The latest State of the American Workplace report from Gallup tells us once again that only about 30% of Americans are engaged at work. The number of disengaged workers costs the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion per year.
This engagement crisis is the same story we’ve been hearing for over a decade, yet most organizations still fail in their efforts to increase the commitment of their workers. Why?
Based on my own journey from bad boss to Best Place to Work award winner, and on my reviews of hundreds of case studies, these are the most common reasons executives’ employee engagement efforts fail:
1. They confuse engagement with happy.
Often engagement initiatives crater in the C-suite because senior executives don’t know what employee engagement is. They may confuse it with nice but “soft” efforts to make employees “happy.”
Engagement is the emotional commitment one feels to their organization, and to the organization’s goals. When engaged, employees give discretionary effort—the secret sauce to gains in productivity, sales and ultimately profits.
2. They don’t think engagement can be measured.
Even some notable business gurus were quoted recently as saying, “Don’t try to measure engagement or you’ll kill it.” Or you can’t measure engagement, but you know it when you see it.
To the contrary, HR consultancies from Gallup to Kenexa have found ways to measures proxies of engagement. Measurement is the first step in managing better outcomes.
3. They measure it but don’t share results.
Typically, when an engagement survey is completed, the results are scrutinized by the C-level executives and the HR professionals. Rarely are all the results shared throughout the company. Only when individual managers get their own team scores can transformation occur.
4. All the ideas for improvement come from the top.
Related to No. 3 above, senior execs often work as a council of wise men and women, brainstorming better benefits or new award programs for the whole company. The secret to engagement is that it comes from the relationships front line managers have with their direct reports. Only action planning at the individual team level will generate the ideas that will move the needle.
5. They think it’s about picnics and parties.
Unfortunately, top-down ideas typically include things like summer picnics, dress down Fridays and Employee of the Month awards. The true drivers of engagement are growth, recognition, trust and communication. While people might feel “happier” during the time of a party, only a true change in their daily and weekly work experience will make them feel emotionally connected to their organization.
The employee engagement crisis has gone on long enough. All organizations that strive for excellence should implement an annual measurement survey, share the results down to the front-line managers, and insist on team-level action planning to move the scores in the right direction.