New Zealand workplaces are now outranking their overseas counterparts on staff engagement levels, says the Kenexa Best Workplaces Survey 2013. Meanwhile, employees of the top 25 per cent of organisations who participated in the Best Workplaces Survey are saying their companies have a clear vision of where they are going and staff have a good understanding of how their work is contributing to that success.
"If they know where the company is heading, it creates a lot of energy and empowerment," says Kenexa managing director of Kenexa, an IBM company, Sanchia Yonge.
"What we have seen improve, year on year, is the ability to involve people and drive innovation. These organisations are the ones closest to customers and the most competitive."
This year's overall winner was Overland Footwear, also a winner of the Best Large Workplace category.
Yonge believes the survey is helping companies with their staff engagement and is a contributing factor to the general improvement in engagement shown this year. It identifies for employers the key drivers of their staff engagement.
"Companies are getting more sophisticated at translating employee feedback, collected in the survey, into actions that result in positive change in the workplace," she says.
They are using analytics to identify key drivers of employee engagement, which takes out the guesswork, and allows them to focus on areas that will make a difference.
"Employees really believe that positive change is going to happen by taking the survey."
Employee engagement is seen as a strategy by organisations to drive business results and tackle challenges, Yonge says. It also came across strongly in the survey that the top organisations had high performance expectations of their staff and encourage ideas on how to improve processes from their employees.
The survey, now in its 14th year, is the country's largest annual "employer of choice" programme and study of workplace climate and employee engagement. It drew a record 39,000 responses from 243 organisations this year compared with 33,000 in 2012.
"We are seeing more, larger enterprises enter the competition," says the managing director of Kenexa. This year, another category was created, the Best Enterprise Workplace, employing 750 or more employees. Warehouse Stationery won that category.
Warehouse Stationery and a number of other category winners are strong in the top key driver, learning and development for staff. This area is once more in favour among NZ organisations taking part in the survey, says Yonge. Learning and development was ranked top out of the key drivers for staff engagement.
"It drifted off during harder times but it's back and here to stay," says Yonge.
The Kenexa managing director says she is seeing organisations coming up with some very creative ideas to help with staff retention.
Hilti, an international company which makes engineering and construction equipment, and whose NZ office is a finalist in the Best Small Workplace category, is keeping staff engaged by helping them find career pathways all over the world.
"They see themselves as a talent factory. They identify high performaning employees with career aspirations and help people fuel their potential and create a path for them," says Yonge.
Meanwhile, the better organisations are identifying ways to promote their people internally. "They have a development strategy to grow their people from within as well as attracting top talent from outside," says Yonge.
Over the last four years, Warehouse Stationery has seen a big increase in internal promotions. Around 60 to 70 per cent of positions which become available are going to internal candidates. Staff are supported to progress through a well-articulated learning pathway that has been developed by the organisation, says Yonge.
Transparent communication is another thing which all employers should strive for with their staff, according to the survey's findings. Employees in the top quartile of organisations surveyed agreed that communication was open and honest and that they were informed about what was happening within the organisation.
Auckland software company Vend, a finalist in the Best Small-Medium Workplace, which has now expanded to San Francisco, Melbourne, Toronto and London, is working hard to have a highly engaged team. "They are very focused on taking the culture in New Zealand and repeating that in other offices," says Yonge.
How should employers be preparing their businesses and staff for the future? They should be expecting a dynamic environment with plenty of economic challenges, says Yonge.
"More leaders will be focused on building a workforce as flexible and adaptable as possible. To ensure that continues, they will need effective communication across the organisation, and to be highly transparent and have high degrees of trust."
Embracing new technologies can enable your workforce to be more involved, connected, flexible and nimble.
"But new technologies do not replace the need for face-to-face," Yonge says.
And she concludes: "Engagement is not a once a year event - it's something every leader and every employee does every day."