Engagement is stagnant. And that’s putting it generously. In the West, the US can boast that roughly 35% of employees claim to be engaged in their jobs. It’s all downhill from there. Barely 11% of UK employees say the same, and parts of the Far East - notably Singapore and Hong Kong - report even lower numbers.
We don’t love our jobs. And when we say “jobs” we mean exactly that. Some employee engagement measures look at reputation or loyalty, which are both helpful yardsticks, but they don’t get to the heart of the engagement conundrum. You can be proud of or loyal to your employer but not love the actual work you do. You may be proud to work for an investment bank, but not love the demands it makes on you. You may be loyal to the fantastic charity you work at, but not be fulfilled by the day-to-day tasks you do there.
But when you ask people what makes the difference to their experience of work, the answer is nearly all the same: the work itself. This is the reason why employee engagement initiatives can miss the mark. Be honest: how often do your attempts to boost engagement focus on the experience of being at work rather than the work itself? There are the classic quality of life enhancements - fresh fruit in the morning or a shiny new coffee machine. There are the breaks from the routine - the yoga sessions or desk massages. And, of course, the social get-togethers - craft beer evenings, sports sessions or team lunches.
These things are important, and hugely appreciated by the team. But there’s a reason why they work on the periphery. They don’t affect the actual work. They’re nothing to do with the day job.
We need to do more with what we have. We need to develop people; we need to ensure that they’re fulfilled by what they do - the work, not the perks - and we need to engage them. We should be doing all of these things anyway, of course. But the evidence that engagement affects performance is now so strong that we can’t afford to ignore it. Gallup, Gartner and the rest have been telling us for years that engagement is the engine of performance. The numbers support it: Dale Carnegie estimates that companies with engaged employees outperform their disengaged counterparts by up to 202%. Businesses scoring in the top quartile of Gallup’s engagement metric are up to 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than their peers. Engaged employees do more. It’s not just about turning up every day and staying later: engaged people show more energy, are more immersed in their work and have more clarity and purpose when it comes to hitting their goals. They give you discretionary effort. This is a goldmine for the bottom line.
At Clear Review, we draw a clear distinction between work engagement and other measures that define how employees feel about their time at work. Many models exist to measure organizational loyalty, for example, or commitment. We focus on work engagement because of the huge body of peer-reviewed science which identifies it as the best predictor of both individual and team performance. Crucially, work engagement is something we can affect. Employers can adapt systems, resources and training requirements to improve people’s working practices and outcomes.
But that relies on everyone taking responsibility for their own work engagement. And this is the final piece of the puzzle: engagement needs to be linked to performance management, because the objectives of the two disciplines are virtually identical. We’re trying to improve work outcomes. We want to produce sustainable and sustained high performance. This means meeting and measuring on a regular basis; it means frank conversations between managers and employees; it means creating actions geared towards overcoming obstacles and smoothing bumps in the road.
To come back to our original point: the need to develop and invest in our people has never been greater. The more we can engage our workers, the more we’ll reap in productivity and success.