- Employee engagement levels have remained stagnant over the years.
- Measuring engagement alone is not enough to drive improvement.
- Five proven strategies can help enhance employee engagement.
The world is facing a critical employee engagement crisis, posing serious and potentially long-lasting consequences for the global economy. Despite widespread recognition among companies and leaders about the benefits of engaging employees, there has been minimal progress in improving employee engagement for well over a decade.
Gallup, which has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S. since 2000, reveals that less than one-third of U.S. employees have been actively engaged in their jobs and workplaces during this 15-year period. According to Gallup's daily tracking data, only 32% of employees in the U.S. exhibit engagement, demonstrating their involvement, enthusiasm, and commitment to their work and the organization. On a global scale, a mere 13% of employees working for organizations are engaged.
Measuring engagement through surveys is an essential step, but it is insufficient to drive significant improvement. To combat this crisis, organizations need to implement proven strategies that have shown success in enhancing employee engagement. By adopting these strategies, companies can create a more engaged workforce, leading to improved productivity, employee satisfaction, and overall organizational success.
Unlocking Sustainable Employee Engagement: Moving Beyond Metrics
Despite the widespread attention given to employee engagement, global levels have remained stagnant. Organizations must address the key question: "Why aren't engagement levels increasing?"
Various factors contribute to this challenge, and organizations can find insights within their own employee engagement data. A divide is emerging in the engagement industry, with validated approaches on one end and invalidated, unfocused surveys on the other.
Validated approaches focus on individual and business performance, utilizing strategic development solutions to transform organizational cultures. Although these approaches require intentionality and investment, they yield higher employee engagement.
On the contrary, invalidated approaches rely solely on annual surveys that lack alignment with business objectives and often fail to drive meaningful action. Simply measuring engagement without actively improving it leads to missed opportunities.
Viewing engagement as a program rather than an ongoing, disciplined method and prioritizing surveys over manager and employee development hinder progress. Additionally, defining engagement as mere satisfaction or contentment neglects the importance of involvement, commitment, and enthusiasm.
Focusing on pleasing employees rather than empowering them as stakeholders inhibits true engagement. Making decisions based on cost and deliverables rather than evaluating long-term workplace improvement further hinders progress.
These flawed approaches trap organizations in a cycle of periodic engagement efforts, resulting in false promises and little follow-through. To foster sustainable engagement, organizations must shift from metrics-only solutions to comprehensive strategies that drive lasting change and prioritize employee empowerment.
Strategies for Building High Engagement
Drawing from extensive research and collaboration with top-performing organizations, Gallup has identified five key strategies to enhance engagement and drive performance:
- Integrate engagement into the company's human capital strategy: Successful companies prioritize engagement by involving leaders, implementing effective communication strategies, establishing accountability systems, and aligning learning and development initiatives with engagement goals. Rather than a sporadic effort, engagement becomes an ongoing process integrated into everyday business operations.
- Utilize scientifically validated measurement tools: Many employee surveys are labeled as "engagement" surveys, but few have undergone rigorous validation or peer review. To truly improve engagement, organizations need reliable instruments that accurately measure the factors impacting engagement, enabling focused action on the right areas.
- Understand the starting point and set realistic goals: Each organization is unique, with different capabilities and readiness for change. It's crucial to assess the current state of engagement and define a realistic roadmap based on the specific needs of the organization. This approach establishes achievable milestones and guides actions that align with the desired future state.
- Emphasize tactical elements that drive performance: Engagement is not a standalone concept but the outcome of concrete performance management activities. Focusing on clarifying work expectations, providing necessary resources, fostering positive relationships, and leveraging individual strengths yields tangible improvements in engagement and overall performance.
- Align engagement with other organizational priorities: Engagement should be seamlessly integrated into daily work processes rather than seen as an additional task. Investing in engagement means incorporating its principles into everyday workflows, adapting to new initiatives, and ensuring employees have the necessary support and opportunities to excel. Leaders play a vital role in resetting expectations, providing resources, and creating a culture where engagement thrives.
Building a culture of engagement goes beyond conducting annual surveys. It requires a comprehensive examination of the critical elements that drive engagement aligned with performance and the organization's human capital strategy. By prioritizing engagement and recognizing its impact on both employees and organizational outcomes, leaders and managers can create a thriving work environment that propels success.
Meeting Employee Expectations: The Role of Managers
- Managers influence up to 70% of employee engagement levels
- Effective communication is linked to higher engagement
- Managers play a crucial role in developing employees based on their strengths
Despite ongoing efforts to improve workplace engagement, less than one-third of Americans feel engaged in their jobs. Gallup's research since 2000 consistently shows this disengagement trend, posing significant risks to economic growth and innovation.
Gallup's comprehensive report, "State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders," delves into the characteristics of great managers and explores the critical connections between talent, engagement, and key business outcomes such as productivity and profitability. Astonishingly, managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. This indicates that most managers fail to create environments that motivate and inspire employees. In fact, a Gallup study revealed that half of U.S. adults have left their job to escape their manager's negative influence at some point in their careers.
