When all employees start pulling toward the same goals, results can be impressive.
U.S. worker productivity reached an all-time high in 2009. Even though employees have seen their incomes stagnate, job opportunities derailed, and retirements jeopardized, worker productivity year over year keeps climbing, reports the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) 2010-2011 Environmental Scan.
That trend intensified during the height of the recent recession, primarily because fewer workers were doing more work. From fourth-quarter 2008 to fourth-quarter 2009, productivity increased 5.8% while average weekly earnings decreased 1.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But will employee productivity, engagement, and retention take a dip when the economy recovers? It’s possible, if employers don’t address some key human resources (HR) issues, says Jan Southern, relationship manager at John M. Floyd & Associates (JMFA), a CUNA strategic alliance provider.
Today’s high level of productivity could be short-lived, agrees Doug O’Neill, vice president of HR at $3.5 billion asset Bethpage (N.Y.) Federal Credit Union. “We’re seeing underemployment and getting more for less. Due to the economy, people don’t have many options and job responsibilities are increasing. If you have only a short-term plan for employee engagement, overworked staff will be the first people to leave you when the economy recovers.”
After more than two years of job losses, job creation increased during the first quarter of 2010, according to a survey by the National Association for Business Economics. Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents plan to increase employment in the next six months, up from 29% in January.
During the recession, Southern says most of her firm’s clients were in survival mode—dealing with new regulatory requirements and focusing on the “quick fix” of revenue goals during a tough economy.
“Once you get that in place, you need to move on to employee engagement and productivity—issues that often require a true culture shift,” she says.
If you’re unable to hire additional staff, she adds, you need to focus on “workforce optimization,” which means getting optimal productivity from current staff.
It’s a trendy term, says Janice Love, vice president of HR at $1.3 billion asset Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union, Albuquerque, N.M. If you ask five consultants or five HR professionals for a definition of workforce optimization, you’re likely to get five different answers, she adds.
The same can be said for the terms “employee engagement” and “productivity,” adds O’Neill. These terms mean different things to different people. And therein lies the key to getting the most out your credit union’s staff, he says. It starts with clear definitions of those terms and a strategic plan. Then you’re ready to share your credit union’s overall vision with your staff.
“Employees need to understand what it is you want them to do (your vision), and they need a willingness to do it,” he says. “If you have one without the other, it doesn’t work well.”
How do you measure employee engagement? A good starting point is employee satisfaction, says Love.
“I remember a meeting shortly after I came to work here five years ago where the management team was reviewing the results of the annual employee survey,” she says. “The overall employee satisfaction rating was 92%. The discussion was around what things could be done to increase the rating.
“I thought I’d been dropped into the Twilight Zone,” she continues. “I was thinking, ‘Do these people know how incredible a 92% employee satisfaction rating is?’ So many companies would be shouting from the rooftops if they had a 92% rating.
“In 2007, the rating was 93%. When I reviewed the results, I wondered if it was possible to get the rating up to 96% or 97%. Then I had a good laugh at myself because I was now one of ‘them.’ For 2008 and 2009, our employee satisfaction score was 98.5%.”
Bethpage Federal also has a strong track record on employee satisfaction, with survey ratings for 2006-2008 of about five on a scale of one to six. In 2009, the level increased to 5.09.