Rationally few could doubt that an engaged and healthy workforce should also be a productive workforce. In times when the pressure is on with continued economic uncertainty, rapid change and, following several years of cost cutting in most organisations, more pressure to deliver with fewer resources, the need to properly manage and look after our employees must be obvious.
But is this what is happening in an organised and considered way, and are we seeing consistent good practices of workforce management? Do we even understand what the practices really are, and are we holding the right people accountable?
There is now plenty of accumulated research and evidence that shows the links between positive workforce engagement and performance, and measures such as customer satisfaction and innovation, as highlighted in the Engage for Success paper 'Nailing the evidence' launched in November last year.
Initiatives such as Engage for Success launched by the Prime Minister three years ago have certainly helped raise awareness of the importance of positively engaging employees, and there can be few businesses now that don't in some way try to assess engagement levels - albeit that the measurement systems used are wide and varied. Equally, rising levels of workplace stress have been widely noted - the annual CIPD/Simplyhealth absence management survey has found stress to be the most common cause of long-term absence for two years running, and the most recent survey found that two-fifths of employers saw a rise in stress related absence over the past year.
However, we do not yet have systematic reporting of measures that would provide external insight, and perhaps also apply a bit more pressure for attention from the top. This is an agenda not limited to narrow HR interest, but vital to understanding critical value drivers for any business and insight into some of the critical variables that will enable sustained future performance. Good measurement will also focus on the underlying practices that drive engagement and workforce wellbeing, and provide the means for managers at all levels to understand and focus on the right things.
The BITC Workwell FTSE 100 benchmark aims to provide this kind of insight, and whilst the first year of results shows some good examples, the average scoring is disappointingly low. This has to raise concerns about whether we really do understand the importance of engagement or workforce wellbeing or the practices which most enable them. Perhaps it is another indicator of core HR issues not being seen as strategic, or maybe we are just not doing a good job of measuring and reporting. I suspect it is a combination of these points, and there has undoubtedly been more focus and effort on good workforce management in recent years, but better measurement is vital to bring insight - the old axiom of what gets measured gets done must also be true in this context.
Certainly the BITC Workwell survey has shown some areas of positive focus and results. The highest scoring area was how organisations are building more diverse and inclusive workforces and cultures (50% total marks), followed by health and safety practices (44%) with approach to training and development and employee communications close behind.
This is an important agenda and the attention the benchmark focuses on good practices will be a vital component of development of good workforce and workplace management practices for the future.
For further information on the BITC Workwell benchmark, visit: http://www.bitc.org.uk/programmes/workwell