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Employee Engagement: Still a Problem

The concept of Employee Engagement made a big splash when it hit the leadership and management literature over a decade ago. Researchers described three types of workers within the framework of EE: (1) engaged; (2) non-engaged; and (3) disengaged. Engaged employees are passionately connected to their organization’s vision and mission and use ‘discretionary’ time toward their company’s success. Those who are non-engaged just “go through the motions” and disengaged employees are unhappy at work and actively find ways of expressing that attitude.

However, as is often the case, the concept may have become a buzz phrase to many, since employee engagement became the gold standard for measuring levels of motivation among organizational workers. It’s a mistake, though, not to take it seriously. And there is plenty of data to support that assertion.

  1. Gallop polls over that past 12 years indicate that 30% of workers in the U.S. are actively engaged, while approximately 50% are non-engaged and 20% are actively disengaged.

  2. Some good news…. Research in 2013 among employees from 19 countries places the U.S. third in employee engagement, behind India and Switzerland. In 2012, the U.S. ranked fifth in this study.

  3. Studies consistently link company success and customer satisfaction with higher levels of employee engagement.

  4. Companies with high levels of employee engagement have lower turnover, lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and stronger financial results.

  5. These findings cross all types and sizes of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. For example, one study among hospitals found that having engaged employees, particularly those whose work include clinical responsibilities, see patients who receive better care, are healthier, and more likely to recommend their hospital to others.

  6.  Despite these conclusions, a recent survey among HR leaders determined that, while 86% of companies monitor employee engagement, 71% of those companies do it only during exit interviews.

  7. This same study also found that 99% of HR leaders believe employee engagement is “the most critical HR challenge in the next three to five years.”

  8. What to do? Leaders cannot “cause” employees to be more engaged. What leaders can do is create work environments in which that can occur. Studies indicate that in companies where capacity is increased among leaders, through training and development, to create employee engagement-friendly environments actually see those levels increase.

  9. Author Kenneth Thomas believes that the key is to understand the concept of intrinsic motivation. He encourages leaders to create work environments in which employees experience (1) a sense of purpose and meaningfulness; (2) a sense of choice; (3) a sense of competence; and (4) a sense of progress. These intrinsic rewards truly energize and lead to higher levels of engagement.

  10. Employee Engagement is not a buzz phrase. Pay attention to it. Learn about it. Monitor it in your organization. And begin to implement changes that will increase it.

Dr. James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute which began in 2014.



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