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Rethinking Employee Engagement

In many ways, employee engagement is a mystery.

We know it makes a difference. Measures of high engagement are closely correlated with greater profitability, productivity, sales, customer satisfaction, and employee retention. Organizations with highly engaged employees outperform others by 202%. By contrast, disengaged employees cost U.S. companies as much as $550 billion annually.

Yet, employee engagement rates remain flat and low.

In the two decades that Gallup has studied it, employee engagement rates have barely budged: “Though there have been some slight ebbs and flows, less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces during these 15 years.”

In fact, many organizations struggle with their employee engagement efforts. The DecisionWise 2017 State of Employee Engagement Report has found that while half (52%) of organizations have a formal program (or programs) in place specifically aimed at enhancing Employee Engagement, only a third consider their programs to be “successful” or “very successful.” Even fewer – just 28% – believe that their programs to improve employee engagement have produced hoped-for ROI.

For these reasons, many organizations that study employee engagement have begun to re-think their concepts of engagement.

Gallup, for its part, has begun to argue that employers should “look beyond engagement as a single construct.” The idea is that engagement isn’t a thing that you can directly affect. Rather, employers must think about the levers that indirectly affect engagement and apply pressure through specific performance management activities.

Deloitte takes this idea even further. In their 2017 Human Capital Trends report they emphasize “employee experience” over employee engagement. The idea here is that employers should examine employees’ holistic, day-to-day experience – what is their work experience actually like – to see if improvements can be made. For example, employers might redesign procedures or protocols that are confusing or difficult for employees. The idea “is to improve and simplify life at work,” according to Deloitte, with the assumption that the benefits of improved engagement will follow.

These organizations have also begun to think about engagement in terms of alignment between the employee and their job role. But how do you measure that? Gallup says it’s a matter of strengths. They argue that employee strengths must be aligned with their job roles in order to maximize engagement. “Strengths boost engagement,” they say. The underlying idea is that when employees are treated like replaceable resources, it’s difficult for them to engage with their work. By contrast, when employees are appropriately matched with the role, they can engage on a deeper level.

Not everyone agrees that it’s a matter of strengths per se, however. Others argue that attributes like personality, values, and other characteristics must be measured for appropriate fit between the employee and the job role in order to facilitate engagement.

If this sounds like a lot, it is. This is part of what makes recruitment and employee management such a persistent challenge for employers: there are a lot of factors to consider, and the workplace science behind how to handle employee decisions is always changing. When in doubt, ask for expert help – bringing in a specialist can make the difference between stagnating employee engagement and the rewards that come from high engagement rates.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about our ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.