Employee disengagement is widespread in the Western world of work.

Study results are very clear: engagement is worryingly low amongst employees in the Western workforce. A nationwide 2013 Gallup survey – one of the largest of its kind – found that up to 70% of US employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”.

The company’s follow-up survey showed that this figure increased slightly last year; however fewer than one third of employees were truly engaged. And another, smaller study by the Dale Carnegie Training group reported that 71% of employees are disengaged.

You may wonder why engagement matters. Certainly, it’s nice to have a happy, inspired, enthusiastic workforce. But do engagement scores really have any value beyond making the company look good?  The answer to that question is overwhelmingly coming back as a resounding “Yes!”

Here’s why:

Employee engagement: the $45 billion problem

As increasing amounts of data come in from organisations around the US, it’s growing very clear that engagement is about far more than intangibles like motivation and morale. Instead, according to one meta-analysis, engagement is significantly correlated with bottom-line metrics such as:

  • Increased productivity:  companies with highly engaged employees are up to 22% more productive.
  • Lower staff turnover: those companies also tend to experience up to 65% less turnover.
  • Improved safety and work quality: companies with higher engagement report up to 48% fewer safety incidents, and 41% fewer product quality defects.

These combined statistics carry an extremely heavy financial burden – one that Gallup estimates to be between $US450-550 billion in lost revenue.

So what can you do to plug the disengagement drain in your company?

Most engagement experts recommend focussing on the following areas:

  • Be crystal clear about your company’s vision and top level goals: if employees are confused about the vision your company is trying to achieve and why, they’ll have difficulty contributing to it. Not only will that reduce their engagement, but it also reduces the value they can proactively add to your organisation.
  • Ensure employees have specific, measurable personal goals that fit seamlessly into the company’s vision: it’s not enough to just know where the company is headed. Employees also need to understand how their personal goals fit within that vision. For maximum engagement, they’ll have actively contributed to setting those goals for themselves – in conjunction with their manager – in the first place.
  • Support employees’ training and development plans:  there’s nothing as disheartening for many people as the sense that they’re in a dead-end job with no scope for development. Discussing employees’ long-term career aspirations and providing access to CPD (continuing professional development) training are powerful motivators. And of course, when you have vacancies, create a culture of promoting from within.
  • Maintain a comfortable physical working environment: it’s hard for employees to stay motivated if they’re constantly shivering, overheating, or enduring poorly designed workstations. Access to natural light, comfortable humidity levels, and breakout areas away from noise and distraction are similarly important for engagement.
  • Hiring the right managers:  Jim Clifton, Gallup’s CEO, has stated that, “The single biggest decision you make in your job – bigger than all of the rest – is who you name manager.  When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision.  Not compensation, not benefits – nothing.”

What do you think?

What’s your experience of employee engagement in past workplaces (or even your current one)?  What actions do you think will best improve engagement? Share your thoughts in the comments below!