One Problem With Outsourcing – What Does It Do To Employee Engagement Levels?

News item – Employees unwilling to go the extra mile for organisations: Study:

A global study conducted by consulting firm Hay Group has revealed that workforce engagement levels are stagnating and employees are increasingly unwilling and unable to go the extra mile for their organisations, the company said in a press release.
Commitment levels are falling, as more than two fifths (44%) of the global workforce intends to leave their company within five years, and more than one in five employees (21%) intend to leave their current employer in less than two years.

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So, here’s a question.  In an era when employee engagement is so low, just how engaged do you think an “outsourced” employee is?

I’ve been thinking about employee engagement, outsourcing and contract work, and the overall difficulty that so many organizations have in finding the right people for the jobs that need filled.  This post represents my current thinking….

First, a story.  I friend of mine, a top-notch business consultant, recently told me about a substantial company that got in some trouble financially.  (Not quite the only company to have this problem in this difficult economic era.)  He described how investors came in, helped out, and then ultimately ousted the long-time CEO.  The company is now a mess, and may not make it.  Again, this is a substantial company (one you’ve heard of!).  Now, I agree that there certainly are times when a change at the top is needed.  But when you oust someone who has devoted his for her life to that company – someone who is truly, fully engaged – there’s a pretty good chance that bringing in an outsider to right the ship just may be bringing in someone who really does not care about that company, and the people of that company.  Thus, the morale might go down, the engagement might go down throughout the company.  And, in this case, this appears to be what has happened.

So, in other words, employee engagement is truly impacted by the “ties” a person has to the organization.

So, back to my question:  in an era when employee engagement is so low, just how engaged do you think an “outsourced” employee is?  My guess is, not very engaged. 

Recently, I visited with a woman who leads a staffing firm.  Many of her “placed” employees work in pretty short-term situations.  They substitute for a worker who is out for a set period of time – frequently just a few weeks.  I asked her, so how do you build a sense of “employee engagement” in such an employee?  She admitted that, indeed, this is a difficult challenge.  Her approach is to seek to build such engagement with her firm, not with the company that the worker is sent to.  It turns out that you can make this argument, and make this work – for some kinds of jobs within an organization.  (Read this:  Can Outsourcing Improve Employee Engagement?)

But, what about those longer assignments – even “permanent” outsourced /contract worker assignments?

Let’s remind ourselves:  what is employee engagement?  From Wikipedia:

An “engaged employee” is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests. According to Scarlett Surveys, “Employee Engagement is a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization which profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work”.

I think that in order to have a person committed to the mission of an organization,  to “further the organization’s interests,” this person pretty much has to be working for that organization, not for some outsourcing firm, or even for “themselves.”

And, there is another critical factor.  Does this person have:

• a job?
• a career?
• or a calling?

#1 — If a person has a “job,” something that he or she simply defines as a paycheck to pay the bills at this time, employee engagement is probably not going to be very high.

#2 — If a person is focused on building  a successful “career,” the engagement will go up.  But ultimately, the commitment to the organization will last only as long as the organization is the place to continue to “move up” the hoped-for career ladder.

#3 — If a person has a “calling,” a calling to fulfill the mission of this organization, then the chance for deep and lasting employee engagement is greatest.

Now, there are still some “rules of the game” regarding employee engagement.  Be sure to notice and reward exceptional work; tell the stories of success; provide quick and instant feedback, both to praise (praise often!, with sincerity and deep and genuine appreciation!) and to “re-set”…  (In other words, read Encouraging the Heart:  A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others, by Kouzes and Posner, and do everything it says to do).  But, ultimately, what we are after is this:

• a company or organization
• seeking to fulfill a mission that matters
• with people committed to fulfilling that mission
• with customers who say, “yes, you have succeeded – I like what you offer, and I want to keep buying it/using it.” 

To get there, I think we need the kind of employees that make the fulfillment of that mission the central focus of their work life – genuinely engaged employees.

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