Employee Engagement has now moved beyond the buzz into the Executive Suite. Employee Engagement is an employee’s psychological and emotional connection with their job, which influences both their loyalty and performance. The definition seems logical enough. So how hard can it be to foster an environment where employees want “to stay; say positive things; and use their discretionary effort to benefit a company”?
It appears to be much harder than any of us thought. Did you know that companies haven’t been able to radically move the needle on engagement since it came into vogue in the late 1990s? Depending on the source, nearly 40% to 70% of employees continue to be classified as neutral, middle-of-the-road or agnostic. What makes these numbers especially discouraging is that over the past decade companies have been trying to foster the employee experience through a variety of methods, including empowerment, teamwork, recognition programs, people development, performance management and new leadership styles.
So after all of the efforts associated with improving the employee experience and fostering engagement, why are we reporting levels of engagement that are well below expectations? Why after so much effort and attention are 19% of employees still actively disengaged?
It was this reality that caused me to question the effectiveness of engagement efforts. Maybe the focus on engaging the entire employee population, with generic programs, isn’t the way to approach the engagement issue. Maybe this traditional, “scatter gun” approach to engagement is the reason why companies haven’t achieved their desired results.
I believe that this traditional approach on solving for the “whole” has caused companies to brush over those that have the greatest impact on engagement: themselves – in other words, senior leaders and managers. After all, it’s the leader who has to drive engagement, the leader who has to understand how to engage his/her staff, and the leader who has to show progress and motivate change. It’s the engagement of these leaders and managers that companies rely on to move the needle. Yet, according to Development Dimensions International, only 25% of senior leaders and 17% of frontline leaders are highly engaged.
No wonder companies are having a difficult time making progress.
To reap the full benefits of engagement, companies must first engage those that lead the effort. The old adage holds true: “one bad apple can ruin the bunch.” If you have one leader who is actively disengaged, then this leader (according to Gallup) is three times more likely to have disengaged employees working for them. So if this traditional approach of creating company-wide engagement initiatives isn’t delivering the expected results, what should a company do differently?
Here are some tips to help you move the engagement needle:
As you continue down the path towards a workforce of highly engaged employees, remember that the traditional approach to engagement hasn’t reaped the expected or desired rewards. At this time, it might be appropriate to follow the sage advice of Warren Buffet: “As a group, lemmings have a rotten image, but no individual lemming has ever received bad press.”
Judy McLeish is the Founder and President of McDaniel Partners, a consulting services company focused on helping clients build unique customer experiences through fostering employee engagement. For more information, go to www.mcdanielpartners.com or read her blog, “The Employee Factor,” at www.employeefactor.com.