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The Yin and Yang of Employee Engagement and Productivity

yin yangToday's post is courtesy of our board member, Bob Clements.  Bob is Senior Principal at Axsium Group, a leading workforce management consulting firm.  I love his use of the yin yang here to represent the tension between productivity and employee engagement.  What is your organization doing to balance these priorities?


In doing my job helping large employers make their hourly employees more productive, I have observed a common thread. While strategies to improve worker output vary from situation to situation, the most productive workforces are all built upon the same foundation: highly engaged employees.

Now, I will be the first to admit that it is not particularly groundbreaking to say that engaged employees are productive employees. Numerous studies have proved it. The Gallup Organization, for example, found that engaged workforces are up to 22 percent more productive than those that are disengaged or not actively engaged. But, the relationship between employee engagement and productivity is often forgotten when you get into a conference room with the mission of increasing the efficiency of your workforce.

When that door closes behind you, and you find an empty whiteboard staring you in the face, pressure builds to make something happen. The language in the room quickly shifts to business-oriented, financially-centric (and almost desperate) clichés like “driving efficiency”, “squeezing more out of people” and, my favorite, “doing more with less”.  The people - the employees - doing the work are forgotten, and all attention falls to cutting, scaling back or eliminating something with the hopes of bumping up productivity.

When I find a team going down this path, I like to draw the diagram above on the whiteboard. Based on the yin and yang symbol from Chinese philosophy, this symbol describes how two opposite forces balance and complement each other. In Chinese, yin literally means “the shady place” while yang means “the sunny place”. Many dualities can be applied to this model: the moon and the sun, water and fire, and north and south. Ultimately, one cannot exist without the other.

In my model, the duality is productivity and employee engagement. As day follows night and night follows day, a productive workforce follows an engaged workforce, and an engaged workforce follows a productive workforce. This pictures serves as an on-going reminder that you cannot have one without the other.

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