Employee Engagement

Why Employee Engagement is Upside Down

Leaders and managers frequently refer to the famous Albert Einstein quote when something in their organizations isn’t working after repeated efforts. I wonder what Einstein would say about employee engagement?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

For two decades, the benchmark of benchmarks for employee engagement is Gallup, a world-class research organization. In the past 10 years, the percentage of engaged employees in Gallup’s research has fluctuated. From a low of 30% to a high of 36%.

Much ado was made about the uptick in engagement over the past decade before the pandemic reversed the direction of the numbers.

I’m pretty sure Einstein would agree with my old boss at Cisco. Former CEO John Chambers, who famously described missed expectations at Cisco as:

I never get hard work confused with results.

Moving up just six percentage points over a decade. From such a low number to begin with, is indeed a lot of “hard work” and little enduring results.

The Decline of Engaged Employees

The most recent 2022 Gallup numbers show the percent of employees engaged is down.  U.S. companies are down 32%. It was 30% in 2002 and 2012.

I’m not sure how many billions of dollars were spent on employee engagement measurement and programs during this time, but it is clear from this data it was not a productive investment.

The inertia reflected in the engagement data reflects what I’ve heard over the past three years talking to hundreds of HR leaders about what works and what doesn’t in employee engagement.

Most of the feedback is best paraphrased as:

We are not learning anything new from our employee engagement data.

Competition vs Collaboration

I’ve been lucky to work with hundreds of companies and their leadership teams. Especially after I wrote The Collaboration Imperative, which shared the best practices used at Cisco in its transition from a culture based on internal competition to one based on internal collaboration.

From these listening sessions, I’ve come to believe that certain ideas exist in organizational thinking in the absence of hard evidence. I don’t know how these ideas got started. I just know the ideas are entrenched.

For example – the way leaders and managers think about employee engagement today. It reminds me of the way organizations think about career planning. That it is the responsibility of the employee, despite overwhelming evidence indicating a different reality.

If it is true that employees are responsible for their own careers, why is “my manager” the most cited reason when an employee leaves a company?

Employee Engagement is Upside Down

I want to eat my own dog food by starting with evidence. I’ve spent the pandemic sponsoring a large, real-world research study on what makes an employee want to stay at a company. I wanted to know what it would take to get an employee to recommend where they work.

Our primary research and the large collection of company data captured in the second phase of our research confirm we’ve been measuring the wrong things in employee engagement.

In fact, employee engagement is upside down, according to our research.

Instead of measuring how engaged employees are, we should be measuring how engaged leaders and managers are.

In statistical terms, our evidence-based model demonstrated a strong, positive linear relationship between the degree to which leaders and managers engage employees and the willingness of employees to recommend where they work. In other words, the more engaged leaders and managers are in creating organizational culture with their teams, the greater the likelihood of an employee recommending the employer. Our research conclusions have a 95% confidence interval.

The Impact Leaders Have on Employee Engagement

Just like career planning. It’s time to embrace the fact that leaders and managers are the reasons why people fall in love with a company and its culture — or not. Leaders create the global cultural values of an organization; managers implement those values locally.

Company values are based on human behavior, not a poster on the wall. Values-based behaviors start with role-modeling them as leaders and managers. How can we expect employees to be engaged if their management team isn’t?

If we’re going to innovate in how we think about employee engagement, I want to call upon Einstein again for help.

Einstein was famous for thought experiments.

Here’s one. Management guru Peter Drucker said you can only manage what you measure. What if leaders and managers were accountable for engagement?

What would happen to employee engagement?

Learning

8 Learning and Talent Development Topics for Better Employee Retention

Investment in learning and talent development is an essential ingredient of every company’s engagement and retention plans. What is one crucial topic to include in employee L&D that will lead to better employee engagement and retention?

To help you create an effective L&D program, we asked L&D professionals and business leaders this question for their best insights. From including interviewer training to developing individual talents, there are several essential topics that may help you deliver a robust employee L&D for better engagement and retention.

Here are 8 must-have topics for better employee retention:

  1. Interviewer Training
  2. Communication and its Impact on Business
  3. Feedback Delivery
  4. Celebrating Achievement
  5. Leadership Development
  6. Build Emotional Intelligence Skills
  7. Goal Setting and Performance Feedback
  8. Develop Individual Talents

Interviewer Training

A must-have learning opportunity for all employees is interviewer training. By focusing on a task and responsibility that most employees engage in throughout their careers, you simultaneously give your employees the skills to contribute to building a more successful company with the right talent. Additionally, you give them skills to carry with them wherever they go next. Interviewer training empowers everyone to become a brand ambassador. It also encourages a truly inclusive and diverse workplace and gives all employees a chance to be better.

Ubaldo Ciminieri, Co-Founder and CMO of interviewIA

Communication and its Impact on Business

Studies show that collaboration drives workplace performance. Learning the value of communication and how it impacts the business should be a priority for all employees to understand. Beginning with the “why” communication is crucial to show how it can affect and change the culture by building trust across the leadership team and staff.

