An engaged workforce is the surest way to achieve more

Hugh Millward Microsoft - small

Let’s look for a moment at the pre-industrial age. The artisan, specialised in agricultural crafts which formed such a significant part of the workforce had a very direct relationship between input and output, between the work someone did and the output they achieved.

In the 20th century we have new tools to help the workforce achieve their output, to create and connect, and yet the distance between personal input and the end result seems further away than ever. We have the ability to be more connected and yet employees are more disengaged.

The pace of change driven by digital connectivity, devices and information poses complex challenges for individuals, businesses, the environment we work in and the way we work together. Workforces are disengaged, and in fact, a recent Gallup poll found that the cost of the disengaged workforce is in the region of £60bn a year, and 40% of the workforce would not defend their employer to friends and family. The notions of productivity are also changing, 77% of Britons think that a productive day is clearing their inboxes. And yet the prize of an engaged workforce is enormous.

“the cost of the disengaged workforce is in the region of £60bn a year”

At the macro level, the increase in productivity to the nation is significant; engaged workers that are more connected to their employment are more effective, producing more value-add for their time. The nation’s productivity rises.

At the micro level, it’s even more significant. Work is where we spend half of our waking day. If we can increase the contentment of our people by creating a culture where they feel they can be themselves, then we’re able to ensure their work is additive to their overall wellbeing.

As the world becomes more interconnected, value creation is shifting from the individual to the collective. Resilient, high-empathy teams will drive the best business outcomes. The commitment to staff is critical to this, assuring the connection between an individual’s efforts and their organisation’s output.

In many ways, we’re lucky here at Microsoft. We’re a company predominantly of ‘knowledge workers’ who can use the very technology we’re building, to help ourselves work where and when suits us. For example, we can manage by outcome rather than by input, with technologies such as Skype and OneNote allowing people to work when it’s convenient to them, fitting around their own family commitments.

“we’ve taken care to invest in a series of family policies, designed to ensure they allow people to blend in a way that suits them best”

But in addition, we need places, spaces and support that helps meet the needs of the full range of human connections and relationships. It’s for this reason that we’ve taken care to invest in a series of family policies, designed to ensure they allow people to blend, in a way that suits them best, the various aspects of their lives. We’ve been running a number of initiatives, from the more direct—such as increased maternity pay, on-site nursery, return-to-work coaching—to the indirect support which sends a strong message to employees—such as high chairs in the canteen, kids coding clubs in the holidays, and the ability to purchase additional annual leave.

Many other companies run similar programmes. Like them, we find that ultimately, the work we do to support family-friendly policies benefits all employees; it creates an inclusive culture where people can drive personal satisfaction at work, and through which we can help to make the compromises that every working parent makes, that little bit easier.


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