The Industrial Age has been credited for bringing new methods to businesses,
increasing efficiency and productivity, which has resulted in a healthier bottom
line. But the world has evolved since then, and we live in an economy that is
more digital than industrial, requiring many new practices to achieve that same
level of success. Among them is an evolution of how employees are viewed within
the enterprise; they are no longer “factors of production,” like pieces of
machinery. Rather, they are individuals with infinite capacity to solve
problems, serve customers and create breakthrough ideas that push the
organization into new opportunities.
The best companies, however, know that having innovative, committed employees
doesn’t happen with the wave of a wand. It takes strong leadership and a culture
that brings out the best in people while encouraging high levels of engagement.
The Forum: Business Results Through People, affiliated with Northwestern
University, has spent the last decade studying organizations that excel at
engagement, and through their research, they’ve framed a description of these
high-achieving cultures: it’s all about employee enrichment.
Employee enrichment is the practice of actively engaging employees in ways
that develops who they are as people — and not just as employees. The intent is
to encourage fuller, richer lives that lead to higher levels of contentment and
Impact on the Bottom Line
What does all this “soft stuff” have to do with bottom-line results?
One of the first links between employee engagement and customer spend emerged in
the 1990s with
Harvard Business Review’s “Service-Profit Chain.” This study demonstrated
that customer loyalty came indirectly from employee engagement and satisfaction;
that is, customers were loyal when they were satisfied, and this satisfaction
came about through positive interactions with employees.
The Forum took it a step further when we examined employee engagement and
customer satisfaction data with a focus on non-customer-facing employees. Again,
findings demonstrated a correlation between employee engagement and customer
loyalty and profitability.
Even as employee engagement practices have taken hold and the demands of working
in a complex, global environment have grown, success in the marketplace has
required an ever-increasing strategic sophistication in how employees are
managed. Generating employee satisfaction through a rich benefits package and
kind leaders is no longer sufficient. Employees are asked to give more with
less, and often under great pressure. As a consequence, many are seeking work
that does more than just pay the bills. They want substantial relationships with
the people they work with, such as peers, leaders or customers. They want
challenges with opportunities to learn and grow. And many want to know that
their contribution is making a difference. An enriching workplace seeks to
create a culture that encourages individuals to uniquely pursue their own view
of challenging, fulfilling work, with leaders acting as catalysts and
Developing the Right Culture
There are many paths to building an enriching culture, and chief among them is
to think about the whole person in the workplace, and not just the aspects of
employees as they relate to their job tasks. This is completely counterintuitive
for bottom-line thinkers, and suggests that work will become a "country club"
catering to slackers. But setting high expectations and expecting accountability
and results 24/7—which is what business has evolved into—means that caring
about what matters to each individual becomes a reasonable exchange.
Practically speaking, this might translate into flexible benefits packages, such
as increasing tuition reimbursement benefits, conference attendance, and childcare
or eldercare help that can be negotiated for those who need and want it.
Flexible work schedules are for everyone, not just those with special
circumstances. Technology is aggressively invested in, especially if it allows
for greater flexibility and connectivity.
Even more interesting, linking job tasks to personal missions—especially related
to environmental or social improvements—starts to create the sense of meaning
that many employees are after. It’s much easier to give extra time and effort
when you believe that what you do matters to more than just the company’s
When it works, the evidence is compelling and can emerge from even the simplest
circumstances. In The Forum’s most recent study, we analyzed a vast amount of
data for an insurance company. This data included customer spend, customer
satisfaction and employee satisfaction. There were a number of positive
findings, but among them was a simple insight. When customers were about to see
an increase in their premium, the company sent a computer generated letter
informing them of this change. It was nicely written and efficient, and designed
to promote positive regard. But some agents chose to forgo the letter, and
instead contacted customers directly. The message didn’t change; just the way it
An analysis of the data revealed that those agents who reached out and used this
“bad news” as a way to build their relationships were rewarded; they had higher
renewal rates than those customers who only received the form letter. (Read more
in the white paper, “Technology
and the Human Touch: Moderating the Negative Impact of Price Increases with
Outbound Personal Communication,” available online at
Creating a workplace that cares for employees sets the stage for this same
relationship-building with customers. An enriching culture delivers a strong
message, and as global competition increases, it will soon be a hallmark of the
most competitive businesses in any industry.
About the Author
Dr. Jennifer Rosenzweig is research director for The Forum: Business Results
Through People (http://www.BusinessResultsThroughPeople.org/),
affiliated with Northwestern University. The Forum is an organization for
thought leadership advocating the most effective way business leaders create and
sustain organizational value is through partnership with people. Jennifer can be