put in place to aid the employee to achieving their expectations. With a development path that charts an employee’s progress, the employee can thus rest in the assurance that their employers are dedicated to developing their careers and will subsequently boost their engagement levels toward the organisation.

Such a system recognises the inclinations and aspirations of an individual. Every individual harbours a different set of ideals with regard to their path toward career progression. For instance, the Aon Hewitt report sheds light on the geographical differences in their prioritising of employee engagement drivers, as reflected below.

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Whilst career opportunities shows itself to be a common denominator globally, the employer can take into account such statistics and employ them to build employee engagement through understanding what drives the engagement of an individual, who could be of a different country, culture and background.

Furthermore, establishing such expectations right at the start would greatly align the expectation of both the employer and the employee to a common understanding, eradicating any miscommunication and misinterpretation of expectations once the full workload comes into play.

2. Quarterly Review

Upon establishing the framework of how career opportunities can build employee engagement and leveraging other relevant key drivers of engagement, employers can conduct quarterly reviews to measure and re-evaluate the engagement of an employee. At present, performance reviews are conducted regularly to review the performance of an employee and gauge where the employee is at in comparison to where they could be. Occasional employee engagement surveys are conducted to get a sense of the overall employee engagement. However, armed with the most current statistics on the trending key drivers of engagement, employers can reinvent their process of conducting employee engagement reviews or surveys. A greater focus can be placed on career opportunities and providing employees with the platforms to develop their career. For instance, employers can extend a greater ownership and control of certain tasks to an employee and expand their perspective through allowing selected employees to attend company functions or networking sessions to build their social connections that could boost an employee’s ability to develop social capital and potentially open an employee to new ideas and concepts of pursuing career opportunities within their workplace. Whilst this could mean an increase in the chance of poaching across companies or industries, the idea is that employee engagement is built through career opportunities and thus an employee would feel a sense of commitment and loyalty to the organisation and pursue opportunities within the organisation itself.

At the end of it all, driving engagement – commitment toward an organisation – is journey and not a destination in and of itself. Global trends can and will continue to have its impact on the key drivers of engagement. Evaluation of such drivers should thus be conducted on a consistent basis to generate the most updated data and aid management practices.

Reference to Study:

Aon Hewitt Report – Consulting (Talent and Organisation): Trends in Global Employee Engagement (2010)

How Transformational Leadership Transforms.

A leader who rises to the occasion and displays transformational leadership, without a doubt, leaves a lasting legacy not only for his followers, but the world.

Extensive research has been conducted on how leadership influences others to effect a change. Transformational leadership in the workplace, in particular, has been a well-expounded topic. This then beckons the question for me – How has transformational leadership led to an organisation transformation in the real world?

Fuelled by that question, I focus on Steve Jobs and the remarkable ways in which his organisation was transformed by his transformational leadership.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) – ex CEO & co-founder of Apple

A thought provoking thought on TEDx by Simon Sinek reveals how great leaders inspire actions and draws direct reference to Apple’s great and inspiring leadership.

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(Click on image to watch video)

Sinek describes how the leadership of Jobs caused Apple to reinvent the traditional order of communication to the consumers and reinvents the way marketing was conducted. When such exceptional leaders helm the organisations, every business and functional unit in an organisation will “think, act and communicate from the inside out”. It is when you “reverse the order of the information” that reveals how “people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it”.

What kind of transformational leadership did Jobs exhibit in creating and reviving Apple? The following are instances where he proved himself to be a transformational leader through idealized influence and inspirational motivation.

Idealized Influence

Jobs was a man driven by high standard of moral and ethical conduct, especially in his stance of piracy in the music industry. He championed the protection of intellectual property, disregarding the fact that free downloadable music could boost the sales of the iPod. His conviction for protecting copyrights saw him pioneering the iTunes Store that allowed record companies to sell their digital versions of the songs, that eventually took the world by storm. Apart from this, he displayed high levels of determination, evident in his love for the company he built from scratch. The resilience he displayed was illustrated in how he envisioned collaboration with record companies to sell their digital version of songs on the iTunes store. With his heart set on accomplishing that vision, he “set about cajoling various top musicians” and “met with almost two dozen major artists”, calling them relentlessly to convince the artists to go along with the iTunes plan. His determination was witnessed by all when he continued to spend significant amounts of time on store projects, especially one in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, despite his battle with cancer during that period.

Inspirational Motivation

Being a futuristic man, Jobs had the innate ability to articulate a compelling vision for the future. He constantly challenged his Macintosh team to put “a dent in the universe” which saw him articulating his desire for a “brand image campaign” instead of “a set of advertisements featuring products” that was “designed to celebrate not what the computers could do, but what creative people could do with computers”. Such vision of communication of redefining how marketing was done draws links back to Sinek’s TEDx Talk on how Apple communicated to their consumers through marketing campaigns that “reversed the order of information”.

