Low Employee Engagement: The Real Reason Your Company Suffers and How to Fix It

by The Persimmon Group | October 23, 2018

The benefits of having a fully engaged workforce are plentiful; better yet, they’re measurable and directly impact your bottom line! Engaged employees work smarter and more productively than their peers. Research from Gallup shows business units with engaged employees realized:

Lower Absenteeism 41%
Higher Productivity 17%
Higher Customer Metrics 10%
More Sales, and 20%
Greater Profitability Than Other Business Units 21%

Given the potential benefits, Bersin’s prediction that spending on employee engagement will reach $1.5 billion in the coming years seems a sound investment. Yet, for all that spending, research shows employee engagement remains dangerously low. Just 15% of workers around the globe (31% in the US) are currently engaged at work, numbers that have been consistently low since Gallup began measuring and reporting on workplace engagement in 2000.

As Gallup points out in the Harvard Business Review, the majority (67%) of employees worldwide are not engaged, “sleepwalking through their workday without regard for their performance or their organization’s performance.” Another 18% are actively disengaged and openly resentful that their workplace needs aren’t being met.

Low Employee Engagament

Is Low Employee Engagement A Management Problem?

How does so much investment yield so few results? Author and workforce expert Jacob Miller points out that “most initiatives amount to an adrenaline shot.”

“A perk is introduced to boost scores, but over time the effect wears off and scores go back down. Another perk is introduced, and scores go back up — and then they fall again,” he writes. “The more this cycle repeats itself, the more it feels like manipulation. People begin to recognize the short-term fixes for what they are.”

So, what is at the root of low employee engagement? Gallup shows that about 70% of the variance in engagement among workgroups can be attributed to managers. Although it may not seem like it, that’s actually great news. By incorporating management behaviors that address three key characteristics of engaged employees, leaders and managers from the C-Suite down can affect tremendous advances in employee engagement.

1. Highly engaged employees know what is expected of them and have the tools they need to accomplish it.

Most people don’t deal well with ambiguity. Setting clear expectations, giving employees the resources and training they need to accomplish their objectives, and providing regular feedback can help your employees feel engaged and empowered at work. Gallup showed that among employees who strongly agreed with the statement, “My manager helps me set work priorities,” 38% were engaged. Among employees who disagreed, only 4% were engaged. Similarly, among employees who strongly agreed with the statement, “My manager holds me accountable for my performance,” 28% were engaged. Among employees who disagreed, only 6% were engaged.

2. Highly engaged employees are able to play to their strengths and have opportunities to grow.

Getting the right people in the right roles is key to creating an engaged workforce. One in five employees is in the wrong role, leaving them disengaged and more likely to leave the organization. Employees in the right roles are able to play to their strengths and contribute to the organization in a meaningful way. Once you have the right people, it is important to provide them with opportunities to grow. A recent study showed 39% of all respondents (45% of millennials) said career opportunity was a primary driver of engagement. Create clear career paths, offer employees resources and opportunities for personal and professional development, and assign stretch projects that push them out of their normal day-to-day.

3. Highly engaged employees are recognized and feel they are cared for.

Employees who are recognized for their efforts or accomplishments feel more motivated and valued for their work. Gallup found that recognition “not only boosts individual employee engagement, but it also has been found to increase productivity.” Employees who do not feel recognized, on the other hand, are twice as likely to quit in the next year. Making employees feel recognized and cared for can be as simple as a public “kudos” for an exceptional effort or outcome. The same study found the most memorable recognition comes from an employee’s manager (28%), followed most closely by a high-level leader or CEO (24%).

Research consistently shows that even small gains in employee engagement can have an outsized impact on business outcomes. By incorporating the above suggestions into their management style, leaders at all levels of your organization can increase employee engagement.

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