The Small Problem of Employee Engagement

Are you ignoring a problem, right here and now?

If you are in a management or leadership position, you probably are. They never stop and you are only human. Not big problems, mind you.  Maybe not even mid-size problems. However, you are almost certainly ignoring one or two small problems.

But when it comes to your employees, it can be reckless as a manager to ignore problems for very long, even small ones.  In fact, the size of the problem could be a matter of perception – small problem to you, BIG problem for your employees.

Let’s consider the case of a mid-size food distribution company. Their primary focus was on their B2C relationships and why certain geographical markets were not performing as well as others.  There was little indication as to why the newer markets were not meeting expectations.  They had achieved steady growth for many years prior without interruption.  They were determined to study these new markets and figure out how they differed from previous expansions.

So, what was the problem?  In a word – service. It was quickly determined that customers at the newer locations were not pleased with the level of service they were receiving.  The company initially resisted the findings.  They had placed experienced managers at the new locations.  Training was consistent and proven at legacy locations.  The company was not (yet) convinced that service was the real problem.

Employee Engagement was a much lower priority, a cherry on top of the main course.  While the market study successfully identified the problem with the new market expansions, it couldn’t determine what was causing the problem.  Fortunately, the Employee Engagement research filled in the rest of the picture.

When the data came back, the Employee Engagement results were, for the most part, quite positive.  They outperformed similar companies in most respects – except one.  When the question was asked about understaffing, the floor completely caved in.  Their evaluations were rock bottom.

Once again, the company was surprised.  They certainly knew about the understaffing.  But when it was discussed, it was always regarded as a small problem.  Something to fix after they addressed bigger problems. Sure, they didn’t always have as many people as they would like on hand.  But the people they did have were more than capable of filling in the gaps.  And technically, they were correct.  They had been getting by from an operational perspective.  They had even been able to save a little money on payroll.  But the employees were feeling the strain.  They couldn’t rely on scheduling or any consistency.  Their satisfaction with the company was taking a big hit.

The result?  Service was suffering.  Customers noticed that it took longer to receive their orders and the employees were not very friendly. Overall, it was not the excellent experience they had come to expect.  But why only at the new locations?  Because if a legacy location was understaffed, they would move employees from the newer locations to help cover. But now the new location was understaffed.  Given little notice and no additional compensation, this became another source of employee discontentment.