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Cycling Your Way to Employee Engagement (And Higher Profits)

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Cycling Your Way to Employee Engagement (And Higher Profits)

What an author learned about employe engagement from cyclists.

· Agile Zone ·
Free Resource

Legendary mountain climber Rheinhold Messner famously described each peak in the Italian Dolomites as like a piece of art, and yet on the 7th July, such delights largely passed me by as I joined 12,000 other cyclists in undertaking the Maratona dles Dolomites. The 140km or so race across seven mountain passes has attracted a global audience, with participants from all corners of the globe tackling one of the toughest events in the amateur cycling calendar. As my peers and I crawled gradually up the toughest climb on the route, the genial chatter from earlier in the event was replaced by silent suffering, each rider retreating into themselves to ensure that one pedal stroke followed the last.

It’s at moments like this that it seems hard to reconcile our experience with John F. Kennedy’s famous quote that “nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike,” and yet the event is hugely over-subscribed, and each day in the week leading up to it saw the local climbs awash with people taking in the delights of the region on two wheels.

This jagged pursuit of happiness is what inspired global education company Education First to make the unusual step of buying a pro cycling team in 2018. The pro cycling world is one that relies heavily on sponsors, with all teams adopting the name of their primary backers, but it’s rare for the sponsors to actually own the team. So strongly did the company believe in the power of cycling to transform their business however, that they bought the team rather than simply sponsor it. This has had a fundamental impact on the nature of the relationship between the company and the team. Star rider Mike Woods told me at the recent Tour de France:

“Having EF come on board has been an amazing boost to this team, as having their level of structure and culture onboard has created a real level of stability and trust in the team, and this is reflected in how well we’ve raced this year. It’s really important that we’re not sponsored by someone that compromises my ethics, and I’m really proud to wear a company’s logo that promotes education and multiculturalism.”

Boosting Employee Engagement

The partnership has already had a number of clear wins in terms of employee engagement at the company. For instance, all 1,500 North American staff were invited to the Colorado Classic race, whilst numerous team members have been able to visit various races throughout Europe, most recently at the Tour de France. There have also been viewing parties hosted throughout the various global offices, with some of the team riders who were not competing at the event hosting the parties and giving expert insight into the events unfolding in the race. Mary Wittenburg, President of EF Pro Cycling told me at the Tour:

“It’s like a perfect marriage as the cycling team is a natural part of the EF culture in the way that we both operate. Every day you see examples, and among the EF employees who came to follow the team at the race, hardly any were cycling fans beforehand, but they really are now.”

Perhaps more interestingly however is that ownership of the team effectively makes the riders and support staff colleagues of these employees, and there have been regular training seminars and motivational presentations offered by riders and team managers throughout the business, whilst the career opportunities available across the business have given riders and staff a rich potential life when they hang up their wheels.

Why Engagement Matters

The return on investment of this kind of employee engagement initiatives are notoriously difficult to pin down, but recent research highlights the tremendous potential. The study analyzed a few decades worth of data generated by the employee engagement work undertaken by Gallup since the 1990s.

In total, some 339 individual surveys were analyzed, involving around 1.9 million employees from 230 different organizations spread across 73 countries. The analysis highlights the strong correlation between investment in employee wellbeing and both the overall productivity of each employee and also the financial performance of the organization.

The researchers examine four key performance indicators to assess the impact of wellbeing investment: customer loyalty, employee productivity, profitability, and employee turnover. Perhaps understandably, higher levels of employee satisfaction were strongly linked with lower levels of staff turnover, but also with greater customer loyalty as happier staff were able to deliver better service to customers. Staff was also found to be significantly more productive, with all of this resulting in higher profitability levels.

The results suggest a strong, positive correlation between the wellbeing of employees and the overall performance of the firm. While the results do not guarantee causality, the researchers nonetheless believe their findings to be reliable in underlining the important role of employee wellbeing in the overall health of the organization. This is certainly something that EF Education First is confident is already the case as a result of their cycling investment.

“We’ve already managed to touch all 52,000 employees in some way, but we want to convert this broad base into much deeper engagement with the team,” Wittenburg says. “The culture is so strong and the relationship so deep that we want to give the whole team the chance to effectively cheer for themselves.”

While measuring wellbeing is notoriously difficult, both the academic research and the practical results from EF Education First suggest organizations should strive to do more to measure wellbeing, and indeed to grant it parity with existing measures of productivity and financial performance. Indeed, the researchers urge managers to ensure that any efforts to raise one of the three should involve strategies to raise all in unison rather than attacking any in isolation.

This will also allow for more effective and rigorous analysis of any such initiative, with this more scientific approach helping to move wellbeing policies into a more analytical world where ROI can be clearly tested and proven. It’s clear that the summit of the mountain is very much within sight however and those who have been advocating the importance of employee wellbeing for so long can look forward to a well earned freewheel down the other side.

Topics:
agile ,employee engagement

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