The book of 'We'

HR research says workers are (partly) responsible for job satisfaction.

Kenexa's Rudy Karsan: "“The employee has to take control.”

That wind you hear whistling through the skyscrapers is the sound of managers (at least those who have read Rudy Karsan's new book) heaving a sigh of relief.

For once, Karsan said, they are not the only ones to blame for a lack of engagement among employees.

"The employee has to take control," Karsan said.

Karsan is chief executive officer of Kenexa Corp., the Wayne-based human resources software company with $196.3 million in 2010 revenue and 2,000 employees worldwide. The company makes a specialty of conducting frequent and extensive global surveys of employee satisfaction.

It is that research that forms the basis of Karsan's newly released book We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement. His coauthor is Kevin Kruse, of Bucks County, a former Kenexa executive who now runs his own human resources consulting firm, Kru Research L.L.C.

They posit that employee engagement is key to profits because a workforce that cares will make the extra discretionary effort to boost revenue or to fix a mistake before it spirals out of control.

"The opposite of engagement isn't disengagement," Karsan said, "it's apathy."

Obviously, management matters, Karsan said.

But it is a two-way street, and the employee needs to play a big part to gain his or her own satisfaction.

"You have to take control. You have to realize that you are the one that has to do something. You have to think, 'No one is going to save me out of this miserable hellhole that I'm in that I call a job.'

"If you feel like you are trapped," Karsan said, "change your environment to one that feels less trapped. Don't just lie down and accept it. Do something."

Do eyes rolling make a sound? If they did, it would be loud.

But Karsan provides an example. Suppose, he said, you happen to work at a call center. It is a wretched, high-pressure job. So, he suggests, set a goal of trying to make three people laugh. Or compete with someone in the next cubicle over who can get the most thank yous.

"Work on the honor system," he said. "On Friday, the loser buys the other a cup of coffee."

Still, much of the responsibility for employee engagement lies with management. And, based on Kenexa surveys, the three most important elements for employees are "growth, recognition, and trust."

Other important, but lesser, elements are teamwork, communication, future vision, corporate responsibility, product, and service quality.

But after this brutal period of layoffs, how can employees trust any company?

That is where, Karsan said, psychology kicks in.

After layoffs, "there are always survivors," and they, he said, want to see opportunities for growth and for trust.

The number-one driver of trust, Karsan said, is for companies to listen to the employees' side of the story. "Start a conversation," he said. "That's the first foundation of trust."

Of course, his business being what it is, Karsan says employee surveys can and should be a big part of that conversation - a necessity in a big organization.

But at any level, "if someone can talk and truly believe they are being heard, trust moves up dramatically."

Companies should not try to fix every problem. Listen carefully, he said, and choose one or two, and "have laser-sharp focus on acting on those." Even if everyone's top priority is not met, there may be a sense of trust that it will be in the future.

Growth, he said, has to do with providing opportunities for training and experiences that may help prepare employees to advance or even work elsewhere while enhancing their job satisfaction.

"Young people," he said, "are not as focused on financial compensation. They are also focused on the experiential." They might appreciate a chance to work in another country, or across departments, or to do something they would not ordinarily do.

Recognition is key.

"Employees wish to be recognized in front of their peer group," he said. "Thanking them is the foundation of appreciation."

Who has the toughest job in employee engagement? It is probably the middle manager or the frontline supervisor - "someone who is the meat in the sandwich," Karsan said.

"The number-one predictor of whether you will have an engaged team is whether you yourself are engaged."

But in today's lean workforces, managers find themselves picking up all the slack. "You are going into this eddy, and you are going around and around and there's no escape," Karsan said.

Instead of trying to swim out, move on the diagonal, "and let the eddy spin you out," he said. "Say to yourself, 'What are one or two issues that I can tackle to get myself out of this deadly spiral?'

"Go back to the basics of engagement," he said. Try to accomplish those one or two simple things to build trust from the staff and to increase personal job satisfaction.

"Don't try to tackle everything," he said. "You'll fail. It's too daunting."


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or