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This ultimately led to the “Think Different” campaign, where the message resonated not just with the consumers but the Apply employees themselves and can be seen in the words of the campaign itself:

Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Beyond and above being able to articulate a compelling vision, Jobs showed the capacity of showing exactly how his vision could be achieved. Upon taking reins at Apple, he discovered two months worth of inventory in the warehouses and adopted a management mantra of “Focus”. This was executed through the elimination of excess product lines and removal of unnecessary features in the operating system that Apple managed to “halve the inventory” within a short span of time.

Taking a step back and looking at how far Apple has come, these qualities that Jobs has shown in his life and his leadership at the world renowned company is truly testament to how transformational leadership can transform your organisation and in the case of Job, transform the world.


Biography of Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson) – http://www.maismac.net/steve_jobs_by_walter_isaacson.pdf

If all the world was a stage, how do we stage our plays?

We see emotional labour manifested in our daily lives, in our daily interaction with those around us. True emotions are suppressed by those surface acting, as part of the role they personify on stage and perhaps such emotions accumulate and erupt when the boiling point is reached. How then can we effectively account for and manage the emotional dissonance inherent in the workplace?


(Can you guess his felt emotion?)

Throughout the course of our seminar discussions, we have uncovered the terms – surface acting and deep acting – where surface acting involves the appropriate display of an emotion despite it not being a felt emotion, whereas deep acting has a connotation of tailoring one’s internal emotions to match that which is required in a particular circumstance. Emotional labour demands and draws energy from the performer and can potentially result in exhaustion in the long-run. Research states that those who employ surface acting might face a greater sense of impaired self-evaluation, thus making them more susceptible to such consequences as compared to those engaging in deep acting.

A case study was conducted in the University of Memphis by a Ph.D. Candidate, Julianne Pierce, to assess the toll of emotional labour in service-intensive jobs. The research aims to build healthier employees and increase job satisfaction levels through educating and training employees on how to better control emotions at workplaces.

University of Memphis – Emotional Labour Case Study


(Ph.D. Candidate, Julianne Pierce)

Whilst training programmes may be put in place to equip and empower employees on better managing one’s emotions in organisations, the responsibility of the employer in ensuring that emotional dissonance should not result in an adverse impact on employees should not be shrugged off. Perhaps management level staff in organisations should collectively be educated on how to read employee’s emotions. A Harvard University social intelligence test equates the ability to identify the emotions of others to social intelligence and subsequently relates that to the performance in a team-based problem-solving task. One limitation of this test, however, is the fact that the entire face is not revealed and more often than not, it is the construct of the facial muscles that aid in our determining of one’s emotions. If you are interested to see how you’d fare in the test, take it here!

That aside, organisational factors and systems play a pivotal role and have bearing on the ability of an employee to withstand emotional dissonance. Three factors, in particular, stand out to me personally as the essentials for allowing employees to manage workplace emotions or to feel that the benefits of their emotional labour outweigh the investment placed in it.

1. Organizational Identity

Organizations that have dominant features that mark the culture, values and missions that it stands for automatically pre-empts employees on the sets of behaviors expected of them. The importance of a clearly defined organizational identity would probably be most evident upon recruitment, where a prospect hire is assessed based on a job-fit matching. As such, it would significantly reduce one’s need to display emotions out of one’s character and nature to suit the culture and values of the organization.

2. Recognition

A workplace that recognizes the labour of their employees in congruence with the emotional labour actually invested and performed builds the motivation and the cause for an employee to continually investing in the organization. Social recognition, from peers and bosses, as compared to financial recognition can potentially empower the worth of an individual employee to feel that the labour in which they emotionally invested in was worthwhile. It would thus justify the purpose behind the emotionally intensive job description.

3. Monitoring

Tracking one’s emotional labour and performance/output through multiple mechanisms of control in an organization is essential. However, measuring those indicators alone might not enhance a management’s ability to intervene in a situation. As such, I believe that companies should introduce a metric that might not necessarily be employed universally as yet – the Emotional Intelligence Test. This metric gauges the ability to recognize your own emotions, understand what they are communicating to you and realizing the impact of your emotions on the people and situation surrounding you. The results of which ultimately translates to the ability of an individual to manage relationships effectively.


(P.S. I love such tests, so here are two links to two different Emotional Intelligence Tests – the long version [Queendom, based on Daniel Goleman’s research] and the short version [Goleman’s EQ Test])

To wrap it up, I believe that taking the workplace to be our stage, both individuals and the organizations at large work hand-in-hand to manage the emotional labour invested in our performances.

Reference to Study
Organizational Consequences of Emotional Labour in Management
Kornelia Lazanyi