An astounding 70% of U.S. workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged, according to a 2012 survey by Gallup. Further, these actively disengaged employees are emotionally disconnected from their companies and as a result are less productive, more likely to miss work, more likely to steal, may negatively influence coworkers, and will drive customers away.
Employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes that are so essential to the organization’s productivity, profitability and customer engagement. And those who are actively disengaged at work (18%) can cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity every year.
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace: 2010-2012 report also revealed that this level of employee engagement differed among generations.
Those at the beginning of their careers and at the end of their careers are most likely to be engaged at work. Traditionalists, representing merely 4% of the workforce, have the highest level of engagement at 41% and Millennials, who represent just 8% of the workforce, are second highest at 33%. The remaining 88% of the workforce has just 28% of Generation Xers and 26% of Baby Boomers likely to be engaged at work.
Clearly employee engagement is critical for every organization and much can be learned by the questions Gallup uses to measure it. They finalized what they call the Q12 in the late 1990s and it has since been administered to more than 25 million employees in 189 countries. These 12 questions represent what Gallup considers actionable workplace elements with proven links to performance outcomes.
- I know what is expected of me at work.
- I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
- 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.
- My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
- There is someone at work who cares about my development.
- At work, my opinions seem to count.
- The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel the job I do is important.
- My associates or fellow workers are committed to doing quality work.
- I have a best friend at work.
- In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
- This last year I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.
The answers to these questions are important, but so are the questions themselves. What do they reveal about employee engagement? It seems to me that clarity about the work and focusing on the employee’s strengths is important. Recognition and praise for a job well-done too. Empathy, congeniality and genuine concern are also important.
The order of the questions is also intentional. The first two represent the employee’s primary needs and asks: What do I get out of this role? Questions 3 through 6 have to do with how employees think about their own contribution as well as their connection to the team and the organization. The questions 7 through 10 have to do with: Do I belong? The final two questions have to do with whether or not the employee can learn, grow and input their own ideas.
Increasing employee engagement is not a one-off intervention through an annual team building off-site, but instead it is a continual process of healthy workplace policies and behaviors. These should include:
- Clear roles and responsibilities for everyone, and ensure that each person is equipped with the right tools and training to do the job they were hired to do.
- Start at the top. If your managers, directors, vice presidents and CEO are not engaged, you can forget about your frontline employees. Ensure that engagement begins at the top and extends throughout the organization.
- Live the values in your business plan. Employees join your company because of its reputation and what they believe you stand for. Ensure that these values are more than corporate marketing.
- Build upon employee strengths. Rather than focusing on fixing weaknesses, companies should focus on building upon each employee’s individual strengths. According to research, Gallup found that people who use their strengths everyday are six times more likely to be engaged at work.
- Give praise and be friendly. There is no reason why the workplace needs to be a cold and dreary place. Every one of us has the opportunity to show gratitude and genuine concern for others at work. This can go a long way towards making us feel that our contribution matters and that we’re cared about.
Each of these can help raise employee engagement, but they need to be under constant scrutiny because they won’t last simply because they were written down in some policy and procedures manual. These policies and behaviors need to be continually demonstrated and practiced for engagement to last.
Actively engaged employees should be the goal because they are directly tied to positive business outcomes. Getting and retaining employees who are actively engaged means better business results and a better place to work. And that’s the cure we all could use.