Celine BaudoinCeline BaudoinEmployee engagement has become a top priority for HR departments in the corporate world. Although employee engagement levels have always been an issue, only recently have companies begun to realize the impact of disengaged employees on productivity and profit. Corporations have taken steps to respond to this disengagement problem, however, according to Gallup’s report, their actions are not proving effective, as employee engagement rates have not improved over the last fifteen years.

How alarming is the employee disengagement crisis? Why isn’t it improving? How can it be improved? We respond to these questions looking at Gallup’s research on employee engagement.  

What is employee engagement?

Gallup defines employee engagement as the cognitive involvement and emotional enthusiasm people have for their work and workplace. Even though some companies have been trying to address the employee disengagement crisis, only 32 percent of employees in the U.S. and 13 percent of workers worldwide are engaged.

Ascanio Pignatelli Ascanio PignatelliEmployee engagement levels have shown little improvement during the past fifteen years, consistently averaging below 33 percent. The findings are even more alarming regarding the global workforce: 87 percent of workers worldwide are disengaged! 

Why is employee engagement so important? Companies with a highly engaged workforce experience lower absenteeism, turnover, shrinkage/theft, accidents, and defects, while having higher quality, customer engagement, productivity, and profit. The loss of productivity due to employee disengagement not only affects companies directly, but also has a tremendous impact on our economy. In another report, Gallup estimates that employee disengagement costs our economy $450-550 billion each year due to the loss in productivity, creativity, and innovation. 

Why isn’t employee engagement improving?

employee engagement crisis in the U.S.Graph courtesy of Gallup

One reason for the lack of improvement in employee engagement levels is that organizations seem to mistake employees’satisfaction rate with employees’engagement rate. Engaged employees are not only satisfied with their jobs but are also involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work. They see the bigger picture and care about the company’s ultimate goals, such as productivity, profitability, customers’satisfaction, etc. 

Engaged employees act in ways that strengthen the company’s growth and innovation while disengaged employees only do the minimum expected of them, and show little concern for the needs of their company or its customers. They are also more likely to be late or miss work, and to quit when new opportunities appear.

Another explanation is that companies seem to focus on measuring employee engagement by issuing traditional employee satisfaction surveys instead of improving employee engagement by changing the way they manage their staff. Merely requiring employees to complete a survey and collecting data do not improve employee engagement or performance.  

How can we create a culture of engagement?

1. Create a Leadership Culture of Engagement

    •       Leaders, not employees, are responsible for a company’s employee engagement levels. Management needs to shift their approach from one of directing their employees, to one that empowers them. When employees feel that their contribution isn’t important, or that they aren’t being valued or supported, or that they don’t have any choice or say in the matter–their engagement levels will not be optimal. 

2. Empower Your Employees

    •       Great leaders know that the key to getting their employees to perform at their best is by empowering them. Empowering questions are one of the most effective tools coaches and  leaders can use to raise the energy and engagement levels of their team. Questions like

    •       “What exactly do you feel is preventing progress here?”, 

    •       ”What’s the worst that could happen?”and 

    •       ”How can I support you?”can really help instill confidence, remove fear, and get their buy-in.

3. Inspire Your Team Through Model Behavior

Leaders must also be role models. Employees’experience within the organization depends heavily on their managers’behaviors. Gallup research reveals that employees are 59 percent more likely to be engaged when their managers are engaged. Managers and executives who are the most enthusiastic, and put in the most effort at work, are the ones who inspire their staff to stretch themselves to new levels of performance.

4. Support Social & Emotional Intelligence

The relationship managers have with their employees also significantly impacts their engagement levels. A Gallup report found that one out of two employees quit their job because of a poor relationship with their boss. Managers that care for their employees are more likely to foster greater relationships with, and loyalty from their direct reports. Having a great relationship with your team significantly impacts the degree of employee engagement. Making it a priority to effectively attract and select managers with high degrees of social and emotional intelligence is integral to creating that culture of engagement.

5. Develop Stronger Ties with Your Staff

Managers that care for their employees are able to establish trust, and create a culture of embededness, where it becomes difficult for employees to leave a company because of their close ties with their colleagues. These close relationships are far more likely to inspire greater creativity, collaboration, and performance among their leadership team with a significant impact on employee engagement levels.  

Conclusion

The importance of employee engagement cannot be overstated. Companies with high employee engagement levels have lower absenteeism, turnover, shrinkage/theft, accidents, and defects. They also experience higher quality, customer engagement, productivity, and profit. Managers are responsible for maximizing a company’s employee engagement levels by adopting a leadership approach that empowers and inspires their employees to do their best. They also need to lead by example, fully engaging themselves at work so that others become inspired to do the same. Finally, leaders need to improve their social and emotional intelligence so they can connect to their direct reports on a deeper level. Only then can managers begin to experience a culture of high engagement. 

About the Authors

Celine Baudoin is a management and engagement expert and director of training and education at E3 Solutions. She is passionate about raising employee engagement levels and empowering employees.

Ascanio Pignatelli is an employee engagement expert. He is an award winning speaker, seminar leader, coach, and author of the forthcoming book Lead from Need: Raising Employee Engagement from the Core. He is the founder of E3 Solutions, an executive coaching and leadership development group that helps executives develop the leadership and communication skills to create more engaging workplaces.