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The Rules of [Employee] Engagement: Sobering Statistics

For some organizations, the extent of employee engagement programs is limited to the annual engagement survey. That model, featuring a survey filled with scores of questions and sent out for the entire organization to complete, needs to be updated.

Here is an excerpt from a highly unorthodox, certainly thought-provoking article written by Mike Prokopeak for Talent Management magazine. To check out all the resources and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and/or Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.

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New challenges require talent managers to re-examine what matters to employees and partner with executives to create engagement programs that drive results.

What happens at work, stays at work. If only that still held true for many of today’s workers.

In a BlackBerry-fueled, do-more-with-less workplace, the reality is the line between work and life is increasingly blurry. What engages and motivates employees at work is no longer just a matter of whether or not they like their boss or co-workers. Engagement and motivation are part of a complex set of factors linked to employee health and emotional well-being not just on the job, but also at home.

Those new realities pose challenges for employee engagement efforts and require talent managers to more effectively measure the relationship between employees’ discretionary effort, individual productivity and organizational performance. It also means educating leaders on their role and knowing when to get out of the way.

There are often conflicting definitions and measures of employee engagement, from psychological evaluations of employees’ beliefs about work to behavioral assessments of what they actually do on the job. Adding to the confusion, many organizations often conflate employee satisfaction with engagement.

For purposes of this report, engagement is a measure of how much discretionary effort an employee is willing to give on the job. And according to the numbers, that engagement level is dangerously low.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

According to a November analysis of its database of 5,700 employers representing 5 million employees, human resources consulting firm Aon Hewitt reported that engagement levels indicate the workforce is by and large indifferent to organizational success or failure.

“Our analysis suggests that even at the height of the recession, employees felt a greater connection to their work and role in achieving success than they do now,” said Pete Sanborn, a consultant with Aon Hewitt.

A November report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) told a similar story. That analysis showed that employees were only moderately engaged at work, with an average score of 3.6 on a five-point scale.

Limited career advancement and development opportunities, along with lack of satisfaction with communication between employees and senior management, pulled down engagement scores, said S. Evren Esen, manager of SHRM’s Survey Research Center. Those problems were exacerbated by a lack of external and internal job opportunities.

“With more individuals staying in their jobs for a longer period of time, they’re starting to focus more on items where they’re able to improve or use their skills or feel like … even if they don’t love their job and they’re ready to move on that they’re at least able to use their skills and engage in work that is allowing them to reach a higher potential,” Esen said.

For high-potential employees, the numbers are more nuanced, but just as troubling. In general, workers’ intention to stay in their current job has remained high even as the level of discretionary effort has dropped. According to Brian Kropp, managing director of the Corporate Executive Board’s Human Resources Practice, only one in 10 workers were putting in high levels of discretionary effort in third quarter 2011.

Among high-potential workers, the opposite happened. Their engagement and discretionary effort remained high throughout the recession and subsequent slow recovery. “No matter what job they’re in, they’re going to work hard,” Kropp said. “That’s just who they are in their DNA.”

What has shifted is their intent to stay with their current employers. One in four are actively looking for a new job right now, Kropp said. That has important consequences not just for the future of an organization, but also for sustaining current performance.

“If they’re going to work every day knowing they won’t be there in the future, how much additional discretionary effort do you think they’re going to put in place in the near term?” said Jim Harter, chief scientist for workplace engagement and well-being at Gallup.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Mike Prokopeak is editorial director for Talent Management magazine.


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