According to the Gallup Organisation employee engagement is defined as “an employee’s involvement with, commitment to, and satisfaction with work”. Employee engagement has also been more generally described as “passion for work”. It is feeling positive about your job and going the extra mile to make sure that you perform your work to the best of your ability.
Gallup researchers estimate that disengaged workers cost US businesses as much as $350 billion a year. According to their research, only 33% of workers are engaged in their jobs, 49% are not engaged and 18 per cent are actively disengaged. A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development in the UK on employee engagement reported similar findings. The Gallup Organisation defines the categories as follows:
Engaged employees work with energy and passion and feel an overwhelming connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organisation forward.
Non-engaged employees have essentially “checked out”. They put in the time but don’t approach their work with energy or passion.
Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work, they act out their unhappiness and undermine what engaged co-workers accomplish.
Employee engagement has three components: Emotional engagement- being emotionally attached to one’s work; cognitive engagement- concentrating intensely while at work; and physical engagement- “going the extra mile” for your employer.
Here are a few interesting facts on employee engagement from research performed by the CIPD. They highlight just how important it is for an employer to engage their employees. The downside is significant.
- Engaged employees are more likely to act as organisational advocates and therefore promote their company as an employer of choice.
- Workers aged 55 and older are significantly less likely to take sick leave than younger workers.
- Engaged employees take less sick leave than disengaged employees.
- Engaged employees are less likely to leave their employer than disengaged employees.
- Levels of engagement among those over 35 years of age are significantly higher than those in younger age groups.
- Women are more loyal and engaged with their work than men.
- Employees who are satisfied with their work-life balance are more engaged than those who are dissatisfied.
- Staff who do not take all of their annual leave entitlement are more engaged at their workplace, but do not necessarily achieve higher levels of performance.
- People derive a great deal of their job satisfaction from their co-workers, to whom 90 per cent feel very loyal.
What can be done to improve employee engagement?
Finding out that your employee engagement level is low may be difficult to accept, but it is certainly not a terminal diagnosis. Given the clear correlation between employee engagement, job satisfaction and performance, there is substantial opportunity and incentive for companies to re-engage a large percentage of disengaged workers, improve overall levels of engagement and in turn, reap the financial benefits.
The starting point, and one of the most critical steps in this process, is to identify the key drivers of employee engagement. Drivers are commonly misunderstood by management. For example, in a recent study at Harvard Business School, 600 managers were asked to rank workplace factors that they thought engaged employees.
“Recognition for good work” topped the list while “progress” came last. This was then compared to an extensive employee engagement study which actually ranked progress as the highest ranking engagement factor.
Other main drivers of employee engagement have been identified as: Allowing people the opportunity to feed their opinions and views upward; keeping employees informed about what is happening in the organisation; seeing and believing that a manager is committed to the organisation; and having processes in place that deal with problems in a fair and just manner.
Every employee is motivated by unique combinations of engagement drivers, and management need to identify which are the most important to their employees. From all the research material available on this topic, one fact that really stands out is that staff do not go the extra mile just because of base pay. When you consider the last time that you received a pay increase or bonus, how long did the impact last? Normally one or two paycheques, but the feeling is not sustained.
If you build your entire relationship with employees purely on financial reward, then the basis of that relationship is immediately destroyed if your company has a bad year, and therefore cannot give a raise or bonus.
There are many ways in which your company can improve employee engagement levels. Crucially, success depends on your ability to involve staff at every level in the organisation. This will generate the most powerful results whilst demonstrating buy-in from leadership. It is recommended that employers implement the following:
Obtain input from your staff and management teams. They should know what contributes to low levels of engagement and have insight into how to address the problem(s).
They just need to be asked.
Involve senior members of staff in the research and intervention process. This is a subject that employees need to hear about from their leaders. In turn, managers need to encourage employees to participate in the research.
Once identified, address the cause of the problem- don’t assign blame.
Be transparent about your findings with employees.
Implement change. It is important to make alterations to demonstrate that the company is listening to its employee’s needs.
In summary, disengaged employees are a serious issue to employers given the negative repercussions of their actions on the company’s bottom line and their ability to undermine engaged employees.
A company’s first step is to identify if there is a problem and then to develop strategies to re-engage employees, bearing in mind that every individual has unique drivers and that a one stop solution may not yield the best results.