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Why You Should Be Improving Employee Engagement

By April 19, 2023September 9th, 2023No Comments

Gallup has performed extensive research on employee engagement in recent years, surveying the working population in the U.S. regularly and even developing a 12-step process for evaluating and improving engagement in your own enterprise. Two recent articles lay out the value proposition and the unsatisfying current state of employee engagement, while also sounding a warning for employers who aren’t taking steps to understand their employees’ state of mind.

Why is engagement relevant?

In their article, “How to Improve Employee Engagement in the Workplace,” Gallup provides compelling data proving that higher employee engagement means less absenteeism, less turnover, less theft, fewer accidents, and fewer product quality defects. In addition, it yields higher customer loyalty and engagement, higher productivity, and higher profitability.

Gallup puts it simply, “The way your company treats employees and how employees treat one another can positively affect their actions—or can place your organization at risk.” Further, after decades of research, Gallup confidently states, “engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees.”

The Decline of Engagement

Unfortunately, in the United States, only 32% of employees were engaged in 2022, down from 34% in 2021 and 36% in 2020. The percentage of actively disengaged employees has been rising commensurately, with 18% actively disengaged in 2022, up from 16% in 2021 and 14% in 2020.

Gallup provides those statistics in their article “U.S. Employee Engagement Needs a Rebound in 2023,” based on averaging quarterly surveys of random samples of approximately 15,000 full- and part-time employees across the U.S. Their surveys measured a variety of workplace elements, such as employees’ clarity of expectations, opportunities for development, and to what level their opinions count in the workplace.

The engagement factors that declined the most in recent years are clarity of expectations, connection to the purpose or mission of the organization, opportunities to learn and grow, opportunities to do what they (employees) do best, and feeling cared about at work. Clarity of expectations was a particularly problematic element, ranking uniformly lower across most demographic groups than the other elements, which varied across groups based on age, gender, remote working status, and other factors.

To understand why the decline is happening, you need to understand what drives employee engagement in the first place. One common misconception is that all employees need is a good paycheck and occasional exercises or “warm-fuzzies” aimed at making them happy. Instead, employees want their work to have purpose and meaning. They want to be known for and able to work on what they’re uniquely good at. They also want relationships, especially with a manager able to coach them to the next level of achievement. In Gallup’s research they’ve found that “the manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement” (Gallup, “How to Improve Employee Engagement in the Workplace,” gallup.com).

Gallup further explains that the biggest cause of an organization’s engagement program failing is that engagement is seen primarily as the province of Human Resources. If it’s not owned by leaders, expected of managers, and understood by the employees, it hasn’t a hope of succeeding. Other common mistakes include programs that are too complicated, that utilize incorrect engagement metrics, or that overuse surveys without taking action on the results.

The Solution

Measuring employee engagement in your organization can tell you the current state of your employee engagement, if your current activities are working or if there’s room for improvement, and give you a baseline metric for improving your corporate culture activities. Based on Gallup’s research and reporting, it’s likely that your focus will need to be twofold: clarifying expectations and focusing managers on engagement.

The number one issue is clarifying expectations about employee roles—because when employees don’t know what exactly they’re supposed to do, you can’t expect them to perform at a high level. Gallup points out consistent reasons for employee confusion, including leadership not clearly communicating an organization’s cultural values and strategy and managers not being in touch with employees’ ongoing work-life challenges. More and better communication is key to resolving this issue, but so is prioritizing (or reprioritizing) managers’ roles.

Gallup’s data identifies the role of the manager as critical to an employee’s engagement, especially for a hybrid or remote workforce. “Managers are in charge of ensuring that employees know what work needs to be done, supporting and advocating for them when necessary, and explaining how their work connects to organizational success” (Gallup, “How to Improve Employee Engagement in the Workplace,” gallup.com).

To succeed, managers need to have ongoing coaching conversations with employees, however, most managers don’t know how to make those kinds of conversations meaningful and may instead appear micromanaging. This means managers need support and training to enable their success, which will improve overall employee engagement and benefit the organization.

More details on how to measure engagement and how to improve it in your own organization are available from Gallup.

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