A 2015 Gallup article spells out the problem: Only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged. Worldwide, only 13% of the workforce is engaged. This means the majority of employees aren’t fully contributing at work. This leads to lower productivity, higher absenteeism, higher safety incidents, and according to Gallup, more theft. Gallup also says that companies with engaged employees outperform competitors by 147%.
An article in HR Today describes employee engagement as a financial strategy for businesses. This is accurate — the numbers clearly show that companies failing to motivate and engage their employees in the success of the business venture will fall behind competitors that can figure out how to get employees in the game.
Forbes quotes two separate studies that suggest:
- Companies with engaged employees have a 6% higher net profit margin
- Companies with engaged employees have five times higher shareholder returns over five years
So, what is employee engagement, anyway? How do you know if your employees are engaged? Who owns the idea of creating an engaged culture? What are the top things your company must do to adopt a culture of engagement?
What Is Employee Engagement?
“An engaged employee is an employee who is deeply involved and invested in their work.”
- Human Resources Today
Any corporate initiative tied to humans brings a level of complexity. That’s exactly why the HR function is such an important role in any company, but especially in this job market, where talent is a lot harder to find. The current numbers put us at a less than 4% unemployment rate. This means everyone that can or wants to work probably already is. This makes employee retention even more important than ever. If you can find talent, figuring out how to engage them will help you retain them longer.
But employee retention is just one key indicator of engagement. The Corporate Leadership Council says:
Engagement is the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization and how hard they work and how long they stay as a result of that commitment.
Human Resources Today connects employee engagement to both motivation and job satisfaction.
They suggest the concept of engagement is influenced by:
- Challenging work
- Pay and benefits
- Working conditions
- Job security
Missing these factors in the workplace can create job dissatisfaction, lowered performance, and job turnover. Do you think a disengaged workforce affects customer service and sales? Absolutely.
Why Employee Engagement Matters?
Engagement in the workplace is strongly correlated with personal and, ultimately, corporate productivity. From a business perspective, that’s exactly why the nebulous idea of engagement matters. An article in Forbes suggests that employee engagement is hugely beneficial to employers, stating that an engaged workforce leads to:
- Higher quality, productivity, and service levels
- Higher customer satisfaction
- Higher profit
- Higher shareholder returns
From an employee perspective, do you want to live your life with one eye on the clock that’s ticking toward 5:00pm? Being an engaged employee means working for more than the paycheck. Instead, you’re actively enjoying the work and your coworkers, and you feel as if you’re making an active contribution to the business.
When an employee is engaged in the success of the enterprise, they will go above and beyond what’s expected and will be less likely to want to leave. That’s a worthwhile goal for both the employer and the employee.
How Can You Tell if Employees Are Engaged?
There are dozens of employee engagement and satisfaction surveys on the market today. Each one seeks to quantify the nebulous idea of engagement, which is a concept as individualized as the employee and the work they do.
To determine the level of employee engagement, companies can use these polls to determine how the work is perceived and whether there is room for improvement.
Conducting these polls regularly is important, especially in enterprise organizations where it’s virtually impossible to speak individually with each employee.
One such survey is a Gallup poll called the Gallup Q12 that seeks to teach employees to own their engagement. The questions are written from a first-person perspective, which sets the stage for employer engagement initiatives that seek buy-in from each individual employee (we’ll tackle that idea in a moment).
Some of the Q12 questions include:
- I know what is expected of me at work
- At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
- In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
- At work, my opinions seem to count
- The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
- I have a best friend at work
- This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow
The Corporate Leadership Council uses their questionnaire to gauge the employee’s emotional commitment. They use questions such as, “I believe in what I do every day at work,” or “I frequently try to help others who have heavy workloads.”
All of these questions go to the heart of employee engagement. Once the polling is over, employers put a lot of time, money, and effort into re-engaging employees that have drifted away. However, these efforts have yielded mixed results. A Forbes article stated, “Organizations spend hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to solve the engagement problem, but with few exceptions, most of this money continues to be wasted.”
Clearly, employer efforts to engage employees are a mixed bag. What, then, are employers supposed to do to improve engagement? The answer is: Make employee engagement not the responsibility of the corporation, but the goal of every employee.
Owning Employee Engagement
“Unless employees assume some measure of responsibility for their own engagement, the efforts of their organizations, leaders, managers and teams may have a limited effect on improving engagement.”
- Ken Royal and Susan Sorenson
Employees Are Responsible for Their Engagement Too (Gallup)
Now that we know how to determine if employees are engaged, it’s time to figure out how companies can improve the current corporate environment. But here’s the rub: These initiatives must be organic.
A Forbes article points out, “Engagement is generally framed as an employer rather than employee problem.” If employees lack engagement at work, popular opinion assumes it’s up to the employers to create initiatives that build teamwork or increase productivity scores. But this rarely lasts long. Over time, it’s likely that the work environment will regress back to the status quo.
The problem is that each employee in an organization affects the entirety of the work environment. In the same way that every person is responsible for his or her own success, each employee has a hand in creating a culture of engagement.
Leadership sets the tone for the entire organization by serving as role models to “walk the walk.” It’s up to leadership to engage employees in departmental and corporate goal setting tied to the vision of the entire organization. The goals must be measurable and attainable. Micromanagement must be set aside for a more human-centric culture of accountability where every voice matters and every effort is noticed and applauded.
HR has one of the toughest and most important roles in the entire organization. They’re tasked with the all-important process of finding the right person for the right role. In today's economy, that can seem like an insurmountable task.
But it’s important to acknowledge that the concept of employee engagement starts with the next hire. Corporate Leadership Council points out, “A high-performing workforce first depends on the recruitment of high-quality talent.” But that’s only the beginning. After the team member joins, HR should set programs that include mentorship for new employees and a structured way of rewarding everyday effort.
Because they are important links between leadership and individual employees, team managers must be carefully chosen for their dedication to the principals of the organization. They should be passionate about their work and fair in their leadership of other people. Why does this matter? Gallup reports that managers are the primary influencers of employee engagement scores, affecting 70% of the variance in scores across all business units. Managers have a big influence on culture and workplace environment, both of which strongly affect employee engagement.
Here’s the deal: Employee engagement begins with each employee. From the top of the organization to the bottom, employee engagement is first and foremost the responsibility of each individual.
Every workplace has stress. Even great jobs have days where things don’t go well. But creating engagement means taking the good with the bad, while making an effort to change your job, the department, and the corporate environment. Changing your attitude about work is the first thing you can do to turn things around. The truth is that employee engagement starts with the employee. All of the corporate engagement efforts in the world will be for naught if the employee does not agree to shift their attitude and approach to the job.
The point here is that everyone has a hand in creating a culture of employee engagement. From an employee perspective, engagement is measured in a happier life. Look around you. Is the company culture a place where people are laughing and smiling? Or is the stress or boredom level so high that there is simply no joy in the building?
The Solution: Better Employee Engagement
For employers, the unengaged employee will be less productive, more sick, and simply more difficult to deal with than a worker who loves their job. There are obvious benefits to finding ways to pull employees back from the brink of “calling it in.”
The majority of men and women in our country work more than 40 hours a week. That’s a lot of frustration, anger, and sheer angst for every overworked week we put in. This can trigger poor health outcomes and generally make for an unhappy life.
The question is — what are you going to do about it?
Artisan Talent is standing by to help you change your job — and your life. For employees, we can set you on a new career path. For employers, we have solid talent waiting in the wings to help change your company culture. Contact us.