The Global Employee Engagement Crisis
Posted by Elena del Valle on April 15, 2019
By Javier O. Delgado
Chief executive officer of PeopleToo LLC
Javier O. Delgado, CEO, PeopleToo LLC
Photo: Javier O. Delgado
- Employee engagement has barely budged in years
- Measuring engagement isn’t sufficient to improve it
- Five proven strategies can improve employee engagement
The world has an employee engagement crisis, with serious and potentially lasting repercussions for the global economy.
Though companies and leaders worldwide recognize the advantages of engagement, and many have instituted surveys to measure engagement — employee engagement has barely budged in 18 years.
Many surveys have been done studying and tracking of workplaces since 2000. Though there have been some slight ebbs and flows, less than one-third of United States employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces during these 18 years. According to Gallup Daily tracking, under 30 percent in the United States are engaged, meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Worldwide, only 12 percent of people working for an organization are engaged.
Why Aren’t the Numbers Moving?
With so many organizations focusing on engaging their employees, the question is: Why aren’t engagement levels across the world increasing?
On one end of the spectrum are scientifically and experientially validated approaches that lead to changes in individual and business performance, supported by strategies and tactical initiatives.
At the other end of the spectrum are invalidated, unfocused annual surveys. Much like a traditional employee satisfaction survey, this type of survey usually measures a multitude of workplace dimensions that often have limited alignment with other business objectives and can be difficult to take action upon after receiving results.
Technology also makes it easy to create an “employee survey” and call it an engagement program, which allows a company to fulfill an apparent organizational need and check a box. But metrics on their own don’t drive change or increase performance.
In reality, when companies focus exclusively on measuring engagement rather than on improving engagement, they often fail to make necessary changes that will engage employees or meet employees’ workplace needs. These shortcomings include:
Viewing engagement as a survey or program instead of as an ongoing, disciplined method to achieve higher performance
Focusing more heavily on survey data or reports than on developing managers and employees
Defining engagement as a percentage of employees who are not dissatisfied or are merely content with their employer instead of a state of strong employee involvement, commitment and enthusiasm
Relying on measures that tell leaders and managers what they want to hear “We’re doing great!” rather than research-based metrics that set a high bar and uncover organizational or management problems that are hindering engagement and performance.
These flawed approaches pose significant barriers to improving engagement, increasing performance, promoting manager development and achieving lasting change.
Ways to Improve Engagement
Integrate engagement into the company’s human capital strategy. Organizations must have a clear purpose behind their strategy for engaging employees; leadership involvement and commitment must be present.
Use a scientifically validated instrument to measure engagement. Since the engagement industry began in the late 1990s, it has taken on a life of its own. Almost every employee survey, regardless of its purpose, is referred to as an “engagement” survey. But few instruments have been proven or validated. As a result, many companies are attempting to increase engagement by focusing on problems that may not affect engagement or by tackling problems in the wrong order.
Understand where the company is today, and where it wants to be in the future. Many businesses seek to chart the same one-, two- or three-year journey to improved engagement. But every company’s starting point is different, as is its internal capabilities and how fast it can change. After a company takes a baseline measurement, a three-year road map is a recommended strategy; however, it should be based on the company’s needs for improving engagement.
Look beyond engagement as a single construct. Some companies focus on moving the overall engagement number while overlooking the tactical elements that drive improved performance. Engagement isn’t determined by an abstract feeling; it’s the result of concrete performance management activities, such as clarifying work results getting people resources to do their work, providing growth opportunities or promoting participation in projects.
Align engagement with other workplace priorities. Engagement shouldn’t be “something else” an employee, manager or leader has to do, instead, it should be how work gets done. Engagement is about investing in everyday working moments and incorporating engagement concepts into the workflow, even as businesses change and adopt new initiatives. Creating a culture of engagement requires more than completing an annual employee survey and then leaving managers on their own, hoping they will learn something from the survey results that will change their daily behavior.
Javier O. Delgado is the founder and chief executive officer of PeopleToo LLC, a global human resources and management consulting firm. He is a certified business and executive coach, trainer and speaker, who is considered one of the top 100 Coaches Worldwide per Glocoach.com in Shanghai, China. He has over 35 years in senior human resources management positions in the Fortune 500.