Employee Engagement Business Best Practice

Panera Bread made it to the Business Week’s ‘100 Hot Growth Companies’ and the top performer in shareholder returns. For the company, this is no mean feat. However, the problem is not getting to the top, staying there is. Outlined below is an essay, articulating essential practices and notions that Panera Bread could richly benefit from, regarding the level of employee engagement and the company’s bottom-line.

Optimal levels of employee engagement and commitment to a company, translates to increased productivity, which means a company is able to meet and sustain its organizational needs (Mello, 2014). The underlying rule that governs employee engagement is rooted in the perception that the job an employee engages in is meaningful, valuable and appreciated. The higher an employer engages employees to their vocation, the higher the chances of him/her doing more than is expected. They strive for excellence.

They not only strive for it, but they achieve it too. According to Intuit, a software giant, they realized that engaged employees performed 1.3 times better than their lesser-engaged colleagues did. Engagement may seem like an abstract notion that thrives in the textbook world, but the real world proves it works. The question, therefore, is, what does it mean to be engaged?

This essay incorporates psychologist William Kahn’s idea. He described it as an event where employees are emotionally, physically and intellectually in harmony with their work role. This leads to the next school of thought, on what affects levels of engagement. In essence, what makes one commit?

Commitment is a conscious decision to stick to the plan, coupled with a sense of accountability that intensifies loyalty to something or someone. As human beings, we have multiple commitments that demand our attention; for instance, family, education, school, etc. It should be every organization’s goal to find a way to be a part of that commitment list. For commitment to develop, an organization needs to understand the fragile concept. First of all, commitment evokes emotions. An entity, (in this case Panera Bread), should produce positive feelings that its workers effortlessly develop. Second of all, commitment is also a rational process. People think carefully and assess an entity’s attractiveness to commit. That entity should be careful not to insult its employee’s intelligence (Mello, 2014).

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Thanks to the emotional and rational opus of commitment, it expects reciprocity for sustenance. Meaning, when people commit, they expect something in return, something worth their commitment. Reciprocity directly influences the intensity of commitment. The traditional form of reciprocation in the work environment has been compensation and in some cases, job security. However, it is imperative that an entity realizes the power that lies in the reciprocity without relying on traditional methods. After all, things done the same way will always produce the same results. What practices should Panera be aware of and incorporate into the policies of operations to continue running a successful business?

The answer to that question is at the heart of key role everyday employer practices. It begins with an appraisal of recruitment, training and compensation. These practices affect employee engagement levels, and as explained, it affects work performance and overall business performance. However, before Panera Bread engages in any Human Resource upheavals, it should consider the level of engagement and commitment it really wants from its employees. Understanding the ripple effect, in terms of costs and the bottom line, is also very paramount. 

If Panera Bread deems it fit to reinvigorate their Human Practices to achieve engagement, they could engage in several simple practices. For starters, they could include all the relevant employees in the goal-setting process. People tend to be more committed to plans they helped formulate and the accountability instigated is enough to fuel commitment. Another practice christened, ‘job enrichment’ plays a crucial role (Robinson, Perryman, & Hayday, 2004). Jobs that have a level of autonomy from the supervisor or managers, jobs free from routine and jobs that instigate team effort, stimulate a heightened level of engagement and zest in the workers. Consequently, employees increasingly place their work in a broader perspective. They are intrigued and concerned by tasks or issues that fall out of the immediate job description. To use a cliche, they are willing to go the extra mile (Mello, 2014).

Increasing the personal control an employee has on their work has a positive effect. The autonomy gives (to the right employee) a sense of onus. They own their work. With an ownership comes satisfaction, which leads to better job performance and an overall improved company bottom line. If Panera Bread designs their jobs to engage employees, then the company will have to make sure that their recruiting advertisements reflect the same. For instance, they should mention their minimal supervision policy if they have one, or the fact that they give challenging work. This concept is especially instrumental in attracting a certain calibre of ‘new hirers’, a calibre of motivated people willing to commit to your organizational vision and mission. Therefore, right from the start a company already has a winning team. It is also in line with another employee engagement practise known as person-job fit, as the name implies the best person for the job.

However, a better practise for maximizing the full potential of person-job fit, would be hiring from within the organization. When one recruits pre-existing employees for jobs that may have opened up due to expansion, they intensify the engagement of the workforce (by monopolising a person-job fit) and commitment (by reciprocating loyalty with career advancement and growth). The idea of employing from within has other benefits that contribute to the company too. The performance level is always high and above that of new employees too, as they already know the terminologies used and have significant familiarity with the company. These employees are invigorated and may help push the business to new heights. In addition, one avoids the collateral damage of qualified internal staff thinking their commitment is unreciprocated (Vance, 2006).

Training is also an ingenious practise. It increases self-efficacy of the staff. Self-efficacy is the confidence in one’s ability. Confidence in anything usually has positive side effects and the same is true in this case. Moreover, the employees feel the company values them and they, therefore, reciprocate in kind. It also produces a highly skilled workforce, which does wonders for the company’s efficiency and reputation to produce high quality goods and services.

Above all practices the company could employ, compensation is the most effective and crucial one. Before venturing into the subtle balance, that is compensation, Panera Bread should have their company culture, objectives and values in mind. Compensation can be a powerful conditioning agent that may guarantee the reoccurrence of certain ideal behaviours and the obliteration of the counter-productive patterns. For instance, if the company’s lifeline is in its ability to produce unique products, the compensation practise should reward experimental or risk-taking behaviour.

Every compensation plan should be strategic. It should find the balance in meeting the organizational and the employee needs. For instance, a firm that gives good incentive pay but offers no retirement plan may realize acceptable levels of engagement but no commitment. Workers will eventually abort ship. Essentially, compensation should entail pay scales and programs to reward performing employees among other things. These attributes help a company establish a competitive edge on acquisition of best employees in the market. In return, employing qualified workers contributes to high quality results in productivity and customer service interaction. Notably, high compensation results into high employee retention too. Compensation on seniority is a strategic way of encouraging young employees that a company rewards people who choose to remain and help in the realization of mission and vision. Consequently, commitment increases, and established employees do not go to other competing companies for better terms.

The fruits of employee engagement have been borne and harvested at Caterpillar, the most ubiquitous construction equipment manufacturer in the world. From its employee engagement and commitment drives, they were able to accrue the following: a reported $8.8 million in annual savings from absenteeism and decreased attrition; an impressive 70% increase in output within their second fiscal quarter; finally, a $2 million increase in profits and a 34% increase in satisfied customers (Mello, 2014).

Numbers do not lie. Employee engagement and commitment initiatives founded on principles, which bear their roots in-group psychology. In the business world, theories do not apply. Concrete facts take precedence. For Panera Bread, the concrete facts are that employee engagement strategies outlined above, will catapult the company to the next level. A strategy that would especially work is to encourage and reward experimental behaviour patterns. This is in line with their strategies in producing one of the unique tastes in pastries in the world.

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