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June 2017 Archives

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Whole Foods gets acquired by Amazon, and, of course, the news is abuzz about how this is going to change the way Americans obtain their groceries. However, there are also commentaries surrounding whether or not this means that the Conscious Capitalism approach taken by Whole Foods is a failure. Of course, this particular issue can be debated, but what’s clear is that being “a great place to work” does not guarantee success, regardless of what all the best employer lists might lead us to believe. Though the focus appears to be on “nailing employee engagement,” throughout much of the practitioner and business community, the Whole Foods acquisition and what has led up to it offers a warning for the employee engagement evangelists.

When examining the past five years of stock performance, Whole Foods reached its peak in October 2013, trading at over $65 per share and reached its low point in October 2016, trading at around only $28 per share. Even the boost from the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods only bumped the price to around $43 per share, which is still almost 34 percent less than its peak price.

During the past five years, though, Whole Foods has not missed Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work List (it finished at No. 58 in 2017), an award that largely emphasizes the perks employees receive. In fact, the four highlighted items from the Fortune survey for Whole Foods involve the percentage of employees who agreed they are able to take time off, can be themselves, are treated as full members of the company and feel a sense of pride.

What can be made of this conundrum? How can a company be performing so well when it comes to employee engagement and yet so poorly when it comes to stock price? The answer, much to the chagrin of the employee engagement crowd, is that being a great place to work is only part of the equation. When being a great place to work comes at the expense of business performance, it puts the entire company at risk.

In case you do not believe that was part of the problem, even Whole Foods CEO John Mackey admitted that the company prioritized its employees at the expense of customers, which hurt the company for several years. Employees loved working for the company, but customers were disappearing, and, long term, that is not a recipe for success.

But that’s what happens when a company is so focused on being a great place to work instead of also trying to optimize key performance metrics, such as financial performance. The belief that focusing on employees first will inevitably result in long-term viability is a mistaken one, one that Bob Corlett soundly argued against four years ago.

Employee engagement, like other types of initiatives (e.g., wellness programming) has almost taken on a panacea-like aura, with many consultants and practitioners treating it as a magic bullet that will cure all the ills for organizational performance. But there is no magic bullet, no wand to be waved. Long-term, sustainable, organizational performance requires attention to the entire business, not just one or two elements that contribute to it. While Whole Foods may have become an employer of choice, it slowly lost the mantle of grocery store of choice for many of its original customers. And that is a lesson from which many organizations could learn.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brokentrinkets / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Don’t let your Work, Stress and Health conference experience be one of all work and no play. Take a break, get outside, find a piano and make some music. Send a video of your very impromptu performance – whether it’s a Chopin or a BangOnSomeKeys -- and you could be the recipient of one of APA’s leading books on workplace well-being.

Painted pianos are located throughout downtown Minneapolis for a public arts project, Pianos on Parade. Local artists painted the pianos with scenes representing summer in the city. Beyond being visually interesting, the pianos can be played by anyone.

We took note of this interactive art, and think it can be key to enjoying the city. We hope WSH conference attendees will tune in. (Puns intended.) Here’s how:

  • Explore the city and find an outdoor piano (Hint: there is one very close to the Hilton).
  • Position fingers on the keyboard and play – it doesn’t have be a concerto or even Chopsticks. Make up your own song if you want. We’ll never know!
  • Capture your performance on video. (This step works best if you’re accompanied by a fellow attendee or colleague whom you trust with your smartphone or camera.)
  • Send the video by email to abrownawell@apa.org or upload it to Twitter, mentioning @apa_excellence and using the conference hashtag, #wsh2017. If you email the video, we’ll upload it and share on Twitter. We’ll retweet any Twitter submissions.

We’ll randomly select one of the submissions to receive a copy of “The Psychologically Healthy Workplace: Building a Win-Win Environment for Organizations,” edited by Matthew Grawitch, PhD, and David Ballard, PsyD, with APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

To get started, here's Candy Won, APA's director of convention and meetings, playing a short song as a group of APA staff returned to the hotel from a lunch break.

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Engagement’s in a dire state! Workers are disengaged! Employees are going to turn over in droves! If you read much of what is written about engagement in the workplace, that conclusion might seem obvious.

However, the results from the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey offer a different take on this topic. As it turns out, 31 percent of American workers report experiencing work engagement fairly often (at least once a week but as high as every day), falling into the high or very high categories, and 47 percent report experiencing engagement an average amount of time (defined as somewhere between “a few times a month” and “once a week”). Only 21 percent reported experiencing work engagement less often than that.

On a 7-point scale (ranging from 0 to 6), the mean score for respondents in 2017 was 3.83, and, as I recently pointed out in a previous post regarding past data, these results represent a fairly normal distribution with a slight negative skew.

In other words, there is no epidemic of disengagement, though, admittedly, there is definitely room for improvement.

And there appears to be a reasonably strong association between work engagement frequency and planned retention (see figure below). In the very low engagement group, for example, more than 56 percent of respondents planned to stay with their employer for two years or less, with only 20 percent planning to stay for 10 years or more. This can be easily contrasted with those in the very high engagement group, where a little more than 11 percent planned to stay for two years or less and more than 56 percent planned to stay for 10 years or more.

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Other insights can be gleaned when the work engagement results from 2017 are compared to those from the 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey.

  • High engagement frequency (the percentage of high or very high) is up by about 8 percent (31 percent in 2017 vs. 23.2 percent in 2014).
  • Low engagement frequency (the percentage of low and very low) is down by about 4 percent (21 percent in 2017 vs. 25.2 percent in 2014).
  • Average engagement frequency is down by about 5 percent (47 percent in 2017 vs. 51.6 percent in 2014).

These results point to a slight uptick in work engagement (the mean in 2014 was 3.62 compared to 3.83 in 2017), but in general indicate that work engagement has shown a fair amount of consistency across the two time points.

Therefore, regardless of what the alarmists might scream from the mountaintops, there is not a disengagement epidemic. However, managers and senior leaders should recognize that there is room for improvement when it comes to the frequency with which employees experience work engagement.

In both 2014 and 2017, work engagement and organizational trust were highly predictive of employee well-being (accounting for more than 50 percent of the variance in each survey). How workers perceive various types of psychologically healthy workplace practices demonstrate fairly strong correlations with both work engagement and trust.

  • Employee perceptions of involvement, growth and development, and health and safety were most predictive of work engagement.
  • Employee perceptions of involvement, recognition and communication were most predictive of trust.
  • These same variables were identified in both the 2014 and 2017 surveys, accounting for about 28 percent of the variance in work engagement and 40-50 percent of the variance in trust.
As such, organizations may want to allocate effort and resources toward shoring up various psychologically healthy workplace practices, as these efforts may produce benefits for trust, engagement and even overall retention.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2017 listed from newest to oldest.

May 2017 is the previous archive.

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