Since the early 90’s, when we first began to speak in terms of the employee experience as “engagement”, it remains a key focus for most organizations. Even though companies and leaders worldwide recognize the advantages of engaging employees and many have instituted surveys to measure engagement, employee engagement has barely increased, in well over a decade.
Gallop has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S. since 2000, and last year they released a report detailing their findings over a period of 15 years. Although there have been some slight ebbs and flows, less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces during that 15-year time frame. According to Gallup Daily tracking, 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged, meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Expanding the survey further to a global audience, the results are even grimmer, where only 13% of employees working for an organization were found to be engaged.
This then begs the question, with so many organizations focusing on engaging their employees, then why are engagement scores still so low?
There are many different factors which can adversely affect engagement. The primary reason, however, is a failure to understand what engagement really means. Too many companies focus on tracking engagement, rather than creating it. There is generally, an over reliance on technology, with companies confusing an employee survey with engagement. While the intentions may have been well meaning, this approach is never going to yield the desired results. Metrics, after all, don’t drive change or increase employee performance, leaders do.
Since leaders set the tone and direction of a company, they control how engagement is regarded in the workplace. If building a better team is the goal, then the first step is to ensure that engagement is incorporated into the company culture. In high growth companies, engagement is not treated as “something else” a manager or leader has to do, but rather the way things get done. It is top of mind all the time, not something which is reviewed in a survey once a year.
In order for engagement to improve, leaders need to understand that employees want to feel they are contributing to the growth of the organization, while at the same time using their skills, knowledge and talents to achieve personal fulfillment. Employee engagement is based upon trust, integrity, two-way commitment and communication between the organization and its workforce. It is an approach, rather than a process, that increases the chances of business success, contributing to both organizational and individual performance, productivity and well-being.
Creating a highly engaged workforce, therefore, requires leadership to change the way they approach engagement, moving away from a data driven process, towards a culture of involvement, validation and development. It requires an organization to step back and take a critical look at how the key engagement elements are aligned with the organization’s values and operating strategy. Bottom line – how leaders interact with employees directly impacts upon engagement, so if engagement is truly important to your organization, start by looking inwards first; what you do and how you do it can change everything!