What are the biggest challenges facing your company today? Are they the financial collapse, global recession, reshaping the existing business model and strategic priorities, or changing technology paradigms covering mobile, social and cloud? Or is it something much more fundamental than any of those?

Is your company losing touch with your most precious asset -- your employees? Are your employees truly engaged and aligned to your corporate mission? 

If you believe the recent HR studies, employee engagement is at an all-time low. The pressures of today’s work environment continue to alter how businesses operate, how companies engage with their employees and ultimately how people connect with their companies.

The global recession has made it more difficult to maintain high levels of engagement, as pay freezes, benefit cuts and layoffs permeate the workforce.

This recession-battered workforce has some of the lowest levels of engagement and job satisfaction in years. Confidence in leaders and managers is disturbingly low. According to a Towers Perrin study, only a fifth (21 percent) of the workforce is engaged, twice as much (41 percent) feels enrolled, a third (30 percent) feels disenchanted and almost a tenth (8 percent) feels disengaged. These are alarming statistics and should serve as a wakeup call to companies that the status quo is no longer cutting it.

Compounding this are the technological advancements that are producing more information, more channels to conduct business with end customers and more demands on the typical knowledge worker.

In addition, the digital native workforce (the millennial generation) is about to enter the workforce with an entirely different set of expectations around work environments and practices. For them, work is what they do, not where they go. The very idea of many corporate structures, with their rigid functional boundaries, is viewed as limiting and stifling creativity and innovation.

But there is still plenty of opportunity to leverage these new technologies to transform the workplace, and companies can learn a lot from this new digitally savvy generation.

Challenges Affecting Employee Engagement

First, it’s important to understand some of the key challenges employees are facing:

Information Overload

The amount of information that a daily knowledge worker faces is alarming. According to the New York Times, the average American worker consumes 34 GB of information and reads 100,000 words in a single day. This has increased by an average of 6 percent each year, amounting to a 350 percent increase over the past 25+ years. And, the information is coming through multiple channels including emails, social networks, phones and e-readers. The bottom line is employees are overloaded with information!

Hyper Multi-Tasking

All of this information comes through a variety of channels which forces an unhealthy amount of multi-tasking. Workers today are continually distracted. Computer users change windows or check email and other programs an average of 37 times an hour. Distracted, unfocused employees costs organizations millions of dollars per year due to lost productivity.

Antiquated Work Environment


Many employees still have a richer experience in their home office than they do in their work environment. They have more computing power, un-restricted access to the Internet, flexibility with which mobile devices to use, desktop video conferencing and chat. A key step in engaging workers is to ensure they have the tools and environment to be productive.

Ineffective Work and Collaboration Techniques

Many companies spend a majority of their work time either in meetings, on conference calls or responding to email. For many, these activities define work. But how effective are all of these? According to a recent McKinsey study, workers spent more than 28 hours a week on rudimentary tasks such as email, searching for information and collaborating internally. Knowledge management and collaboration tools and techniques are still in the early stages in most enterprises.

Poor Communications and Lack of Transparency

As obvious as this may be, lack of consistent communication is still cited by employees as a key frustration which leads to lack of engagement. These are messages from leadership about business objectives, changes that are occurring and what is required of employees. Corporate communications is the primary connection point between the majority of employees and executive leadership, but messages usually break down at the mid-management or immediate manager level.

Transforming Your Workplace to Drive Employee Engagement

Addressing these challenges will certainly require commitment to a roadmap of workforce transformation. A combination of policy, structural and technology changes will be required to execute a complete workface transformation that improves long-term employee engagement.

As with anything, instituting change can take time but there are some low hanging fruits that can be grabbed quickly. Fortunately technology has matured to the point where there are now proven enterprise platforms and tools available that can help companies accelerate their workforce transformation. These platforms include enterprise Gamification platforms, social engagement platforms and others.

Got Your Game On?

Using Gamification techniques as a method of engaging and motivating employees can be extremely effective if managed correctly. There is a lot of hype and skepticism around the use of these adolescent gaming concepts as a key enabler to drive business productivity. But the concepts are deep rooted not so much in age or demographic, but in human nature and our innate desire for competition, achievement, status, reward, self-expression and altruism.

Key Gamification techniques include earning badges, trophies and achievements for performing certain levels of achievements. This can easily be applied to customer service, support, sales, quality, product development or almost any organizational function. Gamification also promotes status and rewards for desired behaviors such as collaborating as part of a team, communicating through social changes or publishing blogs or other thought leadership pieces.

Companies like Bunchball, Badgeville and Punchtab are a few leaders in providing Gamification platforms to the corporate enterprise. As an example, Bunchball’s applications allow you to seamlessly connect more than 80 enterprise applications, including SAP, Box.net, Yammer, SharePoint and NetSuite. The application allows you to easily capture real-time data about employee activity and from then use that data to track, measure and motivate a broad set of employee behavior.

The bottom line is that proper use of Gamification techniques can help organizations make the workplace more engaging and more productive. If you still don’t buy it, Gartner predicted that by 2015, 40 percent of Global 1000 organizations will use Gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations.

Are You Being Social?

There is no denying that social interactions have transformed the way we communicate with each other and how many companies now transact business with their customers. However, companies are still very slow to adapt these paradigms in their enterprise for managing their workforce, improving worker productivity and accelerating innovation.

Implementing a social collaboration platform to increase collaboration and productivity can be a crucial step in improving employee engagement. Social software vendors such as Jive have consistently reported employee engagement benefits. Some of the benefits reported include:

  • 39% increase in employee connectedness
  • 32% more ideas generated and captured
  • 30% increase in employee satisfaction
  • 27% reduction in email
  • 32% reduction in time to find answers
  • 37% increase in project collaboration and productivity.

Even if a fraction of the above is realizable in your company, then it will be clear that being more social in your enterprise has immense benefits. McKinsey has estimated that by adopting organizational wide social technologies, companies could raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20-25 percent.

Committing to the Employee Engagement Journey

Technology will continue to revolutionize not only how work gets done, but also how people access their work and interact with each other. The new millennial worker will arrive with a new set of expectations of the workplace which will raise the bar even higher as to what true employee engagement means.

It’s clear that “business as usual” for managing employees is no longer an option. While adapting Gamification, social platforms and tools are a necessary start, a commitment to changes in company policies, organizational structures and culture will ultimately be needed to drive lasting employee engagement.

Take these steps now. Your people are worth it.

Image courtesy of mihalec (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Frank, check out Improve Employee Engagement to Maintain Loyal Customers