ANXIETY and uncertainty about the future can influence employees' attitudes, and lead to confusion and unproductive behaviour.

Anxious employees tend to focus their efforts on themselves rather than the organisation and customers.

Employers need to understand the importance of employee engagement in creating an effective and resilient workforce to perform well during turbulent times.

Remain focused

With tough external conditions, employers need to stay more focused on harnessing the discretionary effort that will engage employees to deliver.

It can make the difference in how severely organisations are affected by the downturn, how quickly they emerge from it, and how strongly positioned they are after the downturn passes.

Human resource specialist Hewitt defines employee engagement as the extent to which individuals are emotionally and intellectually committed to the organisation or group. This can be measured by three factors:

o Say: The employee consistently speaks positively about the organisation to co-workers, potential employees and customers;

o Stay: The employee has an intense desire to be a member of the organisation despite opportunities to work elsewhere; and

o Strive: The employee exerts extra effort and exhibits behaviours that contribute to business success.

The power of "say"

When Singapore was hit by an outbreak of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), layoffs were rampant, especially in the hospitality industry. Yet Hewitt came across employees of Best Employer companies who had been laid off, who had nothing but good to say of their organisations.

Said one employee: "Today is my last day because my department was shut down due to the downturn. However, I am still very thankful to this organisation for being so nice to me throughout my employment. When the economy turns around, I hope to join this company again because I truly think this is a great company to work for."

Imagine the power of such an advocate in influencing both existing and potential employees. Existing employees will believe that the organisation will do its utmost to take care of them. A strong advocate also serves as an effective referral to the larger pool of talent available in the market.

Since defining the engagement approach in 1994, Hewitt has conducted studies with over 6,500 companies representing over 20 million employees.

Its comparative and longitudinal analysis of this data, validated by academic and third-party research, has uncovered a strong relationship between employee engagement and a wide range of organisation performance measures.

It has shown that an engaged workforce means higher customer satisfaction, higher productivity, better total shareholder returns and other important business metrics.

The power of "stay"

Understanding what drives employee behaviours during these economically difficult times is critical to business success.

With limited resources, it is important to focus on doing a few things absolutely well.

Hewitt has conducted the Best Employers in Asia Study since 2001 to identify key levers that drive business success through human capital.

The most recent 2009 study, one conducted in the midst of the global economic crisis, revealed career opportunities as the area to drive engagement among employees in both Best Employers companies and the rest.

Employees want to know that they have a promising career with the organisation.

At the same time, there are factors that can affect existing levels of engagement:

o A sense of accomplishment. Employees want to continue to derive a sense of accomplishment from the work they do.

o Customer focus. Employees want to know that they are working for an organisation that is customer-centric.

By understanding what drives engagement, you can plan how to best allocate limited resources to motivate talent to stay and continually drive performance.

The power of "strive"

With the gloomy economic outlook, it is critical yet challenging to drive performance in employees to strive to pull organisations out of the downturn.

Leading companies drive performance through a holistic performance management system that:

* Builds accountability through high-achievement goal setting and effective performance coaching;

* Provides opportunity by building growth into every job and equipping employees with future critical skills;

* Builds trust through authentic business-focused conversations; and

* Provides rewards that motivate and ratings that send the right message.

The key to unleashing the "strive" factor lies in the hands of a company's people managers. Effective people managers are performance coaches who use the above four elements well to optimise each employee's strengths, knowledge and creativity.

Equip your people managers with the right tools to complement strong leadership and aligned people practices to drive a high performing and engaged workforce.