The number of U.S. employees willing to go above and beyond the call of duty in the workplace has dropped by nearly 10% over the last three years, according to Gartner Inc.’s recent quarterly Global Talent Monitor survey
In the report for the second quarter of 2018, only 17.8% of workers expressed high levels of discretionary effort, versus 27% in the second quarter of 2015, the global research and consulting company revealed.
Covering roughly the same period, the Gallup organization’s research found that while in the United States 33% of employees say they are engaged at work, globally only 15% of employees reported being engaged.
Gallup defines being engaged as being willing go the extra mile, work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. “Engaged workers stand apart from their not-engaged and actively disengaged counterparts because of the discretionary effort they consistently bring to their roles,” Gallup says. “These employees willingly go the extra mile, work with passion, and feel a profound connection to their company.”
But why are workers less engaged today than they were just a handful of years ago? The stronger economy and almost full employment are the primary reasons, Gartner’s researchers conclude.
“A higher number of employees have expressed a growing dissatisfaction with rewards, compensation and opportunities, which has resulted in a decrease in the amount of effort employees are putting forth at work,” says Brian Kropp, group vice president of the company’s human resources practice.
“This disappointment coupled with strong economic conditions and a candidate-driven labor market means many workers are not incentivized to work harder nor are they concerned about losing their jobs through dismissals or layoffs.”
Gartner says that nearly 40% of workers in the U.S.—and globally—ranked lack of future career opportunities as the most dissatisfying attribute at a previous job. Compensation, which was previously the number one driver of attrition, is now the second most important attribute for U.S. and global workers.
“With recent U.S. reports showing little growth year over year in real earnings, workers hope to achieve more satisfaction in their jobs through better titles and opportunities to advance and grow in their current careers,” says Kropp. “To prevent further reduction in workplace effort and to retain top talent, employers should pay closer attention to employee dissatisfaction about the lack of career opportunities, particularly if wage growth remains stagnant.”
The Rules of Engagement
To succeed in a tight labor market, organizations must retain their top performers while attracting new talent. Gartner stresses that successful companies are those that have a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP) that differentiates them from the competition and speaks to what employees want most: career development opportunities, competitive compensation and work-life balance.
“Leading organizations are able to use their employment brand to illustrate why their career opportunities are better than their competitors,” Kropp observes. “A company’s EVP directly correlates to employee engagement levels because workers are more likely to work harder and stay in their current positions if they are highly satisfied with their company’s EVP offerings.
Data shows that organizations with high levels of employee engagement report financial outcomes three times higher than firms with lower engagement levels, Gartner notes. Gallup also believes that not-engaged employees offer perhaps the greatest untapped opportunity for businesses to improve their performance and profitability.
“The majority of the global workforce is not engaged. Most employees reluctantly head to work, lacking energy and passion for their jobs,” Gallup says. “Converting this group of employees into engaged workers is the most effective strategy that any organization can implement to increase performance and sustainable long-term growth.”
Not-engaged workers can be difficult to spot, Gallup admits. Generally, they aren’t overtly hostile or disruptive and are likely do just enough to fulfill at least the requirements of their jobs. “They sleepwalk through their day, uninspired and lacking motivation. They have little or no concern about customers, productivity, profitability, safety or quality. They are thinking about lunch or their next break and have essentially ‘checked out.’”
As a result, it’s not surprising that for many years management consultants and human resources specialists devoted considerable effort at solving this problem by developing a wide range of methods for measuring employee engagement as well as the management methods and training programs for improving it. But for management to make these systems work requires attention to detail and commitment throughout managerial ranks.
Leaders of the best companies strategically align their employee engagement efforts across their organizations, Gallup says. “They find ways to communicate engagement’s effect throughout the year and share best practices across the organization. They use every opportunity, touchpoint and communication channel to reinforce and recognize the organization's commitment to employee engagement. They integrate employee engagement fully into the business’s lexicon.”
In addition, top leadership needs to focus on the attitudes and behaviors of managers as well as their workers. Another recent Gallup poll found the most frequent reason employees give for quitting their jobs is dislike of their bosses. “How leaders manage their employees can substantially affect engagement levels in the workplace, in turn influencing the company’s bottom line,” Gallup asserts.
How to Do It Right
To assist management in developing effective employee engagement programs, Gallup has laid out five strategies that organizations can use to help build their constituency of engaged employees. (Much of this advice is aimed at companies using Gallup’s Q12 employment engagement measuring tool).
Use the right employee engagement survey. When a company asks its employees for their opinions, those employees expect action to follow. But businesses often make the mistake of using employee surveys to collect data that is irrelevant or impossible to act on. Gallup says survey data must be specific, relevant and actionable for any team at any organizational level. Data should also be proven to influence key performance metrics.
Focus on engagement at the local and organizational levels. Real change occurs at the local workgroup level, but it only happens when company leaders set the tone from the top. Companies realize the most benefit from engagement initiatives when leaders weave employee engagement into performance expectations for managers and enable them to execute on those expectations.
“Managers and employees must feel empowered to make a significant difference in their immediate environment. Leaders and managers should work with employees to identify barriers to engagement and opportunities to effect positive change. Employees are familiar with the company's processes, systems, products and customers,” Gallup stresses.
“Employees also are experts on themselves and their teams, so it makes sense that they will have the best ideas to maximize these elements and deliver improved performance, business innovation and better workplace experiences.”
Select the right managers. The best managers understand that their success and that of the organization relies on employees’ achievements. But not everyone can be a great manager. Great managers care about their people’s success. They seek to understand each person’s strengths and provide employees with every opportunity to use their strengths in their role.
“Great managers empower their employees, recognize and value their contributions, and actively seek their ideas and opinions,” Gallup declares. It takes talent to be a great manager and selecting people who have this talent is important.
Whether hiring from outside or promoting from within, businesses that scientifically select managers for the unique talents it takes to effectively manage people greatly increase the odds of engaging their employees. Gallup urges companies to treat the manager role as something that is unique and carries with it distinct functional demands that require a specific talent set.
Coach managers and hold them accountable for their employees’ engagement. Gallup’s research has found that it is their managers who are primarily responsible for employees’ engagement levels. “Companies should coach managers to take an active role in building engagement plans with their employees, hold managers accountable, track their progress, and ensure that they continuously focus on emotionally engaging their employees.”
Managers who are the most exceptional view employee engagement measurement as an essential element for great managing. By doing so, they gain a powerful framework to guide the creation of a strong, engaged workplace.
Define engagement goals in realistic, everyday terms. “To bring engagement to life, leaders must make engagement goals meaningful to employees’ day-to-day experiences,” Gallup explains. “Describing what success looks like using powerful descriptions and emotive language helps give meaning to goals and builds commitment within a team.”
To get the message across, Gallup says, make sure managers discuss employee engagement at weekly meetings, in action-planning sessions, and in one-on-one meetings with employees to weave engagement into daily interactions and activities, and eventually make it part of the workplace’s DNA.