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Last month, we discussed the increasing disengagement of employees in the American workforce, some of the drivers, as well as the high cost of employee turnover. (read that article here)

As further evidence of this issue, David Vogelpohl of Excellerate Solutions tells of a measure of work force productivity called “productive energy“. Productive energy is a measure of how much effort the work force is giving to employers in terms of their commitment to the company, their pride, and their willingness to put in extra effort to innovate, create and take risks. He sites that the national average of productive energy is 30 percent, and that it decreases during tough economic times. This means that for a 40 person organization with an average annual salary of $40,000, they are losing over $1 million per year in productive energy. If this organization could improve their productive energy to even 50 percent, a potential savings of over $300,000 could flow to the bottom line. This would make a substantial difference to the success of most businesses!

I like what Edward Marshall of the Center for Creative Leadership has written about re-engaging the spirit of the workforce.  He writes that workers need hope and a belief that their hard work is not in vain, and that re-engaging this spirit can become a major contributor to our economic revival. Here are four ways Marshall says that this can be accomplished:

  • Open the Lines of Communication: Most of us have been heads down this last year. Two-way communications on topics other than sales and delivery are a luxury. And yet now, as our work force is reeling from the impact of the recession and their own job fears, this is the time to open up the lines of two-way communication and have it be an ongoing commitment rather than just an event.
  • Conduct an Ongoing Dialogue: Leaders can listen to what is going on in the hearts and spirits of their work force. It’s about being curious. How have they dealt with this crisis? What has been its impact on their lives and their families? What are their greatest hopes and concerns for the next year? This dialogue best happens in small, facilitated groups in a process that is repeated over time.
  • Provide Feedback to Rebuild Confidence: Summarize what you heard in the dialogue sessions, and feed it back to the employees. This rebuilds confidence and a shared understanding of the challenges ahead.
  • Leadership Actions: Actions taken on any issues or challenges raised can only build additional momentum and leadership credibility.

Marshall continues that re-engaging the spirit of the work force is perhaps the most important strategic leadership action that can be taken at this point in the economic recovery. And that, through dialogue, leaders can provide a way to cope with the hidden anxiety the work force feels, and begin to rebuild confidence and hope. What can this mean to you and your work situation?

Look for more regarding the changing American workforce next month.