The best employers foster innovation and input from staff, survey shows.
A number of new and established organisations are winning the engagement of their staff by making them feel that they are personally contributing to their company's success, says this year's 13th Kenexa Best Workplaces Survey.
Employees in the best workplaces feel a great sense of common purpose from their leadership, receiving good communication about goals, says Sanchia Yonge, Kenexa managing director. "Employees know how they are tracking and are clear about what they need to do in order to support the organisation's success," she says.
Kenexa Best Workplace finalists admitted to experiencing high levels of work-related stress but still felt their organisation was a fun place to work and were able to maintain a good work-life balance.
"When best workplaces engage staff, people are really committed to the organisation, they are invested in its success," says Yonge. This year's Kenexa Best Small Workplace winner, Vend, the cloud point of sale company, for instance, is focused on being transparent with staff on all the metrics measuring success.
"Employees can go and see their figures and, if they are not reaching their goal, the team asks why and starts problem-solving rather than the CEO managing things and directing. It's a much more collaborative approach," says Yonge.
The Kenexa managing director said a good sign for this year was the Best Workplaces Survey had many finalists returning from 2011.
"This underlines that employee engagement is about long-term commitment and a journey rather than a focus on recognition. Engagement is very much integrated into these organisations," says Yonge.
The survey run in association with The New Zealand Herald and supported by Kiwibank and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment - Labour Group, also attracted the largest number of participants this year - 33,000 New Zealand employees from 289 companies.
To have high levels of engagement, you have got to take care of staff, says Yonge. Vista Entertainment, the entertainment software solutions company, sponsors employee sports teams and takes staff away on ski trips. "These organisations are tailoring policies to their demographic," she adds. It is about what is meaningful to them.
Enabling practices such as flexible working also help morale. Overland Footwear, the winner of the Kenexa Large Workplace category and this year's overall winner, gives staff a $350 benefit for their health and well-being and they can spend it how they like. "This makes them feel well looked after," says the Kenexa MD.
Kenexa identified several key drivers of engagement among this year's Best Workplaces Survey. The most highly ranked driver was that people wanted to feel a sense of belonging at work. "That really matters to people," says Yonge.
"What we are seeing is companies are aligning their internal brand with their external brand." The internal brand is the workplace culture. If it is authentic, then it comes across with customers.
"When you hire people for culture-fit then they feel really aligned to an organisation's values, they can be themselves and they have that authenticity day to day," says the Kenexa MD.
Another high ranking key driver was that people want to have a sense of personal achievement at work and feel that their contribution is valued. There's a difference between recognising and valuing an employee, says Yonge.
"Recognition is typically tied to what we do - not who we are, while valuing is about acknowledging someone not merely for tasks, but for the deeper intrinsic worth they add to an organisation by just being there," says Yonge. Talking to employees about how their contributions make a difference, promote higher employee ratings of feeling valued.
One CEO commented: "If you value your staff and translate that into the way you empower them, you will have a very successful business. The more you give employees the more you get back."
The fact that more people want to have meaningful work came across strongly, adds Yonge.
Related to this was another key driver which was that people want opportunities for learning and development, trying new ways of doing things to leverage all their knowledge and skills.
"With training and development, the key driver is less about wanting to attend this or that course. It's more about creating learning and development opportunities on the job, involving people in finding new ways of doing things," says Yonge.
Best workplace employers are much better at fostering innovation and involving people in decisions than others.
"We learned about some great practices that tap into employees' desire to learn, develop and innovate in ways that generate tangible benefits for their organisations," says Yonge.
Several finalist organisations, including Flight Centre, CORE Education and AA Insurance, are doing a variation on the Dragon's Den-style of having staff pitch ideas.
Flight Centre, a finalist in the large organisation category 10 times since 2002 and a category winner from 2002 to 2009, awarded a consultant this year who came up with the concept of a "Perfect Match".
Their idea was to match a consultant who had a passion and a knowledge of a destination with a customer who wanted to go there.
More generally, CEOs interviewed said times were tough but having engaged staff gave them more options.
The Southern Cross Medical Society, which was ranked fourth among the large company finalists, said having a good company culture and engaged people put them in a better position to manage change.
"Historically, they would take on one change project a year, now they are able to do four or five," says Yonge.
To staff who step up, there are rewards. Shane Anselmi, CEO of Overland, told Yonge one of the reasons the company needed to go to Australia was to hold on to its talent and create opportunities for them as well as providing new opportunities for growth.
* Vend - Best Small Workplace
* Brother International (NZ) - Best Small-Medium Workplace
* Mars NZ - Best Medium-Large Workplace
* Overland Footwear (overall winner) - Best Large Workplace