Employee engagement seemed to be getting better in recent years, until it wasn’t. But asking “where did we go wrong?” isn’t as important as the question, “what do we do now?” If we really want to get employee engagement back on track, it’s time to rethink our strategies. And no, simply throwing money at the problem isn’t going to fix it.
What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is the emotional connection between workers and their job, coworkers, and organization. Employee engagement is a spectrum of sorts, with many levels or degrees of engagement (and lack thereof). It breaks down roughly like this:
Highly Engaged Employees
These are your best brand ambassadors, and often your highest performers. They love their jobs and make sure to do them as well as they can. They also try to convert friends, family, and coworkers to join the club. Interestingly, Microsoft tops the list as the company with the highest engagement rate – especially impressive after years of painful employee experiences.
An engaged employee is one who is interested in and enthusiastic about their work. This may be because they enjoy their role, the benefits it provides, or the accomplishments that it leads to. An engaged employee may also see the organization and its goals as something they agree with and care about.
A disengaged employee is someone who is content to have their job, but not to do their job. Disengaged employees do the minimum to prevent being terminated, and on the other hand, avoid taking personal initiative or steps to advance within the organization. There is even a brand-new term for it: “quiet quitting”.
Actively Disengaged Employees
The actively disengaged employee can be an HR person’s toughest challenge. They are called “active” because they often expend their energy not on work, but on badmouthing their company, its leaders, and/or its employees. Such workers hurt morale and may even be sabotaging your organization.
Number time: According to recent statistics, 32% of US employees are engaged, 51% are disengaged, and 17% are actively disengaged. We’ve made a lot of progress overall, as engagement was only at 26% in the year 2000, but much of that ground has been lost from the high of 36% only two years ago.
Why Is Employee Engagement Important?
Achieving the highest possible level of employee engagement is extremely valuable to businesses, in a number of ways:
Engaged employees are enthusiastic and may even go beyond expectations. Their attitudes can be contagious for both clients and coworkers. Even when away from work, it’s common for engaged employees to become advocates for their companies – 33% of them post unsolicited, positive comments about their work on social media.
When an employee becomes another turnover statistic, and the company is not prepared, the result can be a giant mess. Revenue will suffer until a replacement is found, trained, and becomes acclimatized. Hanging on to employees avoids this disruption and much of the cost. Engagement is fundamental here, and can lead to a 60% reduction in turnover.
When a worker is interested in sticking to their targets or even improving their output, they will do a better job. For example, attitude is very important when it comes to customer service. We’ve all dealt with engaged customer service staff – they are polite, positive, want to help, and know how to do so. The result is a fast interaction and a happy customer, leading to a 10% increase in customer loyalty.
It can be easy to assess the performance of certain employees if they have measurable output, for example, how many widgets they produce, or their sales volume per month. But increased engagement really benefits an organization in the areas that can’t be measured – areas in which employees take the initiative to improve their operations and their communities. According to this research from Thread, companies with engaged employees outperform those that lack engagement by up to 202%.
How to Increase Employee Engagement
Shelling out more money on salaries isn’t the answer. That’s because, year after year, the number one reason for turnover remains “career advancement”. Then, within “career advancement”, there are a bunch of subcategories. It turns out that lack of professional development tops the list. And a major reason for lack of job satisfaction is that employees aren’t getting the learning and development courses that they need to move up at their current workplace.
Employers have heard this message loud and clear – in a way. Organizations across the world spend billions on L&D. And yet, employees are still not engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review, 75% of employees don’t feel that learning programs improve their performance.
That’s because, when you manage a large company, it’s an enormous challenge to identify the specific training needs of each employee, and then find the precise L&D courses for them. The reality has typically been to offer generalized courses that cost lots but benefit little. Luckily, there is a solution for this.
Employee Engagement Strategies
Delivering customized L&D programs is a multi-step process that involves every level of the organization, including HR, direct managers, and of course, employees.
