In January of this year, professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University Management School published a paper indicating that the single biggest determinant of an organisation's productivity was the degree of engagement that the employees have with the task. It was just over 70 years since the psychologist Elton Mayo came to the same conclusion.
In the intervening period, dozens of studies have reached the same outcome. So why has this wealth of evidence had barely more than a pin-prick's influence on the way the vast bulk of companies organise themselves? Why is the average call centre still run on the basis of transaction cost, rather than employee skill and commitment?
Some commentators argue that most HR studies only show a direct correlation between satisfied staff and good business, not a cause-and-effect link. However, the gains from high employee commitment can be huge, so the explanation must run deeper.
Andrew Lambert, founder director of the Corporate Research Forum (CRF) – a network of researchers and employers dedicated to looking at the link between people development and business success - says there are no simplistic, linear relationships.
"It is certainly not done and dusted that you just spend money on people and see a return," he says. "A number of things have to come together."
Many organisations are now using internal measurements of their workforce and comparing them with business results to help understand the relationship between the two. Last month, a poll of CRF members revealed that employee surveys were far from just a 'nice to have' and were now positioned as a core management tool.
Standard Chartered Bank, for example, has worked with research company Gallup to measure engagement since 2000.
"We have found that bank branches with high levels of engagement outperform those with weaker engagement on a range of measures, including revenue and profit margin growth, customer satisfaction, and employee loyalty and retention," explains Debbie Whitaker, group head of human capital management at Standard Chartered.
The bank also has a human capital scorecard to ensure that core people measures – such as the talent pipeline and retention of top performers - are integrated with business planning.
Nick Starritt, a director of the Performance and Reward Centre – a sister organisation to the CRF for senior reward directors&nbs