Engagement, climate and performance – what’s the connection?

March 25 2014
High turnover typically means low organisational health – it’s disruptive and expensive. ‘Commitment to stay’ is supposed to be great. But low turnover can be a problem too, depending on how it relates to engagement. How do you know which you have?

Employee engagement

‘Engagement’ has now ascended to a level akin to the holy grail. Engagement tends to mean people stay on with the organisation, but sometimes ‘intention to stay’ gets confused with real engagement. Puzzling…?

The wrong sort of engagement

Employees stay on for all kinds of reasons, and not always out of a desire to perform. Turnover is potentially good if it’s a matter of losing overpaid, under-performing employees who are not motivated to contribute, or who know that no other workplace would put up with their poor performance or behavior. Some employees want to stay simply for the great benefits, or because an unstable economy means fear of job reductions. As a recent Payscale whitepaper showed, this is a classic case of unproductive engagement!

When change is needed, turnover can be an opportunity for employers to focus on employees who are capable AND enthused about the organisation.


Not-so-positive turnover

But unintended high turnover is disruptive and expensive, and probably tells a story about an organisation’s processes, procedures, leadership, and culture. Turnover costs are in both direct hiring costs and indirect costs (the time involved in hiring and onboarding the new employee, and lost productivity. Too much is also morale-sapping. So turnover should generally be minimised within a managed performance-oriented framework.

The cost of disengagement

Disengaged workers are those who have ‘checked out’ (aka ‘presenteeism’). They’re putting in the time, but no energy or passion. They’re a threat as they act out their dissatisfaction and disrupt other team members. Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report found that 70% of workers were either ‘actively disengaged’ (20%) or ‘disengaged’ (50%). The story in Australia is probably similar.

In Corporate Culture and Performance, Kotter and Heskitt showed that over 11 years firms with a performance-enhancing culture out-performed those without such a culture by a factor of 8-10 times on most growth measures, and a massive 756 times on nett income growth.


Organisations that intentionally manage their culture significantly outperform those that don’t.

Managing culture and climate

There are a number of factors consistently present in high-performing organisations. And you can test for the levels to which your organisation is delivering on these factors.

To manage the impact of climate and culture on performance, you first have to benchmark it.

Yeah but how …?

A well-designed and well-implemented Climate Survey should give you some great information and insight.

The Atwork Climate Survey has been in use since 2007. Implemented online, it’s a way of periodically checking in with your staff and their reactions to the workplace – the good and the not-so-good.

The ACS assesses ‘the weather’ over 10 major performance categories :

  • leadership/performance at 3 distinct levels,
  • communication,
  • fair & reasonable treatment,
  • learning & development,
  • performance management,
  • remuneration & benefits,
  • engagement, and
  • workplace culture.


It also breaks down these measures into the key components that are making a difference in how people are performing – and feeling – in your workplace. It will help you recognise highs and lows both across and within sections of your organisation, breaking reporting down to team levels where desired. And you will be able to link engagement measures to other indicators, so that you clearly know if it’s the right sort of engagement. Armed with this clear knowledge, you can set the strategies to address what you’ve discovered.

Managing organisational climate is a process. It’s about mindfully building a workplace culture that supports high performance, provides challenge and reinforcement, allows for positive turnover levels, and enables real satisfaction about contribution.

Climate measures are relatively amenable to change, and in time these positive changes will see a shift in culture. An optimal culture provides a means to efficiently and fairly address poor performance while encouraging and enabling great performance and building productive engagement.

Talk to us today about getting that insight into the keys to high engagement and high performance in your workplace, with the Atwork Climate Survey.