This blog was first published in the Huffington Post on the 3rd of October 2014.
How bad must it have been?
Tom drove to work. He walked into the office, left the keys to the van on the desk and told the depot manager in no uncertain terms that he was resigning. He’d had enough. He could no longer take the pressure ‘management’ were putting him under to do more and more deliveries per day. Their expectations were totally unrealistic. It’s not that Tom had any other job to go to. He also had a family to look after – but he’d reached breaking point. Enough was enough. Tom was so disengaged with his job – he quit.
So what about you?
Take a look around your workplace, observe the employees and estimate the percentage of them actively engaged in their work. What figure do you calculate – 70%, 80%, 90%? If your guesstimate is around these ballpark figures then your organisation is doing remarkably well, or you may be sadly misinformed.
The harsh reality is substantially lower. Gallup conducted a study of employee engagement across 142 countries in 2012 and discovered that only 13% were actively engaged. The State of the Global Workplace report also revealed that 63% were not engaged and a further 24% were actively disengaged.
These figures are dispiriting but there were a few positive trends. Firstly, the figures from an earlier report for 2009-10 showed that only 11% were engaged, so there was a 2% increase for 2012; and the actively disengaged measured 27%, meaning a decline of 3 percentage points. What is also promising is that these desperately low engagement levels provide great upside potential for managers who genuinely wish to raise productivity and profits.
Research by Kenexa identified that the top 25% of organisations in terms of employee engagement produced twice the annual net income or profit to shareholders compared to those in the bottom quartile. Over five years, the profit between the two groups reached a remarkable seven times differential.
At a national level there is massive scope for governments, agencies and organisations to improve their performance through enhanced engagement. Gallup estimated that active disengagement in the USA cost the country $450-550billion; in Germany €112-138billion, and the UK £52-70billion. It is unsurprising, therefore, that governments are now focussing their attention on strategies to improve engagement in their populations.
The 13% average engagement figure also disguises significant national differences. East Asia, at 6%, possesses the lowest proportion of engaged employees and this is mainly driven by low scores from Chinese workers. Conversely, Australia and New Zealand scored 24% on active engagement. It would appear that some places are closer to getting things right than others.
What is engagement?
So what is engagement? The most commonly used description was produced by Utrecht University which identified three areas: vigour – effort, energy and resilience; dedication – enthusiasm, inspiration and pride; and, absorption – concentration and being deeply engrossed in work.
What can be done about it?
The next question is how can engagement levels be lifted and enabled? The first thing to recognise is that there is no single silver bullet and employee engagement requires a combination of strategies, values and culture.
Firstly, leadership needs to provide a strong narrative or story about the organisation’s history and its future direction of travel. Without a clear description of where it is going employees will have limited focus and motivation.
Secondly, managers must motivate and empower the workforce. Managers should also be held accountable for the levels of engagement in their workers; this will drive them to create the conditions and atmosphere which support engagement.
Thirdly, engagement needs to be clearly expressed in everyday language which people understand and can respond to. Leaders set the tone and this should permeate throughout the organisation.
Fourthly, ensure that work is meaningful. Even in the most boring of work environments tasks can be enlivened and strategies for job enrichment, enlargement and rotation can have beneficial effects.
Fifthly, ensure that there is a work – life balance. The stresses and strains of many workplaces suppress or even destroy the inherent potential for job satisfaction. These days too many managers are incrementalists, that is, they look at shaving a cost here, squeezing a little bit more out of workers there. In itself, these continuous improvements or kaizen as the Japanese call them, are not such negative things; the problem arises when this continuous squeezing results in a disproportionate increase in pressure and stress on employees to reach sometimes unattainable targets. The consequence of continuously ratcheting up the targets may be to demotivate and disengage the workforce – as was the case with Tom.
Lastly, ask staff what they think would enhance workplace motivation and job satisfaction. Much of this is not rocket science and drawing them into the conversation shows that you care about their wellbeing and career development.
There is increasingly strong evidence that employee engagement provides higher innovation, increased customer satisfaction, reduced absenteeism, higher retention, lower health and safety issues, higher performance and higher income growth. What we need now are thoroughly engaged leaders and managers to influence the whole workforce.
There is no place for macho ‘I don’t give a damn what they think just tell them to do it’ attitudes anymore. To drive someone like Tom to quit is the clearest sign that the business is doomed. Focusing on engagement is not just a nice thing to do, it’s commercially a no-brainer.
Dr John Wilson & Dominic Irvine © 2014 All rights asserted
Read of our experience in Engaging Leadership with one of our clients here.
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