Having a bad manager not only affects employees during working hours but also extends into their personal lives, intensifying stress and overall well-being. However, simply labeling managers as "good" or "bad" is insufficient. Organizations must understand the specific behaviors managers exhibit that either foster or hinder engagement. Gallup's study of 7,712 U.S. adults highlighted the critical impact of communication, performance management, and strengths-based development on employee engagement. By focusing on these areas, organizations can gain valuable insights to develop their managers and elevate overall business performance.
Building Strong Relationships: The Power of Communication
- Consistent communication is linked to higher employee engagement
- Regular meetings and daily communication positively impact engagement
- Managers who demonstrate genuine care and invest in their employees foster higher engagement levels
Communication serves as the foundation for any healthy relationship, and the employee-manager dynamic is no exception. Gallup's research reveals that consistent and reliable communication, whether in person, over the phone, or through electronic channels, is strongly connected to higher levels of engagement. For instance, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are nearly three times more likely to be engaged compared to those who lack regular communication with their managers.
Engagement reaches its peak when employees have some form of daily communication, regardless of whether it's face-to-face, over the phone, or digital, with their managers. Managers who employ a balanced mix of communication methods are most successful in engaging their employees. Engaged employees also report that their manager promptly responds to their calls or messages within 24 hours. These ongoing interactions explain why engaged employees feel that their manager is aware of their current projects and tasks.
However, mere transactional communication between managers and employees is not enough to maximize engagement. Employees value communication from their managers not only regarding their roles and responsibilities but also about their personal lives outside of work. Gallup's study highlights that employees who perceive their manager as invested in their well-being are more likely to be engaged.
Exceptional managers actively make an effort to understand their employees and create an environment where open communication is encouraged. They prioritize building genuine relationships, ensuring employees feel comfortable discussing a wide range of topics, whether work-related or personal. A productive workplace fosters a sense of safety, enabling team members to take risks, challenge ideas, share information, and support one another. In such an environment, employees are willing to give their manager and the organization the benefit of the doubt. However, none of this is possible without employees feeling genuinely cared for.
Great managers possess the skill to motivate employees and establish authentic connections with them. They recognize and embrace the uniqueness of each individual they manage, acknowledging their distinct triumphs and challenges both inside and outside of work. By prioritizing their employees' well-being and fostering a supportive environment, these managers successfully drive high performance and engagement.
Empowering Performance: Redefining Performance Management
- Performance management often leaves employees feeling uncertain and disconnected
- When done effectively, performance management drives productivity and engagement
- Clarity of expectations and ongoing conversations are key to successful performance management
Traditional performance management often leaves employees frustrated, as they struggle to comprehend their goals and the expectations placed upon them. Many employees feel disconnected from the bigger picture and find annual reviews and developmental conversations forced and superficial. It becomes challenging for them to envision long-term goals when they lack clarity about their daily tasks.
However, when performance management is executed well, it can transform employees into productive, innovative, and valuable contributors. Gallup's research reveals that employees whose managers excel at performance management activities are more engaged compared to those whose managers struggle with these responsibilities.
Within Gallup's Q12 research, the importance of clarity of expectations becomes evident as one of the fundamental needs of employees. Helping employees understand their roles goes beyond simply providing a written job description. Exceptional managers engage in ongoing conversations with employees about their responsibilities and progress, rather than saving these critical discussions for once-a-year performance reviews.
Engaged employees frequently express that their managers assist them in setting work priorities and performance goals. These employees also appreciate being held accountable for their performance. In the eyes of engaged employees, accountability means that their manager treats all employees fairly and upholds consistent standards, allowing high performers to shine.
Effective performance management goes beyond infrequent evaluations; it requires ongoing dialogue and support. By fostering a culture of continuous feedback and open communication, managers can empower their employees to achieve their fullest potential, fostering productivity, engagement, and growth.
Leveraging Strengths: Building a Culture of Success
- Focusing on employees' strengths yields better results than fixating on weaknesses
- A strengths-based culture leads to increased productivity, engagement, and retention
- Managers who develop employees' strengths effectively drive team engagement
After decades of studying human behavior and strengths, Gallup researchers have concluded that emphasizing and developing employees' strengths is a more effective approach than obsessing over weaknesses. In a strengths-based culture, employees experience accelerated learning, produce higher-quality work, exhibit greater longevity with their company, and display higher levels of engagement. Notably, in the current study, a significant majority (67%) of employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive attributes are engaged, in contrast to only 31% of employees who strongly agree that their manager emphasizes their weaknesses.
When managers prioritize the growth and development of employees' strengths, they significantly enhance their ability to engage team members. The most impactful contribution a manager can make is placing employees in roles that leverage their natural talents, allowing them to apply and enhance their strengths through skills and knowledge development.
By adopting a strengths-based approach, organizations foster an environment where employees thrive, unlocking their full potential and driving success. Managers who understand and cultivate their employees' strengths cultivate engaged teams that drive productivity, collaboration, and innovation.