Employee Engagement – not just a buzzword

“Employee Engagement” is one of those ‘buzzwords’ that you hear thrown about quite a bit…but this is a buzzword that should be carefully thought about by every organization.

A recent survey, reported on by Management Issues, has some very interesting results pertaining to Employee Engagement. The article, titled “Getting to the Heart of the Disengagement Gap“, reports the following results:

A poll of 14,000 employees across 10 European countries by consultants Watson Wyatt has confirmed what a number of similar large-scale surveys have been suggesting over the past few years – namely that there is a vast reserve of untapped potential in the workplace in the form uncommitted or actively disgruntled staff.

It also revealed that more than four out of 10 are actively considering leaving their current employer.

But whereas a 2007 poll of almost 90,000 workers by workplace consultancy Towers Perrin found that just a fifth felt engaged with their work, Watson Wyatt found that only 13 per cent (fewer than one in seven) displayed both strong commitment as well as having a good understanding of the part they could play in making their organizations successful – an understanding Watson Wyatt term “line of sight”.

Only 13 percent of the workforce is fully engaged and trying to create value of organziations. What are the other 87% of the workforce up to? Are they lazy? Incompetent? I highly doubt it…its more likely that the organization has done a poor job of describing how each person’s contributions can affect the organization.

The lack of Employee engagement isn’t just the fault of an organization. There are people who are OK with doing ‘just enough’ to get by but an organization should do everything in its power to ensure that employees are happy and that they understand how valuable they are to the organization.

Whether you agree with the Towers Perrin study that found 20% engagement or Watson Wyatt’s 13% engagement, I think you’d have to agree that there is a problem. How many coworkers/employees do you know that are actively seeking employment elsewhere? How many are really doing the best job that they can do?

How can an organization engage employees? There’s no simple answer…it takes long-term effort by both the organization and the employee(s). I’m not an expert in this field (or any field!) but I will provide a few basic thoughts on how to get started engaging more employees.

  • Hire right
  • Don’t ask for (or expect) an employee to ‘live to work’ for you…respect their life outside of the office.
  • Hold all employees accountable. If an employee notices that there are ‘sacred cows’ that aren’t accountable for their actions, their level of effort and engagement will drop.
  • Offer flexibility for work hours
  • Offer job rotation opportunities – this would hold especially true to young/new employees….keep people interested and don’t let them get bored with their job.

Those are just a few thoughts…i’m sure there are many more. For a great follow-up article on the subject, read Wayne Turmel’s latest article titled “Employee Enagement has a ring to it” that discusses this topic…great article and worth reading.

[tags] Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Organizational Behavior [/tags]

6 responses to “Employee Engagement – not just a buzzword”

  1. Tim Wright Avatar

    Eric –

    The number of engaged employees–and, conversely, those who are unengaged or actively disengaged–is startling. This is true whether it’s the Watson figure, the Towers Perrin number, or the more familiar Gallup Q12 29%.

    The clarity that contributes to an employee’s engagement is at two levels: clarity of expectation and clarity of communication of those expectations. There are two parts. The manager/supervisor must clearly know what is expected of the employee. In turn, that needs to be communicated clearly (and often) enough that the employee also knows the expectations.

    And one more quick thought: my guess is that the proportion of engaged-unengaged-disengaged holds pretty true not only in the non-exempt but among the supervisors/managers as well.


  2. Eric Brown Avatar

    Good points Tim. Expectations of employees and organizations are key to engaging employees and keeping them engaged.


  3. Adam Avatar

    Speaking as someone who is himself ‘disengaged’, I think that this is only going to increase. I recently resigned a semipermanent work gig as a Technical Project Manager because of severely bad fit between my skills, the job they advertised, and the work they actually needed done. Six months later and many conversations, emails, and attempts to rectify the situation and still add value to the company and I finally decided to just give up and seek something else.

    I have choices and options, even in this crazy economy. Or perhaps because of it. No employers seem to offer full time jobs anymore, just temp-to-perm assignments with traditional carrots dangling that never seem to materialize. Hey, I’m all for a freelance-based economy, provided that there’s some form of universal health care to make up for the lack of employer-provided benefits.

    What really has led to disengagement from me in the past is a growing sense of frustration with the corporate machine itself. Either I’ve been hired on as a freelancer and then expected to be “just as dedicated” as the full timers as incentive to ‘earn’ that full time post, or else I’ve been a full timer who was woefully undercompensated for the cost of living and value add that I’ve brought to the table. Being passed over, or watching other candidates competing for the same position passed over even though I felt *they* were much better qualified, it all adds up.

    At a certain point, corporations are going to come to the realization that yes, employee compensation is a very large contributing factor to morale. Why *would* we offer up our untapped skills or be proactive about seeking further opportunity to do work when we’re already overworked, underappreciated, and severely undercompensated across the board?

    I’m at a phase in my life right now when I’m pretty disillusioned with corporate America in general. Promises of eventual reward for a decade plus of loyalty to various decent managers completely nullified by the oppressive bonus system mandated by corporate hq and hr policies. They say that Gen X is getting much more picky about our jobs, and I believe it wholeheartedly. We’ve been patient, we’ve paid our dues, and now we’re ready to climb into the sweet jobs we’ve been promised all our lives, the jobs which would be the natural reward for hard work and performance above and beyond the call of duty.

    Not anymore. I’m not the first of my friends who just up and quit from their day jobs because they just can’t handle the stress and social neglect anymore. Money -is- the problem, and quality of work intangibles aren’t cutting it as far as maintaining morale. Pay me what I’m worth or I’ll face my chances as a consultant.

    Ironically, because my skillset is so completely specialized in my current company, there’s a very strong possibility that I will be called on to come back in as a periodic consultant. My rates will go from $30/hour to $150/hour for the -exact same services-. (If those amounts sound high, please understand that this is Fairfield county, Connecticut, where my ghetto neighborhood 600sq ft apartment costs me upwards of $1100/month in rent and the cost of living is obscenely high across the board).

    So count me as perpetually unimpressed and therefore, unengaged by the typical corporate antics. At a certain point you have to evaluate whether the reward is worth the effort. And it hasn’t been worth the effort for a while now, but we’re just beginning to wake up and see it… and see our options.

    New Work Rule: From now on, companies cannot call salary increases “raises” or “bonuses” until the percentage amount of the raise clears the regional Cost of Living percent increase. A 3% raise in a 5% cost of living increase economy must be called a 2% penalty.


  4. Eric Brown Avatar

    Adam – Great comment…I love this one:

    “a certain point you have to evaluate whether the reward is worth the effort. And it hasn’t been worth the effort for a while now, but we’re just beginning to wake up and see it… and see our options”

    You are so right…this is one of the reasons I’m on my own today!

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