An interview with expert Sunnie Groeneveld
Employee engagement is the cornerstone of a company’s successful operation. Sunnie Groeneveld knows the impact that the performance of motivated and engaged employees has on corporate success. In this interview, the expert explains what companies can do to increase employee engagement.
Ms Groeneveld, you have founded several companies, and you are active as a director, speaker and author. How did you end up with such a multifaceted role?
It all started with my dissertation on “The Economic Value of a Positive Work Environment” at Yale University. Alongside my studies, I worked in New York and Silicon Valley and noticed that the companies in Silicon Valley took a different approach to work than those in New York. While Silicon Valley promoted flat structures and a feel-good atmosphere in the workplace, Wall Street favored conservative, hierarchical structures. I wanted to know which approach was more profitable in economic terms in the 21st century. That’s why I examined the topic of employee engagement. Then, in 2013, I founded the consultancy firm Inspire 925 together with two partners. We support companies in their implementation of employee engagement measures. At present, I mainly assist clients with digital transformation projects.
On average, employees switch companies every 2 to 3 years these days. They feel no connection to their employer. In one of your TED Talks, you mention that engagement is low for 7 out of 10 employees in Switzerland. What does that mean and what impact does it have?
When it comes to engagement, you can differentiate between three different types of employees. One statistic says that two out of ten employees are actively disengaged. They act destructively, which harms the team and the company’s success. Five out of ten employees are disengaged. This group will not go beyond the requirements of their job description, and fails to fulfill its potential. The last group includes the engaged employees. Only three out of ten employees put their heart and soul into their work. The question is how much human resource capital a company can tap into, and how much engagement employees want to invest in the business. Disengagement severely compromises productivity, willingness to learn, employee satisfaction and the team spirit. On the other hand, engaged employees have a measurably positive impact. According to a Meta study by Gallup, business units with high engagement rates are 21% more profitable than business units with low rates.
Not all companies that promote employee engagement achieve good results. Why is that?
There are several reasons for this. One aspect is that companies often take a short-term view — they might only take things from one quarter to the next, while neglecting tasks that require a long-term approach. However, a long-term approach is necessary to boost employee engagement.
Lack of accountability is another reason. If nobody is responsible, nothing is going to happen. Of course, it all comes back to this: How does the HR department see itself? Does it only perform administrative tasks, or does it take a strategic approach? Does the company even go as far as employing a feel-good manager? Having a specific person who takes responsibility for the issue of employee engagement is a big step forward.
What negative effects can a company expect if its employees are not engaged?
Studies have shown that disengagement leads to higher rates of security incidents, illness-related absences, productivity losses and, of course, resignations. Replacing experienced employees costs time and money. More specifically, an employer typically pays between 30 and 200 percent of the annual salary, before a new employee achieves the know-how level of their predecessor. All things considered, it is cheaper to invest in well thought out employee engagement measures to enhance employee loyalty, than to continuously recruit new employees.
How do you specifically boost emotional commitment? Are team-building events effective?
Of course, those events are helpful for strengthening the emotional connection to the company. However, they are only one ingredient. To improve cooperation for each working day – even if no team event takes place — I see great potential in digitalization. The Lunch Lottery is a simple example. This digital solution randomly selects individuals to have lunch together. This digital networking approach helps to make new acquaintances in the company.
What benefits do companies derive from high employee engagement?
High employee engagement has a positive impact on many areas. It promotes greater productivity, enhances attention, and lowers illness rates. It also increases the willingness to learn, boosts creativity and improves social connectivity and the desire to help each other. Moreover, it has a positive overall effect on the company’s profitability.
How can the HR department influence the corporate culture positively, and ensure that employees develop a high degree of engagement?
Many companies assume that there is no such thing as absolute engagement. That’s not true. Employees typically show top engagement on their first day at work. Over time, there will be incidents that lower employee engagement. For instance, this could be a project where an employee is pushed to the side, or where their opinion is not appreciated. Companies must ask themselves what is causing employee satisfaction to drop, and take appropriate counter-measures.
In your presentations, you ask the question, “What makes you come ALIVE?” What do you think motivates employees the most?
A sense of purpose, effectiveness and social ties are key aspects. Many people are motivated if the team atmosphere is good, and they can see the impact their work has on a project or the company as a whole. Employees want to be recognized for this. If that happens, it has a lasting positive impact. Engaged colleagues also boost employee motivation in their work environment which, in turn, leads to even more engagement for the company.
And what motivates you personally?
My motivation is based on my entrepreneurial activity. I like being around other people. We have now formed a small team that we are proud of. In our projects, I meet many different people, and that challenges me. A dynamic environment really motivates me.
About Sunnie Groeneveld
Sunnie Groeneveld studied Economics at Yale University. She is Founder and Managing Partner of the consultancy firm Inspire 925 and also works as a speaker and author. She advises companies and corporations on the topics of employee engagement, cooperation, and innovation, focusing her activities on digital transformation. Based on her engagements, her book “Inspired at Work”, co-authored by Christoph Küffer, offers ideas on increasing engagement and innovations in a company.
The interview was conducted in collaboration with Selecta, Europe’s leader in vending solutions and specialist coffee services.