The Terrible Math of Employee Engagement

Terrible Math
Here is an excerpt from an article by Nigel Green for Edelman’s Global Practices. Edelman is the world’s largest public relations firm. To learn more about the firm, please click here.

Image credit: Tom Brown

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With so much written and said about employee engagement in recent years, you’d be excused for rolling your eyes when seeing the topic come up again. Yet, for all the rhetoric, there are enough signals to suggest few organizations are getting it right.

Perhaps I’m naïve, but I was surprised by the results of Deloitte’s recent Human Capital Trends study in which almost 80% of surveyed companies said they have an engagement problem and only 17% felt they had a compelling and engaging employment brand. Having just joined Edelman with a focus on trying to help companies bridge this gap, I was equally struck by our own Trust research, which has shown that, since 2009, the credibility of regular employees as information sources about their company has increased over 60% – more than any other category – while trust in “a person like yourself” has risen 32%. So, while employee influence appears to be growing, the ability or willingness of their companies to harness that influence actually seems to be declining.

With that dilemma in mind, I decided to spend a significant part of my onboarding at Edelman exploring this dilemma with HR leaders I’ve come to respect over the years. Thankfully, none rolled their eyes or told me to get lost! My contacts are from a wide range of industries and countries but share some common beliefs. For example, all agree there is a connection between employee engagement and business performance, though most haven’t found a way to prove it. Most also feel the drivers of engagement, or what one former colleague called the “employee engagement wish list,” have moved on considerably over time. That list includes things that past generations of employees probably never (or rarely) considered, like their company’s purpose, corporate social responsibility or reputation. In that context, “attracting” employees doesn’t stop with their recruitment but continues throughout their time in a company.

Key drivers such as fairness, respect, values, trust, teamwork, communication and accountability all came up repeatedly in the connections I’ve had so far, but most agreed on the biggest factor in driving engagement: leadership. Employees seek leadership that is visible, articulates a clear and compelling vision, communicates frequently and honestly, role models the company’s values and encourages and rewards positive behaviors.

If everyone knows it takes great leadership to engage, why are only 13% of employees around the world apparently actively engaged at work and more than twice that number so disengaged they are likely to spread negativity to others, according to a recent Gallup poll? Either these numbers aren’t telling the truth or we’re experiencing a real crisis in leadership!

One hint may come from the fact that there are still many different views on what employee engagement actually means. Definitions can still be limited to terms such as satisfaction and happiness while others have moved on to describe a link to discretionary effort. Some I spoke with referred to engagement efforts actually becoming disengaging or creating a sense of entitlement. I was regaled with stories of surveys done without transparent feedback of results or meaningful efforts to act on the apparent opportunities for improvement. Others shared examples of a significant disconnect between corporate value statements and the behaviors of leaders or inconsistent, unclear or generally poor internal communication.

As one former colleague wrote to me, companies should “not start the engagement conversation unless they’re fully committed and prepared to act.”

So, with debate still raging on, I’m encouraged to continue this dialogue. And, if you’ve read this far, why not join in? Together, I have no doubt we can find new insight to help us bridge such an important gap.

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Here’s a direct link to the complete article.

Nigel Miller is co-chair Europe CIS Employee Engagement & global director Talent Engagement, Edelman.

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