Given the recent economic turmoil, employee engagement and discretionary effort dropped in many organisations. CIO Executive Board - a program of the Corporate Executive Board - research shows that the number of highly disengaged employees grew from one-in-10 to one-in-five employees across organisations since 2007. More worryingly, while staff discretionary effort is beginning to stabilise in most functions, IT staff discretionary effort continues to decline. Seeing that discretionary effort and productivity are directly proportional - every six per cent improvement in discretionary effort results in a two per cent improvement in productivity - IT organisations need to focus on this challenge, and re-engaging their staff.

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Decline in employee effort

Research shows that the biggest driver of discretionary effort amongst employees is manager quality. Hence, managers can positively impact employee engagement and productivity by doing the following:

1. Clarify performance objectives and expectations
Managers can improve discretionary effort by 10 per cent by increasing their employees' knowledge and understanding of the standards by which they are evaluated. Ensure employee development activities are clearly link with business objectives while reward high performers with differentiated opportunities that allow them to acquire high value skills.

2. Provide fair and accurate informal feedback
A manager's largest impact on employee performance comes through informal day-to-day feedback. It not only enables better performance but also substantially impacts employee attitudes that indirectly impact employee performance - such as discretionary effort. Ensure feedback conversations are regular, situation specific, and timely. Informal feedback delivered in this way can boost employee performance by up to 32 per cent.

3. Provide solutions to day-to-day challenges
Directly working with employees to identify solutions to work problems is another manager activity which improves employee performance. Provide employees with specific, tangible answers and assistance in solving their day-to-day problems to help them do their jobs better - whether that consists of helping find solutions to difficult problems or translating goals into step-by-step plans.

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The Payoff

Managers that provide fair and accurate informal feedback, offer solutions to day to day challenges, and clarify performance objectives and expectations see an increase in discretionary effort amongst their employees - and hence an overall improvement in employee performance.

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