Disengaged workers listening to their boss drone on - employee engagement concept
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Employee engagement is riding high. Recent research from Gallup indicates that "disengaged" workers — which Gallup describes as those that have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues — tied its lowest level (13%), consistent with the 2018 findings.

There is more good news too. The percentage of engaged workers — those who are highly involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace — reached 35%, the highest level it has ever reached since Gallup started surveying engagement in 2000. The findings are based on a random sample of 4,700 full- and part-time U.S. employees working for an employer from January to August 2019. The remaining 52% of workers are in the "not engaged" category — those who are psychologically unattached to their work and company and who put time, but not energy or passion, into their work. 

These are not just "good news" figures though. The penny seems to have finally dropped, to the effect that enterprise leaders need to invest in whatever keeps their workers engaged in the digital workplace.

Disengaged Employees

In fact, if employers don't spend every ounce of their energy to keep workers glowing, they will have to face severe repercussions, Michael Tomaszewski, career and workplace expert at Zety.fr, told us. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Disengaged employees that aren't psychologically attached to their work will drag their feet to work and will struggle to perform to the best of their ability. As a result, your organization will suffer from massive productivity losses, which could potentially torpedo your chances of rising above the competition.
  2. Disengaged employees are not loyal to their organizations. That means they are continually in a high-risk zone of quitting. And when they do start to look for greener pastures, the organization will have to start the costly recruitment, hiring and on-boarding process all over again to fill the gap.

"I think it is safe to argue that if a staff member earns $60,000/year, the company is likely to spend $45,000 to replace them," he said.

Related Article: Digital Employee Experience Is Critical to Business Success

Organizational Culture

Matt Reiniger, an associate partner at Fathom, pointed out other studies have shown that more "engaged" employees correlates to higher retention and greater productivity. However, there is a caveat managers need to keep in mind, notably that engagement is just a crude measure of something far more valuable — an authentic and enduring organizational culture.

An activated culture unleashes the human potential not just of employees, but of customers, clients, partners and communities. If an organization centers itself on what is collectively believed to matter most, and what kind of future that makes possible — a future that is worth fighting for — there is no limit to the measures of gain that will result. “Many of the world’s most celebrated companies have figured this out and think of their culture — and the high level of 'employee engagement,'” he said.

Why Engagement Matters

But why does any of this matter? Amie Devero, a coaching and strategy consulting coach who works with the founders and executives in post-revenue startups, said for her clients, there are several reasons this matters so much.

The first thing to remember with these kind of companies is that startups are lean and tend always to have fewer employees than they need. Since employee engagement is a key indicator of whether someone will do whatever it takes to accomplish an outcome — even if it requires extra time, effort or grit — that is very consequential in under-resourced environments. Having engaged employees translates into each team-member providing more than the acceptable level of effort. “Engagement is, in effect, a multiplier of people and their effort. An engaged team of 25 can do the work of 35 less engaged people,” she said.

Another reason ensuring employees are fully engaged matters, she said, is for risk management — both the risk of malfeasance, like industrial espionage, theft, harassment and so forth — but also of employee attrition. The risk of churning employees is a huge concern in startup environments. Highly skilled people with a great deal to offer are in demand. And it matters to business leaders that once they invest the time and resources in onboarding an employee, that employee stays in the organization, contributing the benefits of all they have to offer over the long haul. “Engaged employees stick around. Disengaged employees notice greener grass all over the place and easily jump ship. So, employee retention depends on loyal employees who are engaged and committed to sticking around,” she added.

Employee engagement is good for everyone, including organizations experiencing staggering growth and change, organizations embracing new cultural norms and organizations launching blockbuster products.

For employers, it’s linked to outcomes like innovation, financial performance, growth, knowledge sharing, lower turnover, higher loyalty and even workplace safety. For employees, it’s good for overall job satisfaction, career progression and overall well-being. And customers have a better experience and walk away with more favorable brand impressions when they’re interacting with a person who’s engaged in their work.

“When done right, employee engagement can be a real differentiator," she added.

Related Article: Where Technology Fits in the Employee Experience

Engaging Employees

But what leads an employee to feel engaged? Jacque Patterson, EVP of people and culture at August Jackson, said they define an engaged employee as someone who is:

  • Dedicated to the organization’s purpose.
  • Participating in the culture in a positive way.
  • In the right job for their individual skills and style.

As the workplace has evolved, so has what motivates workers. The influence of extrinsic motivators has fallen away in favor of intrinsic motivators. “More than feeling motivated by compensation and incentives, we know from Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace Report, employees increasingly look to see themselves reflected in their organization’s goals and values. This means that organizations need to do the following.

Define Purpose

Define a clear purpose that underscores for an employee how their work is meaningful and contributes to something bigger than themselves, and you have a much better shot at winning their engagement.

Connect Employees

Connecting employees on an individual and organizational level to purpose and ensuring that people practices are in sync with that shared purpose, creates the conditions for meaningful engagement.

Make It a Core Part of the Culture

Gina London CEO of communications company Language of Leadership argues that employee engagement is not only desirable but essential. The question then, isn't why employee engagement, but how. 

London offers these fundamental recommendations to the engagement mix.

Commit from the top

If the CEO and the Strategic Leadership Teams (SLT) aren't embodying the efforts at engaging, supporting and encouraging your workforce, improvement will be reduced if not impossible.

Introduce two-way communications

Today's employees want to get to know the people behind the companies. Managers cannot simply communicate downward, all levels — including front-line workers — should be able to communicate upward as well. This isn't just cultural, it involves installing and using internal communications tools like Facebook's Workplace platform, which provides for videochats and dashboards that are familiar like Facebook, Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Support ongoing professional development

More than holding a once-a-quarter training day or workshop which ticks an HR box — but doesn't really embed new usable and applicable skills — commit to ongoing support. Salesforce, for example, grants up to $5,000 per year to employees for coaching/classes. This shows real commitment and value of employees. And the No. 1 thing employees want is to feel valued at their workplace.

Promote gratitude

Finally, instilling a dynamic peer-to-peer employee recognition program that promotes gratitude in the workplace is a real opportunity to help build a more engaged culture. Workhuman, headquartered in Boston, for instance, is the fastest growing tech company committed to fostering exactly that.