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Employee Engagement - Today and Looking Forward

By Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective
Posted April 24, 2015

Image of push pin marking opportunityGallup began tracking "employee engagement" in 2000. In 2014 engagement was at the highest level since 2000.

Don't get excited. Less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014, up from 29.6% in 2013.

Improvement, yes. However, that reality should function more as a 'wake-up' call to business leaders than anything to celebrate.

Worse, in addition to the 51% who were "not engaged", 17.5% were "actively disengaged: in 2014.

While there are certainly organizations that have consistently demonstrated high employee engagement throughout that timeframe, the reality is – today they are the exception, not the norm.

How did we get here?
Employee engagement had been growing since 2000 until the Great Recession that began in 2008. While there are numerous reports that indicate the recession was over several years ago, public perception, and that of many business leaders has run counter to those statistics. Business leaders have grown gun-shy of making substantial investments given the numerous and interconnected nature of the challenges they face. Today's business environment is more volatile than ever, with global economic and political forces especially unstable. To say that organizations across many industries are operating in very dynamic conditions would be an understatement. The sheer number and complexity of issues and the speed of change has and is putting tremendous pressure on business leaders.

Somehow in the midst of new business realities, many leaders lost sight of taking care of what they often SAY is their most valuable asset – their employees. The cost of failing to consistently reinforce to employees their value to the company will be substantial. Moving forward considerably more will be required than simply increasing emphasis on "employee engagement" as in years past. While many leaders downplayed the impact of employees on the business, the workforce became more diverse and now typically place even greater emphasis on their role within the organization.

The world is a very different place. Organizations' workforces exemplify extreme change, diversity and considerably different expectations at the same time they demonstrate how critical they are to achieving sustainable business growth and profitability.

Employees were called upon to make sacrifices when business was really tough – and they did so. Productivity increases were commonplace. But when industries and organizations within began to experience increased revenues and profitability, although many greatly rewarded senior leadership, the typical employee gained nothing. Those who went 'above and beyond' to help were not recognized for doing so, and have yet to return to wage levels that, when inflation is taken into account, are even on a par with mid-2000s levels.

Additionally, because jobs were scarce across numerous industries, employees stayed where they were. Their 'presence' at work, however, often did not equate to actively engaged and highly productive employees. As statistics show, more than two-thirds of a typical workforce has been relatively unproductive – if not downright destructive.

What now?
First, it is critical to understand the specific situation you face. While there are many broad trends and statistics, each workforce is different. As well, each business has different opportunities and faces different challenges. It's time to gear up for some serious learning.

Second, asking the tough questions, listening to learn, and acting on what you learn will all be required. Prepare to step out of your comfort zone.

Third, it's often beneficial to look backward to see how various changes impacted the organization. Given the pace of change in recent years, understanding the varied elements that led to today's status will provide good guidance. With this knowledge, envisioning and creating the desired future will be easier to achieve.

Consider several types of workforce knowledge you need as a base to get started:

  • History – tenure, level and types of experience, departments/divisions/geographic exposure, areas of expertise, performance, progression (or lack of), compensation (wages, healthcare benefits, vacation, other), turnover levels (today and how they have changed over time), prior employee engagement/satisfaction information, etc.
  • Diversity – Generations, age, gender, race/ethnicity, life stage, education, skill sets, areas of specialty, thought, approach to achieving objectives/solutions…
  • Values – What is important to your employees in the company they work for? What do they value most? How well do those values align with corporate values? Given the scope of workforce diversity, it will be important to identify commonalities and core values from which to build for the future.
  • Employees' current perspective on the company – To what extent do they feel connected to the company, the products produced, markets served, customer base? Are clear career paths obvious? Do employees understand how career path progression works? Do they perceive a desirable culture? Are major corporate goals, the vision, mission and key strategies widely known? Are people pulling together in the right direction? Is there trust in leadership? Trust among co-workers?

Conversely, to what extent are those things lacking? What are the specific situations that are cause for greatest concern – and demand immediate attention?

On the one hand the daily demands on business leaders are numerous, urgent and substantial. On the other hand, failing place the value and take the steps necessary to create a well-functioning, vital, engaged and productive workforce – with well-aligned values and a desirable culture – may be far more costly in the big picture. It is imperative that leadership genuinely understand, and demonstrate that understanding; an engaged and productive workforce is central to the organization's future success.

Fresh Perspective
Fresh Perspective helps business leaders make key strategic decisions. We adeptly research, analyze and synthesize results to deliver only ‘need to know’ insight to leaders so they make the right decision the first time. Lisa Hays, founder and CEO, gained considerable experience from widely varied roles in large corporations. She combines her 30+ years’ experience, expertise and objective viewpoint to directly help business leaders.

Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective, Inc.
Twitter: @Periwinkle4Lisa


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