Companies are facing an epidemic of employee disengagement. If not addressed, productivity is bound to suffer if it hasn't already. A new Gallup tracking poll shows that an astounding 71 percent of U.S. workers are either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" in their work. In other words, these workers are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces. Moreover, the poll, which is part of special tracking series that has been ongoing since the fourth quarter of 2010, shows this trend toward lack of engagement has remained relatively stable throughout this year. The poll tracks individual responses of 2,341 adults interviewed as part of Gallup's Daily tracking poll to 12 actionable workplace elements with proven linkages to performance outcomes, including productivity, customer service, quality, retention, safety, and profit.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this poll is the fact that workers who should be at their peak working years are the most likely to be disengaged. The Gallup poll found that workers with at least some college education are significantly less likely to be engaged in their jobs than are those with a high school diploma or less. In addition, those between the ages of 30 and 64 are more likely to be disengaged than younger workers. Finally, men are more likely to be disengaged than women.
Despite these numbers, companies still have plenty of opportunity to turn things around and engage employees anew in the business and their role in the company's success. There are plenty of reasons to do so. "Having engaged employees provides companies with a reservoir of good will from which to draw during bad times," says Mark Royal, senior principal with the Hay Group in Chicago and co-author with Tom Agnew of "The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frustration--and Get the Most from Your Employees" (AMACOM).
In their book, Royal and Agnew identify three key drivers of frustration that can lead to disengagement—poor communication about goals and performance, resource constraints that make it more difficult for employees to do their jobs, and employees who feel that they do not have the authority to do their jobs effectively. "There are opportunities not just to hold the line in employee engagement but to improve the level of engagement even in tough times," says Royal.The key is to provide employees with reasons and a rationale for what the company is doing and plans to do in the future. For example, Royal points to one company that was undergoing difficult organizational changes during the economic downturn and was looking for ways to explain those changes to employees to ensure their support and buy in. The company decided to send out its senior leadership team to various company locations to listen to employee concerns and to answer employees questions. Following that effort, an employee survey showed that employee perceptions of company leadership and their understanding of the company's direction had increased.
Royal argues that lack of engagement is only part of the story. Companies that want to maximize employee contributions need to find out what frustrates employees in doing their jobs and address those issues. We'll provide some ideas on how to do that in our next post.