Eean Crawford, Tippie College of Business, 319-335-2884
'My two cents in five minutes'
'My two cents in five minutes'
'My two cents in five minutes'
Eean R. Crawford understands the value of employee engagement.
That’s why the assistant professor of Management and Organizations and the Cannon Faculty Scholarship for Teaching Excellence in the UI Tippie College of Business has devoted much of his professional career to this very topic.
It’s also why he says he took the Working at Iowa survey the first day it was shared via email with all UI faculty and staff.
An email was sent to all UI faculty and staff on Oct. 13 to take the survey. Another email will be coming to those who have not completed the survey.
Engage with Eean Crawford’s enjoyable employee engagement presentation here.
“It’s how I could give my two cents in five minutes,” says Crawford, who also participated in a UI educational panel for HR representatives across campus earlier this month. “It’s my small part to make my voice heard in one way, and it gives me a vested interest in seeing what the results are later.”
Crawford shares a little bit more about his research, how it’s impacting both students and organizations, and why he encourages faculty and staff to take a few minutes to fill out the survey.
How did you get interested in the areas of employee engagement and groups and teams and decide to make this your life’s work?
I myself was an undergrad in accounting and finished with my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. I loved studying accounting because it helped me learn the language of business. But in my work experience, what fascinated me most was interacting with people, wondering what made some so motivated while others seemed “checked out.” I also had great and terrible experiences with different groups and teams and wondered what made the difference.
How long have you worked at Tippie, and why did you want to work at the University of Iowa? What’s your favorite part of working here?
This is my fourth year at Tippie. I had job offers at three different universities coming out of graduate school, and two of them were closer to our families than is Iowa. We sacrificed being closer to family for the opportunity to work at a fantastic institution like Tippie. The faculty in my department are recognized as not only some of the most productive and respected in our field, but also as being some of the nicest and developmental as well. That is a really rare combination to find anywhere, so I feel lucky to have found it here.
I think my favorite part of working here—versus doing the same work elsewhere—is that I have a great set of interesting, kind, intelligent, talented, productive, and plain ol’ nice colleagues to interact with. They look out for my best interests and encourage me with opportunities and feedback to develop into the best scholar I can be.
How do you feel your work is making a difference in the lives of students or on society at large?
Leadership, motivation, teamwork, communication skills, self-management —this is what we teach in our major. And if students don’t get formal education on these skills while in school, they find they’re often less likely to get it on the job. Anybody that has had difficulty motivating employees or resolving conflicts with co-workers knows that the soft skills are the hardest skills of all.
So I feel like I have made a difference when students write back to me that they’ve been able to apply something I taught in class, whether it be learning how to set and achieve difficult goals, or learning how to work through disagreements with teammates, or learning how to stay motivated in their jobs. The good news is that these skills translate to every job. People are likely to hold on average seven different jobs in their career, and these skills will be portable to all of them. And as they develop these skills for themselves, they will one day be better managers and run better companies themselves. Overall my hope is that students leave Tippie with the potential to have more great and fewer terrible management experiences.
Tell us a little bit about your areas of expertise and how that relates to the Working at Iowa Survey?
One of my domains of research expertise is employee engagement, or in other words understanding what factors explain why people are willing to fully invest their energy, attention, and emotions into the work they do. My research and the research of others in this area has consistently shown that employees are more likely to engage themselves when they experience a sense of purpose or meaning in what they do, feel supported in their efforts, and feel competent or have opportunities to gain competence. The Working at Iowa survey asks several questions related to these factors and represent our opportunity to provide feedback to the university as to what extent these elements are present or absent in our daily work experience.
This will be the fourth campus climate survey that University of Iowa Human Resources has administered. How common or rare are employee climate surveys, and why are they important?
It’s quite common for most large organizations to conduct some type of annual or bi-annual climate survey of their employees. Where organizations differ is what they do with the results of the survey. In some organizations, respondents never see or hear anything about the survey after it’s completed. In others, the results are widely shared and transparently discussed. I know that a definite initiative at the University of Iowa is to make the survey results widely available with strong encouragement that they be used as the basis of ongoing discussions throughout colleges, departments, and units. The survey itself doesn’t change employee engagement. It’s the discussions one-on-one, and in groups small and large, where people celebrate the successes and make plans for how to improve on the failures that make differences in employee engagement.
Why should employees care? What’s in this for them?
First, and most practically, the survey is short, fast, and easy to take. It’s only 20 questions and takes less than 5 minutes even if you’re slow. I often get sent surveys that drag on for 90 or 100 questions or more and after a half hour of clicking through page after page I simply quit figuring “why bother?” That’s not the case with this survey. It’s meant to be short and to ask questions that count.
Second, this is one way employees can make their voices heard. If things are going well, they can indicate that. If things aren’t right, they should definitely make it known. This survey is one way employees can stimulate discussions for their own colleges and units about what should be preserved and what needs to change.
What’s the key to a successful survey? How do surveys help improve a workplace?
The most successful surveys are pre-validated with lots of time and attention spent on the front end discussing what are the most important questions, what do the questions mean in the minds of those who read them, and also what are the questions that need to be left out. People have a very limited amount of work time that they can dedicate to responding to a survey. You need to make sure in advance that you ask the most important questions within a limited set.I know the Working at Iowa survey team has spent a lot of time discussing the set of questions through each of the iterations of the survey. I know that they had a longer survey previously, but have made an active effort to restrict the survey to a shorter number of the most important questions.
Next, successful surveys depend on wide distribution and participation. Information is only as useful as it is representative, so if only a small portion of employees respond, you can’t tell whether it presents an accurate picture of what it’s like to work at Iowa.
The survey itself doesn’t improve a workplace. People improve a workplace. Ben Schneider, a renowned expert on employee engagement and people management, is famous for his quote, “The People Make The Place.” His article with this title has been cited over 3,000 times. You can read it here. The survey is merely a communication tool. Think of it as an icebreaker to get people talking about (1) how they’ve made the place so far, and (2) how they can make it better. If we choose not to communicate about “our place,” then we won’t make much of it.
What has your research discovered about the correlation between job engagement and job performance?
My research has shown that across all jobs, companies, and employees, the average correlation between engagement and performance is .40. This is a moderately strong correlation. To put it in perspective, the correlation between job satisfaction and job performance is about .30.
The University of Iowa’s own Frank Schmidt has researched over 30,000 business units and nearly 1,000,000 employees who completed surveys with questions similar to the Working at Iowa survey questions. Comparing business units that scored in the Top 25 percent on those questions to those who scored in the Bottom 25 percent, those in the Top 25 percent had:
- 18 percent higher productivity
- 49 percent lower turnover
- 37 percent less absenteeism
- 49 percent fewer injuries
- 41 percent fewer patient safety incidents
- 27 percent less theft
Who’s responsible for a healthy work climate?
Ben Schneider would definitely say that everyone has a responsibility to create a healthy work climate. All the people make the place, not just some of the people. But in particular, senior leaders in departments and units probably have an outsized role in creating the healthy climate because they set the tone. They have more decision-making authority and control over rewards and resources. But individual employees each have their part as well. Everyone, no matter their role or circumstances, has to choose to be engaged.