The good news from recent surveys by Aon, WeSpire and Quantum on employee engagement is that somewhere around three-quarters of all workers are happy at their jobs and feel their employers are looking out for them.
That seems great, at first glance. But the results of these three studies also mean when a manager looks around the office or the shop floor, one out of every four people she sees is NOT engaged. And one in 10 could be labeled as seriously disengaged – maybe to the point of being toxic.
Engagement has been a mantra of the business world for years, and most employers have instituted at least some measures to increase it. But the metrics haven't improved much in the past few years.
Denise Lee Yohn, writing in Forbes, has declared 2018 to be The Year of Employee Experience (EX). Noting that businesses have been tightly focused for years on Customer Experience (CX), Yohn predicts EX will be more important than CX this year and beyond.
"EX is [the] sum of everything an employee experiences throughout his or her connection to the organization," Yohn writes, "from the first contact as a potential recruit to the last interaction after the end of employment."
So how does an employer enhance EX for its workers? First, let's look at what employees want, and why these and other surveys show that about a quarter of all employees are ready to quit.
Engagement Metrics Have Plateaued
The three surveys all show that overall engagement rose only slightly, or was flat, from 2016 to 2017.
Quantum's 2018 Employee Engagement Trends Report has engagement up just 0.5 percent for the year, while disengagement didn't move (albeit low, at just 2.7 percent). Another 6 percent were barely engaged.
One of the key metrics in this report was this statement: "It would take a lot for me to leave this job." This measure, which Quantum notes "has been found to be a top predictor of employee turnover," was the only one that ticked down, as it has steadily since 2010.
The survey also showed that a significant number of workers value recognition and personal growth and yet don't feel like they're getting either one. "This represents the gap between managers' intent and their ability to deliver," the report concludes.
Aon's 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report found similar results, with engagement in the United States flat from the previous year at 64 percent. Globally, Aon found engagement levels were up, led by sharp jumps in satisfaction in Asia and elsewhere in the developing world.
"People are also emotional and fickle," the Aon report concludes. "They want to be won over. That is why employee engagement can be an organization's great differentiator in time of stability or in times of rapid change."
WeSpire's report finds distinct differences between companies that have an official employee engagement policy and those who don't. For example, the report shows that at companies without policies, 11 percent more employees are actively job-hunting than at companies with policies. On the flip side, at companies with engagement policies, 21 percent more feel their skills and talents are being used to the maximum and feel inspired to meet their goals.
Four Top Drivers and Four Things to Avoid
Consistently, surveys on engagement show that the most important drivers of engagement are:
4. Feeling that someone at the workplace cares
However, the WeSpire report finds there's often a disconnect between employees and employers on what an effective engagement program looks like.
Sometimes it helps to know what engagement is not. In Forbes, Yohn cites four such non-definitions for EX:
1. "New and improved" HR: While HR is involved with critical recruiting, onboarding, performance reviews and planning functions, EX includes everything from inter-office relationships to whether the computers are working.
2. Perks and parties: EX can include these, of course, but EX is a strategic initiative that goes beyond making the job fun to designing and delivering a workplace aligned with the corporate culture.
3. Branding: Recruitment is not EX, which is all about the day-to-day reality.
4. Treating employees as customers: CX can inform EX, but it's ultimately a much more intense personal experience than shopping.
"Employee engagement – that is employees' commitment to your company and their jobs – is the end goal, while EX is the means to that end," she writes.
Another obstacle to implementing an engagement program is that employees say emphatically they haven’t got time in the day to engage in formal programs.
Yet those same workers might have time to check out websites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, where, Yohn observes, they can now search their own company and find out how their fellow employees are ranking it.
That kind of instant feedback can sound scary for an employer, but it can also set the stage for changes, interventions and conversations that fine-tune the employer-employee relationship and keep the workplace running smoothly.
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