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Concrete tools for improving staff satisfaction

Date:16 May 2019
Staff satisfaction
Staff satisfaction

What do staff members need in order to perform? The unique organizational research by the HRM & Organisational Behaviour Centre of Expertise answers this question and offers concrete tools for organizations. Director Dr Peter Essens and principal researcher Prof. Gerben van der Vegt explain their working method.

New ways of organizing
‘Organizations are changing: they are looking for new ways of working that match our dynamic society’, says Essens. ‘An increasing number of organizations are trying to decentralize, for example, making them more self-steering. While this is a positive development, it also raises new questions, for example about the degree of autonomy that staff members should have and the role of management.’

Van der Vegt adds: ‘Today, people increasingly work in multiple teams at the same time. This means that work is organized differently than before, when it used to be clear to which team you belonged. This is much less obvious today. It is important that organizations keep monitoring how this development affects their staff members.’

Putting staff strengths first
‘It is all about using and fostering the abilities – the strengths – of one’s staff members. This increases staff motivation as well as satisfaction, while simultaneously leading to higher production and greater personal wellbeing’, explains Essens.

‘What you want is for staff members to be able to enjoy their work and develop themselves. All sorts of factors contribute to achieving these goals, such as the working method, the organization of the work, the commitment to the work, social relationships in the workplace and private relationships. Our research identifies the factors on which organizations can still improve.’

Beyond the standard staff survey
How does one measure whether staff members actually enjoy their work? Many organizations try to do this through staff surveys that focus on satisfaction or commitment. ‘It is like taking the temperature of an organization, with questions such as ‘how do you like it here?’ and ’should we change anything?’. Research agencies typically use standard questionnaires and provide (average) scores by way of feedback. They then inform the organization whether these scores compare favourably or less favourably to last year’s scores or to a certain benchmark,’ explains Van der Vegt.

Studies by the HRM & Organisational Behaviour Centre of Expertise extend well beyond traditional staff surveys and yield more specific information. Essens: ‘We not only collect questionnaire data, but we also look the relationships between subjective and objective data. This means that we combine data about staff members’ experiences and feelings with financial data and data on sick leave, performance and organizational structures.’

Concrete tools for organizations
This unique approach leads to concrete tools for organizations. Van der Vegt explains: ‘Thanks to our more thorough approach, we can identify exactly which of the measured factors are the most predictive and important for the wellbeing of staff members and the functioning of the organization. Take concerns about absenteeism, for example. Our research may reveal that the organization of the work or the extent to which managers provide extra motivation to staff members are important predictive factors.’

‘We provide very specific feedback on our findings, so that it is clear exactly which factors require attention in certain organizational units. Thanks to our measurements, we can identify the areas for improvement very accurately. This makes it much easier for organizations to carry out precise interventions’, he continues.

Organizational research is tailored research
Every organization is different. That is why each study is tailor-made. ‘Before we start the study, we interview several key actors in the organization – ranging from management to the work floor – to find out what exactly is going on and which questions they are struggling with. In these interviews, we try to identify the important questions that the organization faces, as well as our role in helping to address these questions. This is where we try to tailor our research, given that different organizations have different questions’, says Van der Vegt.

’We don’t use a standard questionnaire, but we design a research model based on an organization’s specific circumstances. In doing so, we build on previous research, asking ourselves which comparable surveys have been carried out elsewhere and what the outcomes are. We incorporate this knowledge’, Essens explains.

Win-win situations through co-creation
The HRM & Organisational Behaviour Centre of Expertise thus links academic knowledge to practical questions from companies, institutions and governments. ‘These are win-win situations that benefit us as well as the organizations that we study. The long-term relationships that we build with organizations allow us to gather interesting research data. This is how we get informed of the sorts of problems that organizations face, which leads to new research questions’, says Van der Vegt.

Essens adds: ‘The central notion is co-creation. Organizations are looking for academic substantiation while developing, but it is not just a matter of organizations dropping their wishes in our mailbox, after which we produce the desired reports. Rather, we search for common ground, so that the ensuing research question interests both parties.’

Research follow-up
Currently, there are studies underway at six very different organizations. These are all multiannual tracks. ‘When you have the opportunity to collaborate for a longer period of time, it is easier to see where developments are headed and to identify the strongest relationships. By performing multiple measurements, you can establish whether an intervention is actually effective’, says Essens.

‘It is also becoming increasingly clear to us that we need to follow up on the feedback that ensues from the research’, Van der Vegt adds. ‘We are not consultants, so we are not the ones who will actually be implementing the changes. That is up to the organizations themselves. We discuss this with them prior to the research, as this research can only be effective if organizations start using the information it yields.’

Research in your organization?
Are you curious about the HRM & Organisational Behaviour Centre of Expertise and what it can do for your organization? Please contact us to discuss the opportunities for conducting joint research without obligation.