Employee engagement is the life-blood of any thriving organization.
According to a recent Gallup poll, only 36% of employees are engaged at work. And that number is near the all-time high. Even scarier is the fact that 15% of employees are actively disengaged in their work. reporting miserable experiences and poor management, among other issues.
So how can you become the exception to the rule? How do you earn dedication, engagement, and investment from your employees?
The first step is to understand the scope of the problem.
What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is the measure of dedication, enthusiasm, and loyalty an employee has for their job. Engaged employees are passionate and hungry for success. They feel a sense of autonomy and control over their job and never question the value of their work. Engaged employees feel seen, heard, valued, and challenged. They know their work matters.
An engaged employee also feels personally invested in their company, and they consider its successes and failures as their own.
An engaged employee is also extremely hard to come by.
On the other hand, employee disengagement happens when a person doesn’t love their job. As a result, they do the bare minimum.
These employees don’t feel incentivized to put in extra effort.
They are very unlikely to become advocates for your company.
In extreme cases, they may even work against the company and seek failure instead of success.
Top 6 Causes of Employee Disengagement
Every business wants employees who are in it for more than just a paycheck. But if you’re not paying a living wage, that’s never going to happen.
The harsh reality is that your employees are going to play the same game you play. If you treat your employees like a resource you can exploit, they’ll treat you the same way. They’re not going to invest more time or care about your company. Their goal will be to get the biggest paycheck possible in exchange for the least amount of effort.
And can you blame them?
That’s what happens when your company culture values profit over people. The irony that many leaders fail to recognize is that they’re actually losing money. A 2017 study found that employee disengagement costs businesses over $550B every year. And – you guessed it – unsatisfactory pay is one of the leading causes of employee disengagement.
No Advancement Opportunities
Most people crave growth. The idea that people don’t want to work is a complete myth. Generally speaking, individuals are driven by the opportunity to learn new skills and advance their careers. So it should be no surprise that when employees see a dead end, they languish.
Workers now more than ever want a clear, achievable career path before considering a job. A huge chunk of the workforce was displaced In the wake of the COVID pandemic – and many workers are refusing to look back. According to a survey conducted by joblist.com, over 50% of former hospitality workers say that no amount of money could convince them to return to their old jobs. They want something else. Something more.
If you want long-term employees, you need to give them a future. Otherwise, you risk a team full of employees who will clock in just to dream about being somewhere else. Somewhere that will challenge them and help them grow.
This can be true – sometimes even more true – if the compensation is extremely competitive. Well compensated Employees with jobs that aren’t inspiring or lack opportunity will often feel stuck or trapped. Even though they’d much rather move on and do something else, they wouldn’t consider it because the pay is too good. They’re trapped there, and you’re trapped with a disengaged employee.
Is your organization structured for success?
And if it is, did you find the right people to manage your teams and departments?
Think twice before you answer. Poor management is a surefire way to lose employee engagement. It could be that you didn’t structure your organization efficiently. You might hav incompetent or neglectful managers. It might even happen because your roles are ill-defined, leading to high stress and low productivity.
Employees who report disengagement due to poor management all say the same thing. They describe feeling like their voice isn’t heard. The procedures and protocols are inefficient or don’t make sense. Many feel as though they’re working significantly harder than their managers – with little to no reward.
There are many different flavors of bad leadership, but some are worse than others. Research has found that “absentee leaders” have an even worse impact on employee engagement than abusive leaders. A team with an absentee leader will never generate at the level of one with a present and mindful leader. The result will always be high levels of stress and low staff morale.
A recipe for active disengagement.
No Sense of “Why”
When employees don’t have a strong sense of why they are doing what they are doing, they lose their focus and drive to do it.
Simon Sinek says it beautifully in his legendary Ted Talk: “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.”
In his presentation, Simon is talking about marketing to customers. But the same concept applies just as well to employees.
If you want your employees to “buy-in” to your success, they need to understand your Why. They need to understand why your company does what it does and why you need them in the first place. Disengagement stems from a lack of purpose. When employees can’t see that the impact of their contributions, they stop contributing.
If their efforts go unrecognized and managers ignore their ideas, why would they stay engaged?
Those employees will wonder, “What’s the point? Why am I here?”
