Why We Aren’t Solving the Employee Engagement Crisis.
One sunny day in the middle of this July, the polling giant Gallup quietly announced that it will no longer routinely measure employee engagement on a daily basis.
My shout of approval was totally lost in the clamor of concern.
Don’t worry if this is a figure you are hung up on receiving. Gallup will still do their yearly report, which for many years now has consistently shown that only one-third of United States employees are engaged in their work and workplace.
Canada and the rest of the world tumble in around the same numbers to give the issue a global perspective.
And just to clarify: An engaged employee is one who is active in their workplace, happy and energized. They love what they do and are passionate about it. In other words, the engaged employee is the goal for all of us to be and to have.
The not engaged employee on the other hand is psychologically not attached to the work they are doing. They lack energy and passion. We know them, we hear them complaining at every bar and kitchen party in the land, and we see them when we are trying to get service from them.
There is one other category: that is the “actively disengaged employee.” They are the most unhappy of all, who actually have moved to the category of being resentful to the point that they could be undermining the company they take a paycheque from.
So why was I happy when Gallup disengaged itself a bit from measuring this number?
I have three reasons why I think we have been over-emphasizing the importance of this number:
- There is a general feeling that disengaged workers aren’t doing the job; there is no concrete proof that they are not working hard and doing what has to be done each day, whether they like their work or not. Shocking, but true.
- There is a general feeling that a workplace can totally change an employee’s attitude. Only the employee can change his or her attitude. And many things, especially home life, love life, health, and financial comfort, all play a tremendous part in determining our attitude. You could hug your employee six days a day, give them unexpected and delightful bonuses five times a day, and tell they how much they are appreciated four times a day, but you can’t fix their attitude if their spouse was just diagnosed with terminal cancer or ran off with their best friend. Sobering reality, but true.
- Most importantly, making the results of the survey public has prompted a lot of uncaring managers to overload their human resources departments by barking commands of “fix it” without making any commitment whatsoever on their own parts to change the workplace culture and be respectful of the employees. Harsh, but also true.
So should we really care about the issue of the disengaged worker?
Of course we should.
Every person who walks this planet should be enabled to find work that meets their skills and passions and every person who finds such work should do it with caring and creativity. That is a remedy for a perfect world in many ways, and our productivity, innovation and impact would be tremendously bolstered by such circumstances.
How do we reach that nirvana?
In my opinion, we need to stop focusing so intently on the measurement of the issue and instead find ways to promote a paradigm shift in the way we work.
That can only come if we find better ways to manage people.
(I believe that we can and we will, and that the millennial generation will be the group that helps us accomplish this, by the way.)
When the surveys about employee engagement first started appearing, they were a good thing in the sense that they opened up a discussion and awareness on the issue.
My contention is that we were too narrow in our discussions. We looked at the issue solely from how this disengagement impacted our businesses.
But this is a personal issue, so from the beginning, I felt the focus had to shift from what this disengagement is doing to people, to our culture, and then to our business.
How unhappy are we as a nation that two thirds of people get up on Monday mornings and trudge into a workplace that they hate? Think about it. How did we get to this point in our culture?
How is this impacting our entire world, not just our business? And can business alone fix this divorce between having people doing what they want to do and what they have to do?
We cannot expect the HR departments of the nation to solve this broader question. We need to start looking into ourselves and the people with whom we work and how we live if we are to really have impact on these numbers.
We also need to pay attention to the reasons given for the figures. For example, these trends emerge:
- Workers don’t like it when they are kept out of the loop, when they don’t know what the end game is. They feel more engaged if they understand what the company is trying to accomplish. Why don’t more managers include bigger picture thinking in the information they share with their employees? There can be a need for secrecy in certain negotiations, but in most cases, it is simply a management style that keeps information secret to only a select few.
- Workers don’t like it when you cancel their holidays, change their shifts suddenly, and cancel their bonuses. If you do all of those things and then try to make it up with one engagement exercise like a group barbecue, your employees will see right through your feeble efforts.
To my mind, the whole issue of employee engagement needs to be looked at differently and from a much broader cultural perspective.
I don’t have a quick answer, but if I had to start somewhere, I’d start with promoting “respect” as a primary value in the workplace culture.
Paula Morand, CSP is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold expert brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and bold impact. 24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.
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