The metrics on employee engagement are alarming. According to this year’s Gallup Workplace Engagement Report, a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged. Many companies are experiencing a crisis of engagement and aren't aware of it.
In fact, year after year, Gallup reports that the majority of employees are not engaged at work and that about two in ten are actively disengaged - sleepwalking on the job. By the same token, engaged workers inspire innovation and success.
The problem, of course, is that this “engagement gap” burns out good workers as mediocre and poor workers often get a free ride at the expense of better performers. Indeed, disengaged employees produce on average 50% less revenue than engaged employees.
Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.
Though important at the organizational level, engagement starts with each person and is subjective. Employees don't check their personalities at the door when they come to work. Knowing that they are respected as individuals at work can have a significant impact on how employees view their overall lives.
Each person's potential extends well beyond his or her job description. And tapping that potential means recognizing how an employee's unique set of beliefs, talents, goals, and life experiences drives his or her performance, personal success, and well-being.
Gallup's research has found that managers and supervisors are primarily responsible for their employees' engagement levels. HR should coach managers to take an active role in building engagement plans with their employees, hold managers accountable, track their progress, and ensure that they continuously focus on emotionally engaging their employees.
Of course, not every workplace requires workers to be engaged; they need only to perform their job duties reasonably well and to be reasonably satisfied with their work. The U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent Longitudinal Survey on Job Satisfaction suggests that most working Americans are reasonably satisfied with their jobs. Among the factors that support high levels of job satisfaction are having responsibility for one’s own work (52 percent), having a sense of worth in a job (42 percent), being recognized for individual contributions (40 percent), and the opportunity to make good use of skills and learning new skills (35 percent).
In other workplaces, where the primary resource is knowledge, more than job satisfaction is necessary because collective knowledge building is a key strategic task. Production machinery remains present, but unlike physical production, creative knowledge-sharing and effective teamwork rely on engaged employees.
Engaged employees go above and beyond. Experts define this as “discretionary effort.” They give a little more than is expected. While satisfied employees will show up and do what they’re asked to do, you won’t often see them doing more than what’s expected of their roles. In contrast, engaged employees will proactively seek opportunities to help their teams and contribute to the mission and goals of the organization.
Many traditional management techniques are not effective when dealing with work that requires engagement. Employers that want to maximize the fullest potential of engaged workers must have effective collaborative environments (the best work is produced by means of teamwork, not by individual careerists), sharing of information (engaged workers are listened to, trusted, and know what is going on), loose hierarchies (managers serve their staffs, not dominate them), and devolution of decision making (engaged workers are trusted and trained to make decisions where the value is created—at the frontline).
These environments tend to drive commitment and behaviors far beyond what could ever be written into a job description.
The secret to high performance and high levels of engagement is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world; in other words, autonomy, mastery and purpose.