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486482207I recently read an interview in Fast Company on the dismal state of employee engagement in the American workforce. Jim Harter, Ph.D., heads up Gallup’s research on employee engagement. Using 263 research studies across 192 organizations in 49 industries and 34 countries, Gallup recently conducted its eighth meta-analysis on the subject. The research overwhelmingly concluded that the vast majority of employees are disengaged in their jobs.

Employee Engagement

There are three ways to categorize these employees. The article I read provided an analogy of a group of people in a boat, with only a few people rowing, the vast majority passively watching the scenery, and a couple more individuals actively trying to sink it. So in other words:

  • Engaged employees are those who feel a genuine connection to their company and its goals. They are the employees who really care and are entirely committed to the success of their organization. Unfortunately, they make up only about 30% of the workforce.
  • Passively disengaged employees make up a little over half of the workforce. They are the employees who are indifferent to their organization—they just want to get their work done and go home.
  • Actively disengaged employees are those employees who are actively indifferent. They are dissatisfied with their organization to the point of intentionally harming it. They make up the remainder of the workforce.

The Facts

It is an indisputable fact that engagement has a huge impact on organizational performance. Jim Harter’s Gallup research, which studied nearly 1.4 million employees, demonstrates that engagement affects customer satisfaction, profitability, productivity, and quality. It also affects employee behaviour with regards to turnover, safety, theft, and absenteeism.

The research showed that companies in the top quartile of employee engagement had 22% higher profits than the bottom quartile. Those in the top 1% had four times the success rate of the bottom 1%. Engaged workforces also seemed to have recovered from the recession more quickly.

Measuring Engagement

Creating employee engagement is critical to the success of any organization, and measuring engagement is the first step. However, the problem with most employee engagement surveys is that they measure the symptoms of disengagement and not the root cause. For example, most surveys identify Communication and Collaboration as problem areas, so organizations hoping to create employee engagement try to improve these areas. They attempt to boost communication with newsletters, social events, and other such things. They try to overcome Collaboration issues with team building exercises. But engagement doesn’t improve because they are attacking the symptoms and not the root cause. It’s like taking an aspirin for a fever. You may feel better, but the underlying disease is not cured.

As Jim Harter says in Gallup’s business journal, “Measurement is one thing, what you measure is another. You can measure a lot of things that have nothing to do with performance and that don’t help a company implement a system that allows managers to create change.”

The Effective ManagersTM Survey

This is one of the reasons why we developed our Effective ManagersTM Survey. We wanted to discover the root cause of manager ineffectiveness, because ineffective managers cannot create an environment where employees will be engaged. Through our research we learned that effectiveness is related to accountability. Employees feel they’re not being communicated with when a proper accountability and authority framework doesn’t exist. When managers delegate effectively, assigning accountabilities and creating feedback loops, employees receive right-sized messaging at the right time.

All organizations should be concerned with employee engagement. In order to create employee engagement, you first need to measure it, but unfortunately this is where many organizations fail. If you want to heal the disease of disengagement, instead of just mitigating the symptoms, you have to measure the right things. If you’re looking for a solution that’s long lasting instead of fast acting, you must measure the right things.