In some cases you might get lucky and have an employee who will push through because they believe deeply in the company mission, but don’t count on it. Take the time to make sure everyone understands why they’re a necessary part of your team.
Misalignment with the Mission
The “why” of your company will never inspire your employees if they don’t agree with it in the first place. Whether an employee is aligned with your company’s mission or not should be determined before they’re ever hired in the first place. In fact, it should be screened before they even sit down to interview.
Hiring an employee whose values don’t align with your company should be considered a huge misfire. Company values and mission statements don’t change over time. Neither do personal values and beliefs.
This means that having a misaligned employee, unlike the other factors above, is not something that happens over time. It’s not something you can correct without moving mountains.
It is imperative that your hiring process is thorough enough to find the right people. Find employees who don’t just understand your company’s mission. Find the ones that believe in it just as much as you.
A Lack Of Concern For The Safety & Well-Being Of Employees
Showing little concern for the safety of your employees is a recipe for disaster. Literally. Putting your employees at risk will likely result in something much worse than disengagement. After the recent tragedies in the midwest, employee safety is going to be a hot topic for the foreseeable future. This is a very good thing.
Risking the safety of your employees is unethical and unacceptable. If you do engage in this careless form of management, prepare for the (extremely justified) backlash. No company should need the threat of intense and public scrutiny and lawsuits to remind them that their employees are people.
As a general rule of thumb, never ask employees to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself. Assuming, of course, you have the proper training and safety equipment. It is also important to address and reconcile any safety concerns your staff might have.
According to Careerbuilder.com, over 60% of employees are overworked and burnt out. Even worse, 31% of employees describe their stress level as “extremely high.” Extreme stress will undermine the health of your employees and your companies.
This one isn’t rocket science. Nobody does their best when they’re feeling burnt out. That’s why it’s called “burnout” and not “hyperdrive.” Worker productivity has climbed steadily over the past several decades. People are working longer hours and getting more done than ever before.
And yet, in 2018, American workers left a record-breaking 768 million days of vacation time unused. This is the direct result of a culture that stigmatizes rest and relaxation. But the end result is employees who feel overwhelmed and under-appreciated. Employees who have one foot out the door, ready to jump ship as soon as something else comes along.
Need proof? Look no further than The Great Resignation of 2020.
How To Measure Employee Engagement
Measure your KPIs and OKRs
KPIs and OKRs exist for a reason. (And if you haven’t defined yours yet, what are you waiting for?) While this shouldn’t be the primary way you measure employee engagement, it can be a great place to start. Are there any key performance indicators that are not being met? If so, take a look at those areas first, and find out why.
Engaged employees are significantly more likely to meet goals and objectives. If your team isn’t doing so, that’s a pretty big red flag.
Identify The Issues That Are Most Important To Your Staff
Here’s a radical idea for discovering how to make your employees happy: Ask them!
Create a survey so employees can tell you what matters most to them. Ask your employees to score their thoughts on the following topics:
- Confidence in Leadership
- Advancement Opportunities
- Job Security
- Compensation and Benefits
- Acknowledgement & Recognition
- Company Ethics
Different employees are going to value these things in different ways. But each one will directly impact engagement.
Ask your employees how much they personally care about the values listed above. Then ask them how well the company meets their expectations. Their responses will tell you to what extent your employees feel valued, recognized, and challenged.
Get ready to set your ego aside when you look at the results. If you think your company is scoring an A+ in ethics, but your employees disagree, find out why. This is your chance to bridge any gaps in your organization. But refusing to listen at this stage will torpedo any and all progress.
Check in Regularly
Don’t think surveying your employees is a ‘one-and-done’ situation. Employee engagement can ebb and flow over time, and you must check in regularly.
Does engagement increase or decrease during a busy season? Is satisfaction with compensation and benefits trending slightly downwards? Don’t take your hand off the pulse the moment you get a good sense of what’s happening in your company. Now is your chance to preemptively stop issues before they become catastrophic.
Your insights will help inform decisions and strategies that will benefit your company and your employees.
Employee Engagement Matters
Employee engagement is a key factor in the longterm success of your company. Ignoring red flags and neglecting to dig into the real cause of disengagement is a waste of time and a poor way to manage your company. Remember that everyone you hire is a person with their own goals, ambitions, values, and desires. The extra effort it takes to treat them as people above all else will pay off every single time.