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Lead Your Team Leadership

Even in Recession, Strong Leaders Create Committed Employees

While some recent research has indicated that an overwhelming majority of employees would like to change jobs, a new survey finds that employee commitment is on the rise—and it's mostly thanks to strong leadership in the workplace.

In spite of the fact that many companies have responded to the recession by giving their employees bigger workloads with fewer rewards, a survey from leadership development firm Zenger Folkman shows that a decrease in overall job opportunities has created a segment of the employee population that is much more committed than before.

“The change in workload and the loss of job opportunities has affected employee engagement,” said Joseph Folkman, co-founder of Zenger Folkman. “People are becoming more polarized, making the decision to be highly committed or highly uncommitted.”

Prior to 2010, Zenger Folkman conducted a study on employee engagement. It found most employees fell into three distinct groups: uncommitted/dissatisfied, highly committed/satisfied, and "fence-sitters" (employees who fell somewhere in the middle) . When the firm conducted the study again in 2010, they found a surprising shift.

“Fence-sitting employees faced a choice of either becoming more engaged and satisfied with their work or more uncommitted and upset,” Folkman said.

Surprisingly, the percentage increase of highly committed employees was six times the increase in uncommitted employees.

The survey found that the No. 1 factor driving this increase was the effectiveness of leaders.

The survey's data showed that poor leaders produce uncommitted and dissatisfied employees, but great leaders can create a larger group of satisfied and highly committed employees. The top behavior that differentiated those leaders with highly satisfied and committed employees was the ability to inspire and motivate others.

“The knee-jerk reaction of many leaders when they encounter difficulty is to drive harder for results; in other words, they push harder,” Folkman said. “However, the leaders who significantly increase the number of highly committed employees not only push, but more importantly pull by inspiring and motivating their employees to reach greatness in difficult times.”