Implement Career Management Programs
The “big picture” of career management, the analysis provided by career pathing, and the fine details of career planning can all be used to figure out the professional development steps that serve both the needs of the company and the goals of the employee. It’s true that climbing the career ladder is about positions and responsibilities. But behind every step up the ladder taken by an employee, there are important skills that must be acquired, and that’s where L&D comes in. The results of a career planning framework should focus on the exact courses that need to be taken by the employee. This includes all-important soft skills, which are now (at least) on par with hard skills.
Enable Customized Learning
It’s up to HR to find the best matches between the upskilling/reskilling needs of workers and top experts in those fields. Such experts might be trainers, mentors, or coaches, or a combination of all three. Of course, HR needs to screen them to identify the most qualified. In addition, the setting for L&D courses can happen through group workshops, personalized lectures, online 1-on-1 coaching, and workplace mentoring.
Assembling this puzzle is the most crucial part of all. Given that current L&D methods aren’t reaping the greatest results, HR/L&D departments should conduct some serious research on platforms that automate and optimize the process.
Get Managers Involved
If managers are part of identifying engagement levels, then they should also be part of improving it. Managers can have a lot of insight regarding an employee’s natural talent and optimal skill set. They can also act as informal mentors to fill in the gaps for situations that an employee’s L&D doesn’t cover.
On top of that, managers need to participate in any development program. It’s up to managers to measure performance changes (see below), which requires them to pay attention to various aspects of L&D. They must also arrange schedules so that development programs don’t interfere with job responsibilities.
Finally, let’s not forget that a lack of development opportunities isn’t the only reason for poor engagement. Employees also check out because they feel that there is too much stress at work, or that they don’t have a healthy work-life balance. Managers need to act to resolve these challenges as well.
Employee development isn’t a one-time thing. It could be that these steps boost engagement immediately. But going “hands off” at that point will just lead to another drop later on. HR must ensure that employees are given the resources that they need for continuous learning throughout their career. That might mean a succession program within HR so that new HR managers are given responsibility for tracking and supporting specific employee development programs.
Secondly, all the learning in the world won’t engage the employee if there are no concrete results. It’s vital for companies to improve their rates of internal promotion if they don’t want to lose all of the investments they’ve made in employee skills. Unfortunately, internal hires today only account for about 20% of promotions.
How to Measure Employee Engagement
Once you’ve kicked off these employee engagement activities, it’s essential to check how they are going. Bad numbers might mean the strategy is off the mark, or that it’s being implemented poorly, or that something else needs to be added. To get a sense of if and how your programs are having an effect, try using one (or ideally all) of these methods:
Distributing employee surveys (and encouraging their completion!) should happen before and after employee engagement programs start. It’s great to get as many details as possible, but you should balance that with the chances of the employee actually finishing the survey. At the very least, the survey should ask for numerical scores of how engaged they feel (along with your explanation of “engagement”) and their opinion of the initiatives in which they have participated.
Getting the viewpoint of somebody who sees employee productivity first-hand also counts for a lot. As with employees, surveys should be filled out both before and after engagement programs kick off.
Distinct from engagement surveys are pulse surveys, which are periodic but regular questionnaires that cover a variety of topics. It’s important to keep pulse survey questions consistent, brief, and frequent.
Employee Lifecycle Surveys
At crucial points during their employment at an organization, workers should be interviewed to understand their views about how engaged they are. This might occur before (i.e. post-onboarding), during (i.e. stay surveys), and after (i.e. exit interviews) their tenure.
Note: To manage the survey process, make sure to appoint somebody who issues and collects surveys, records the results, and presents them. And don’t forget to make room in your schedule for following up on both good and bad stats.
Grow Engagement with GrowthSpace
GrowthSpace has developed an L&D platform that delivers individualized programs on a wide scale. It’s no longer necessary to put workers who want development initiatives into one basket and give them a learning program that does not focus on the needs of each individual. Nor is it required to save the specialized guidance for senior staff only.
GrowthSpace has combined technology and a new way of looking at employee growth into the market’s most effective L&D programs. GrowthSpace has the ability to identify the granular development needs of each individual; locate an expert with specific expertise in that area; and measure the results of the growth program that they provide.
For companies in search of improved employee engagement, GrowthSpace serves up an essential piece of the puzzle.