Disengaged Employees Devastate Business Results
By Chris Powell, CEO of BlackbookHR
According to Gallup, less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014. This article examines what the data means for the cable telecom industry.

Gallup’s most recent annual employee engagement data contained some good news and bad news: Engagement was up in 2014 compared to 2013, but the majority of U.S. employees are still disengaged. In fact, more than 17 percent are “actively disengaged,” and less than a third of all employees are engaged at work.

Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” Does this describe your employees? If not — or if you’re not sure — you could have a problem that’s inhibiting your company’s productivity and its ability to perform to its potential.

Cable telecommunications companies face unique challenges and risks when it comes to employee engagement. And only one cable telecom company, Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du), was included on Gallup’s Great Workplace Award list in 2014. By leveraging their inherent strengths, cable telecom firms can get a handle on employee engagement, but it will take effort and resources.

Cable Telecom’s Employee Engagement Challenges
Paradoxically, one of the strengths many cable telecom companies possess also presents a challenge to building and maintaining employee engagement: diversity. The wide variety of employees in the cable telecom industry makes it difficult for organizations to apply a one-size-fits-all strategy to employee engagement. Employees in the field who run wires or install systems are looking for different things from their work than office employees working in marketing or accounting. It’s important for cable telecom companies to understand the different segments of their workforce and develop approaches that meet their diverse needs.

Next, whether it’s true or not, there may be a perception that the cable telecom industry isn’t growing. That perception can erode engagement, especially if organizations don’t communicate their plans for the future and establish a roadmap showing how they’ll make those plans reality.

Without concrete plans for the future, cable telecom companies will find it harder to compete with technology startups for the top talent they need to grow. Tech startups, growing software companies and established tech organizations alike are looking for the content, production and digital/technical employees that cable telecom companies also need. They are finding ways to engage those employees by offering development opportunities and establishing strong cultures and clear missions.

Cable Telecom’s Employee Engagement Risks
By not addressing these challenges, cable telecom companies face some serious risks. For companies that distribute content, low levels of employee engagement can be particularly devastating. According to Gallup, engaged employees easily connect with customers, but those who aren’t engaged may focus less on customers’ needs. That’s a serious problem for a group of companies that already has a reputation for providing poor customer service.

Another risk is employee turnover, says Janice Turner, former Vice President of HR at WOW! Inc., a cable, Internet and telecom provider. Turnover is a problem especially when it comes to employees from younger generations such as millennials and, to some extent, Gen Xers, too. “They’re always looking forward to the next gig. If they’re not engaged or able to contribute somehow, there are other options for them.”

Whether disengaged employees leave or stay, cable telecoms also risk losing full use of their expertise, Turner says. Actively disengaged employees don’t apply all of their efforts and talents to their work, and their employers lose out. Turner says long-term employees (in this industry that can mean workers who have been with a company five years) also have institutional knowledge that represents a risk if they take a job with a competitor.

Millennials Pose a Unique Challenge
The Gallup survey found millennials are the least engaged generation in the workforce, and are the least likely to say they “have the opportunity to do what they do best" at work.

“Part of the lack of engagement can come from the fact that they aren’t able to make a significant difference in the company in a very short time frame,” Turner says. “There has to be a leadership role for millennials, not necessarily in a managerial sense, but by heading a task force or interest group.” Pairing them with mentors can help, too.

With many millennials fluent in modern technology, it’s important that organizations integrate that interest into the workday, Turner says. “They want a company that’s progressive. They can recommend new technologies, and aligning that interest with what your company offers can help.”

What You Can Do
With all that’s at stake, it is vital that cable telecom companies get employee engagement right as the economy continues to improve. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in cable telecom hit more than 10 percent in 2010. It’s now at less than 2.5 percent, and companies are in stiff competition for top talent.

The industry’s inherent strengths can be used to boost engagement. Content producers have an excellent opportunity to connect employees to the brand. Attending TV meet-and-greets or participating in a shoot can show employees how their own work fits into the company’s big picture. 

Community outreach efforts can illustrate a company’s values and mission. Discovery Communications has leveraged its “Say Yes to the Dress” franchise into an outreach in several cities to make the prom more accessible for low-income high school girls. Distributors can use community involvement to engage their workforce as well: Comcast, for example, builds community gardens and hosts clean-ups to improve the local community.

Turner says WOW! opened up its leadership development program to front-line employees after being management-only for several years. “It was our front-line employees who came forward and said ‘we want to be a part of this, what will it take?’ That definitely helped with engagement,” Turner explains.

In addition, the company offers a Courage Award, which rewards employees when they learn from mistakes, Turner says. In addition, the company added courage as a core value. “We want employees to take risks. That’s how they learn.”

Consumer Cellular, ranked by Consumer Reports as the No. 1 cell phone provider for the past five years, puts a priority on employee engagement, says CEO John Marick. In addition to community involvement and recreation activities, the organization has a recognition program, including hosting regular lunches to thank employees for their hard work, and holding all-employee meetings that boost transparency by giving everyone updates about the company’s progress and new products it will be offering.

Conclusion
Whether the economy is strong or stumbling, engagement will always matter. Instead of considering it a discretionary line item, cable telecom companies need to embrace employee engagement as an essential business priority to meet the challenges they face staffing and growing their businesses.

HR Pulse is a bi-monthly resource published exclusively for the members of the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association.

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