Research over the past decade has consistently shown that increasing workforce engagement is a good thing:
- Gallup: Disengaged workers cost the nation $450 billion to $550 billion per year in lost productivity.
- Towers Perrin: Companies with engaged employees have 6% higher net profit margins.
- Kenexa Research: Engaged companies have 5 times higher shareholder returns over 5 years.
Beyond greater productivity and profitability, additional documented positive benefits of engaged workers include lower turnover, better safety, fewer product defects and shrinkage, reduced absenteeism, and better customer satisfaction metrics.
But in spite of the proclaimed benefits of engagement, the efforts made to increase it have too often not paid off in a measurable way. .
We have identified four key reasons why so many have struggled to engage their workforce:
1. Lack of definition.
Taking a “we’ll know it when we see it” approach to employee engagement is like trying to hit a moving (or invisible!) target. The first step to a formalized engagement plan is to identify goals and metrics.
Stephen Wendel from HelloWallet, offers a commonly used definition of engagement: “Engagement means having an emotional attachment to work.”
With this definition, employees emotionally care about their work and their company. He further describes employee engagement as a mental state — it’s something in our heads and hearts that represents the attachment we feel to our work. The definition also includes an element of discretionary effort. “Engaged workers don’t work just for a paycheck or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.”
However, as good as these definitions sound, they are not quite specific enough… instead, it would be better to use Wendel’s definitions as guides and add specific objectives based on your organization’s situation. These metrics might include “lower turnover by 25%” or “reduce absenteeism by half.”
2. Confusing Engagement with Happiness
As it turns out, a happy workforce is not necessarily and engaged workforce, as people can be satisfied or happy at work without being engaged. As Wendel further states, “Happiness is a current emotional state that is often related to many factors that have nothing to do with employment — the weather, family life, personality, etc.”
Without understanding the distinction between happy and engaged employees, organizations have taken a variety of paths to try to increase engagement. Some have focused on things such as dress-down Fridays (pre-pandemic), putting in vending machines with healthier snacks, or creating a work place with state of the art work-out facilities and a great latte bar. Those things might be nice — they might make for physically healthier and maybe even happier employees. But, there is plenty of evidence that these things do not increase engagement.
3. Misunderstanding the Link Between Engagement and Productivity
There is considerable research about what truly motivates people. Hands down, intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation! People are motivated primarily by an intrinsic desire to do a good job, to be recognized for it, and to be considered a valuable asset to their organization; in Deming’s words, “To have joy in work.”
Deming was very clear about how to make sure that employees have “joy” in work — by enabling them with the training, tools, and resources they need to do a good job; to listen to their ideas for improvement and to continuously improve the work of everyone.
In other words, many organizations focus only on engagement as the strategy, but productivity yields engagement — not the other way around!
“Employee happiness and morale is NOT the critical path to employee productivity. but productivity and employee achievement are the critical path to high morale and a happy work environment. Morale and employee happiness aren’t the means to the end; they are the end itself.” —Morale and Motivation Myth…No Strings Attached
By increasing employees’ productivity, you get increased engagement, and that engagement, in turn, increases productivity, and the other positive and measurable results that come from increased engagement.
4. Seeking a Quick Fix
Engagement efforts often fail because we wishfully think and hope that a few superficial suggestions and tips for increasing engagement will actually result in substantive change It’s a classic case of one of Deming’s truisms: “I didn’t say it would be easy. I just said it would work.”
There is no magic bullet for engagement. It requires fundamental culture change and that requires commitment and
the required resources. This is a culture change in which engagement is the byproduct of having everyone involved in the continuous improvement of everything!
It’s an approach we call Engagement Around the Work, as it’s all about achieving goals through people!
We call it CPI2 his method has two parts:
1) CPI – Continuous Process improvement — improving all that we do through improving all our work processes
2) CPI – Continuous People Involvement — providing the tools, resources and environment for people to be critically involved in all aspects of improvement.