In New Zealand, we're lucky to have one of the highest rates of staff engagement but it's still just 24 per cent.

So the team is into the swing of 2014, marching towards the second quarter of the year, working enthusiastically and feeling connected to the workplace. Or is it? The latest survey of employee engagement by international performance management consultants Gallup highlights some disturbing statistics.

The State of the Global Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for Business Leaders Worldwide found just 13 per cent of employees feel engaged at work. This means they're excited about work, feel connected to their company and want to actively drive innovation and move the organisation forward.

In New Zealand, we're fortunate to have one of the highest rates of employee engagement but it's still just 24 per cent. According to the survey, 60 per cent of our workforce is not engaged - they're sleepwalking through work and doing the hours but not going the extra mile or feeling inclined to - and a further 16 per cent are actively disengaged, which means their unhappiness infuses everything they do at work.

It's no secret that employee engagement affects business. Staff turnover, absenteeism, health and safety incidents, customer complaints, inaccuracies and general faults, blunders and oversights increase when employees aren't engaged; productivity and profitability, for their part, drop.


That's why it should be a strategic priority for employers to actively find ways to boost employee engagement, says Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie, chief executive of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust.

"We hear a lot of talk about people being an organisation's greatest asset, but businesses need to demonstrate that by putting in place measures to get the best from their staff and making an effort to show they are valued. Employers can't rely on individuals alone to stay engaged."

Cassidy-Mackenzie says flexible working arrangements, career training and development pathways, well-being programmes, incentive schemes such as employee of the month awards and the chance to take part in social events are the types of initiatives that can be considered to build a more engaged workforce. She says many of EEO member organisations recognise the importance of these plans which, in many cases, can be relatively simple to introduce.

"The positive results can far outweigh any costs," she says. "Recognising the need for work/life balance is a key to helping people feel engaged. Where possible, discuss staff needs and provide support to enable them to do their job in the best way to get the outcomes that suit them and the organisation. The provision of such initiatives as working from home or the ability to adjust working hours to fit around personal commitments such as childcare during the school holidays will make a huge difference to employees' overall motivation."

Cassidy-Mackenzie points to Coca-Cola Amatil (New Zealand) as being a company that walks the employee engagement talk. CCANZ won the work and life balance award at the EEO's 2013 Diversity Awards NZ ceremony principally because of its focus on improving employee well-being.

Initiatives include free health checks for staff, nutritional seminars, subsidised gym memberships and the opportunity to receive complimentary health insurance, including for employees' children aged under 21. The company has also funded cervical smears for all female employees on a trial basis.

For female staff going on maternity leave and then returning to work, there are two new initiatives: a transition back to work programme and a book, provided by the company, on keeping fit and healthy during pregnancy and beyond written by one of its staff.

Those who are on the road, such as distribution staff and sales reps, were last year given chilled lunch bags to encourage them to make themselves a healthy lunch every day. All those who use work cars and fleet trucks take part in a course developed by the University of Waikato which uses state-of-the-art technology to test drivers' know-how in some real-life driving scenarios and this is also available free to employees' children.


CCANZ estimates the investment in these initiatives is hundreds of thousands of dollars a year but there have been significant paybacks in a number of areas. For example, the rate of driving accidents dropped significantly as did the annual cost of repairing fleet vehicles.

HR general manager Martin King says the beverage company's employee engagement initiatives start by finding out what staff want through an annual engagement survey. In last year's survey, 94 per cent of employees participated.

CCANZ employs 1000 staff at sites all over New Zealand and their requests can be diverse. To ensure as many of these are catered for, each division of the company gets its results and local action plans are devised.

"Employment engagement initiatives will not work if they are dictated from the top down," says Mr King. "Staff need to be actively involved and the initiatives introduced must make a difference in their day-to-day working lives. We are a really diverse business and workforce and that could be a challenge, but because we give ownership at a local level, that's what works."

Mr King says it's also about building a reputation as a good employer, a place where people want to work.

"The reality is that attracting the sort of talented people we need to drive the business forward can be tough and I would say that's the same for a number of organisations. The most talented people will only be interested in working for a company if it's a great place to work. These types of initiatives help us to be a great place to work."

Pacific Homecare, a South Auckland based charitable trust that provides home-based health care services mainly to elderly Pacific and disabled people, won the EEO Trust's skills highway award. Its employee engagement initiatives have focused on staff training.

They include literacy and numeracy programmes for employees - 90 per cent speak English as a second language - which encourages the attainment of industry qualifications. This helps to build a better qualified workforce and also means staff are more employable in the New Zealand health sector.

The company also holds regular in-house and health-themed workshops that can help staff better assist clients and learn more about their own health. These have been extended to include such things as personal budgeting. There are also opportunities for staff to participate in events such as the Round the Bays fun run, a 10-week physical exercise programme, an end-of-year graduation celebration for those who attain qualifications during the year, regular get-togethers and employee of the month accolades that recognise and encourage excellence in service.

"We want our staff to feel that it is not just a job they're doing but an important one where they are appreciated, recognised and contributing and participating more within Pacific Homecare Services where possible," says chief executive Hamish Crooks.

"Whether it be a training programme or a Round the Bays event, an employee graduation, an employee of the month award or a cultural gathering for employees, these add significant value to everyone about how they feel and participate within the working environment which flows through to the consumer base."

The results are telling. Mr Crooks says productivity has increased around 42 per cent during the past three years, the organisation receives more feedback from its clients and staff are more confident in general.

"Communications lines have improved ... It doesn't mean we are perfect, but as a whole we are moving in the right direction."