HR Discussion

Importance of Employee Engagement During the Downturn: A Discussion

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Culture and engagement have emerged as some of the important issues companies have had to confront in modern times. It has generated more interest and enthusiasm than any management topic for quite some time. During the oil and gas market downturn, the story is not any different largely due to the conundrum of competing priorities that must be addressed by companies. Employers are faced with the difficult challenge of keeping their retained workforce engaged as it involves a lot of time and commitment especially when morale is very low.

In a study conducted by Chris Ross (2011) on the importance of engagement, he stated that the Gallup organization estimated that more than USD 350 billion per year was lost to businesses in the United States because employees are not highly engaged. The study also revealed that highly engaged workers out-produce their moderately engaged counterparts by over 400% and there is a direct correlation between engagement and business performance. Management must be responsive to the needs of their employees by engaging directly and make decisions at the operating levels. This may require adapting a company’s culture in motivating and providing incentive to employees for superior performance and innovation in lean times, as were the case in good times (Duroc-Danner 1999).

The industry is still challenged with lower rig counts, albeit rising up lately, a lean and stressed workforce, and the prospect of a slow recovery. To discuss the opportunities and challenges in managing culture and engagement during market downturns, the TWA HR Discussion team interviewed Valerie Jones, careers editor at Rigzone, about her experiences working with various E&P companies faced with this challenge. In this article, we explored ways in which companies can adopt human resources policies to meet these challenges.

Valerie Jones is the careers editor at Rigzone, a website covering news, jobs, data, and events for the oil and gas industry. Jones writes about the upstream oil and gas sector, focusing on career topics, often targeted toward millennials and the younger generation of workers. She has more than a decade of experience in news reporting, writing, and editing in fields including oil and gas, education, health, and business. Jones is a member of the Houston Association of Black Journalists, Women’s Energy Network, American Society of Business Publication Editors, and Houston Food Blogger Collective.


What are the workplace structures in place to retain the remaining talented workforce?

Some companies have opted to move their senior leaders to other roles across departments or even middle manager roles in order to shield them—in a sense—from layoffs. The idea is that when the market fully recovers, those employees can return to their positions and companies will hire entry-level employees.   

How do employers embrace and maintain transparency amidst uncertainty in the workplace?

It is important, particularly during challenging times for the industry in which layoffs abound, that employers remain truthful and transparent about the company’s plans. Uncertainty among employees can be filled with speculation and possible untruths. Employees are aware of industry conditions and know that cost-cutting is happening. If employers are open and honest with their employees and keep them regularly updated, employees are likely to be more loyal to the company. Even if a company has to lay off employees, by having that one-on-one conversation, employees who remain will see the layoffs were done respectfully and laid off employees may return to those companies, if the opportunity presents itself. Managers should communicate to employees what the company plans on doing to preserve jobs and how employees can help.

Is there a change in the overall culture of your organization as a result of the downturn? Does the need to maximize limited resources impact how employees relate to one another?

I think all oil and gas employers experience changes in culture during the downturn. The “do more with less” approach can wear on an already stressed workforce. This downturn in particular has seen a lot of changes in leadership among top oil and gas companies. With those changes come its challenges, but that is why creating and bolstering a positive company culture is so important. 

Is feedback a tool that is used to manage engagement of employees? How often is this given? Do employees feel their voices are being heard?

Feedback is always valuable. More companies are moving away from the once-a-year performance reviews and replacing it with more frequent feedback—often given at the end of a project. It is also less formal than the annual performance reviews. This constant and ongoing feedback—whether good or bad—is desired by the millennial generation.

How does the executive team help in promoting a positive work culture in the workplace?

Simply put, the leaders should set the example. Employees feed off the energy of their managers. Millennials want strong leaders who can also guide and mentor them throughout their careers. One chief executive officer (CEO) explained it to me this way: When developing a company culture, first thing is to determine why a company exists, what is important to it, and the vision. Then, the company must determine the type of behavior it wants from its employees, which includes management style. This is usually driven by the CEO or founder because they are the ones with the vision.  

How does culture and engagement correlate with business performance? Are companies making these measurements?

Company culture and engagement are key drivers of business performance. Employees who are fully engaged will be the ones who row the boat; disengaged employees may sink it. During an industry downturn, it is imperative to have a fully engaged workforce that will not mind doing more, thinking strategically, and pushing the company forward.

What is the impact of performance management, work/life balance, and flexibility on engagement?

More companies have adopted flexible working options, such as working remotely. The younger working generation differs from their older counterparts in that they emphasize work/life balance. Millennials also like a more fluid, less strict time commitment and frequent feedback. If employers pay attention to these factors and execute them well, the result would be a more engaged workforce.  

What kind of culture or workplace policies do employees most often look for?

I think this depends a lot on the employee. For example, Rigzone’s recent ideal employer survey revealed that the millennial generation values companies that offer training and development programs as well as opportunities for promotion. They are not as focused on salary, rather, they want to work somewhere in which they have a voice and can make a difference.   


Duroc-Danner, B.J. 1999. Weathering Downturns—Survival Strategies for Tough Markets. Society of Petroleum Engineers.  

Ross, C. 2011. Engagement—Does It Really Matter? American Society of Safety Engineers.




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