Talent Talk: Q&A with Allan Watkinson, Gallup Consulting

imageWe explored Gallup’s study on the issue of employee disengagement in an earlier post. The statistics are sobering. 82% of Australians are not actively engaged at work, costing the nation $42 billion in lost productivity annually.  We caught up with Allan Watkinson, Engagement Manager at Gallup Consulting to understand more about their latest study, unhappy workplaces and the likely solutions to employee disengagement.

DT. The latest Gallup study paints a pretty bleak picture about Australian workplaces. Why do you think employees are not engaged at work? Is this a failure of corporate recruitment process, of HR policies or corporate culture? Can fingers be pointed to anyone or anything in particular?
Engagement is a local phenomenon. The single biggest factor in someone’s engagement at work is the effectiveness of their immediate manager. We’ve found through our research that people join companies but leave Managers. Managers are not investing the time or don’t have the skills to simply manage. Organisations can significantly improve Engagement by helping Managers to focus on the basics. Things like setting clear expectations, recognising good performance appropriately and investing in their peoples’ development. A lot of these things happen when Managers have regular conversations with their people. Our experience is that most Managers don’t. HR has a critical role to play in encouraging them to take the time to talk to their people.

DT. We are one of the hardest working nations in the developed world. Yet, majority of us are disengaged at work. There seems to be a real disconnect – how can we clock so much hours when collectively we do not like our jobs. How long can individual companies and our nation sustain this kind of situation?
AW: Our survey of the Australian workforce showed that only 18% of us are engaged in our work and this is costing us at least $42.1 billion annually in lost productivity, not to mention the social costs of poorer physical and mental health. The majority of us turn up to work every day, do what is required and no more. We don’t hate our job but we don’t love it either. Culturally, I think we still have a work ethic which says that work is work and you need to turn up and put in some decent hours for fear of looking redundant or ineffective. Encouragingly, we’re seeing a growing recognition that it is OK to find a job that suits your talents, which you enjoy and is based on results rather than time at your desk.

Q. In a recent interview the CEO of Zappos,  the hugely successful online retail company, talked about how they let go good performers largely because they do not fit into the culture of the company. Is cultural fit a solution to ‘disengagement’?
AW: That was a very bold thing to do, but absolutely the right thing. If someone is in the right role, doing what they do best every day, then they’re much more likely to be engaged at work. Whether or not they’re in the right place is not just about the role itself, but influenced by the local culture of the organisation. Managers play a big role in setting the behavioural expectations that determine the culture.

DT: What can companies do or pursue, especially in times of economic downturns when there seems to be so many other immediate priorities?
AW: In times of economic downturns, it’s more important than ever to focus on the basic human needs at work.

  • Make sure people know what’s expected of them at work by regularly communicating expectations
  • Ensure people have the right materials and equipment. Where budgets are limited, manage their expectations
  • Make sure people are in the right roles to enable them do what  they do best. Adjust roles or move people accordingly
  • Don’t forget recognition and praise. Make sure you find out how people like to be recognised as there is no universally successful approach
  • Keep investing in peoples’ development. One of the biggest mistakes a company can make in a downturn is to stop the investment in development. You may not lose good people in the short term, but they will remember this when the market recovers

DT. Do you have an example of a client who is able to address the waste and human capital problems associated with employee disengagement?
AW: One of our clients has improved engagement and financial performance across his organisation significantly by doing three things.

  • Introducing 1:1 monthly meetings with his direct reports to discuss progress, clarify expectations and generally get to know his people better
  • Including engagement on the agenda at his monthly management team meetings
  • Adjusting roles to make them more interesting and challenging for people, based on their strengths and interests Increased engagement has seen an associated reduction in absenteeism as well as improvements to customer satisfaction and profitability.

DT. For decades, Gallup is synonymous with market research. Little is known about the other services offered. Can you shed more lights on human capital services offered under the Gallup umbrella in Australia?
What makes Gallup unique in the Human Capital Consulting space is our extensive research based approach. Gallup Consulting draws on more than 30 years of research into how human behaviour drives performance in organisations – the field of Behavioural Economics. This allows us to focus on and measure the things that really make a difference to business and financial outcomes. We help our clients really believe it when they say that their people are their most important asset.

Gallup Consulting provides services in the following;
Employee Engagement – measuring and improving the emotional attachment employees have to the organisation to increase discretionary effort and improve financial outcomes for the business

Strengths Based Executive Coaching and Development – helping managers and executives discover their innate talents using our Strengths Finder tool and then coaching them to develop to maximise success in their work and lives using their strengths

Strengths Based Selection – helping organisations to select the right people by matching roles to peoples’ strengths

Management and Leadership Development – a suite of programmes which trains Managers in the 4 Keys of Great Management and helps Leaders to deal effectively with the 7 Demands of Leadership.

Succession Planning – helping organisations to develop and execute a succession strategy that helps retain and attract key talent

Human Sigma – helping organisations to drive success by managing the moments when employees interact with customers.

Allan can be reached at allan_watkinson@gallup.com or +61 2 9409 9000

1 reply
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I have a question; What happens when an entire management team do not focus on setting clear expectations, recognising good performance appropriately and investing in their peoples’ development? How can you manage upwards to get what you need from your business?

    I know that the logical answer is… “Leave! Clearly you’re not getting what you need from your manager!” however in a tighter job market – when you have to stay, are there things, in your opinion, that the employees can do to increase their own engagement through managing upwards?


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