In creating a high-performing, high-functioning organization, there needs to be collaboration on all levels. This means we need to communicate and over-communicate. Things change when people you work with understand what you are trying to do, the why, and how it affects them. The outcome is a high-performing team where work gets done with highly engaged staff, and the company exceeds expectations on all levels.

Denise Moxam, VP of HR and Engagement at Production Solutions

Feedback Delivery

There are countless learning topics that can positively impact employee engagement and retention. One of the areas that I believe to be crucial is feedback. To be able to skillfully provide regular, accurate, and timely feedback can improve performance, increase trust, and build relationships. All of which have a direct impact on both retention and engagement. Of course, the results are dependent upon individuals’ competency in this area. While some people may have the inherent ability to deliver feedback the right way, at the right time most of us need training and practice.

Greg Forte, Senior Director of L&D at Precision Medicine Group

Celebrating Achievement

Celebrating is a powerful skill that all leaders need to have in their toolkits to confidently & effectively lead now. When you celebrate a teammate, you are demonstrating that you see them, care about them, and value their contributions and how they show up in the world.

Celebrating is a skill, and it needs to be included in your L&D strategy. When you have leaders who properly and consistently celebrate their employees, you will see motivation, trust, connection, belonging, engagement, and retention skyrocket! Throw that confetti, leaders!

Leah Roe, Leadership Coach & Founder of The Perk

Leadership Development

While it’s not typically part of the category of employee learning, building a healthy leadership practice at all levels of the organization may be the strongest driver of employee retention and engagement. Employees need the opportunity to grow and thrive in their careers. This will rarely happen without leaders who recognize and encourage their development.

We know that most learning happens on the job and in conversation with others who already know the job. A learning function that equips front-line, mid-level, and senior leaders with the mindset, skill set, and tool set to effectively grow their employees will have an exponential impact on employee engagement and retention (not to mention business results).

Leaders who simply see employees as a means to the end of profitability, customer service, or meeting their operational metrics miss the key ingredient to meeting these business goals. They will see their employees walk away to another opportunity where they can grow.

Dave Adcox, Director, Learning & Organizational Development at Whitley Penn

Build Emotional Intelligence

By building emotional intelligence skills in our leaders and our teams, we support their ability to create an environment where employees are engaged and want to stay. Through our learning and development efforts, we can help our employees understand and manage their emotions, navigate relationships, and build trust. Additionally, we can help them show empathy, reduce stress, communicate better, and inspire others. In doing so, we create a place where our employees thrive and our business grows.

Mary Tettenhorst, Sr. Vice President, L&D of General Electric Credit Union

Goal Setting and Performance Feedback

Since studies show engagement often hinges on an employee’s first 90 days, providing new hires a supportive onboarding experience that includes context on company objectives, culture, and communication standards is critical. Supplementing this with assistance on goal setting will help level-set expectations and facilitate a growth path for the employee.

Always, make sure that your managers are equipped with the knowledge to articulate performance expectations, deliver feedback and coaching, and provide development opportunities for the employee along the way.

Glenn Smith, L&D Manager at Nextbite

Develop Individual Talents

The single most important L&D topic has to be how to effectively develop your people. Unlike a capital investment that has a fixed ROI, investing in human capital has almost unlimited ROI. Not only are you increasing the capacity and competence of your team to create value, development telegraphs that you believe in your people enough to invest in them. When people feel like valuable members of a winning team, they will provide higher levels of engagement and discretionary effort. Development creates a virtuous cycle that benefits both the organization and its people.

Thane Bellomo, Director of Talent Management and Organizational Development of MI Windows and Doors

Engage

6 Ways to Engage With Your Employees and Prevent Attrition

One of the important factors involved in running a business is finding and retaining good employees. Yet, employees choosing to leave a job due to a lack of connection and engagement has increased.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in March 2022. Known as the “Great Resignation,” this trend has caught the attention of CEOs, upper-level management, and HR professionals. So why are these workers leaving, and what can you do as a business owner to improve retention?

Let’s explore how you can improve employee engagement within your organization and hold onto the valuable members of your team.  

How to Improve Employee Engagement

The key to success is to motivate and engage your team. A team that is passionate about their work and empowered to make strategic choices will achieve greater success.

If you have noticed the level of engagement in your organization has dropped, don’t be alarmed. While the current situation is less than ideal, there are steps you can take to improve upon it. 

Below are six ways you can effectively re-engage your team.

1. Leverage Your Team’s Strengths and Passions

When considering the roles performed by your team members, pay attention to their strengths and areas of interest. For example, employees who are truly passionate about their work are more dedicated and happier to return to the workplace every day.

This alignment is also a great way to reduce stress levels among team members. While some members may thrive when faced with the demands of high-profile or VIP clients, others may be better suited for work behind the scenes. 

Identifying the strengths of each team member will not only create a happier, more engaged work environment but will also improve productivity. Support this by backing your employees with the necessary budget to complete their projects. This allowance will provide more interest and variety in the workplace by preventing them from feeling stuck on any one task for an extended time.  

2. Trust the Decision-Making Abilities of Your Team

When you empower your employees to make their own decisions throughout the workday, you demonstrate you value their work and abilities. Building trust is an important step in creating a workplace where your team can thrive. It builds confidence and encourages each team member to work to their full potential.

Rather than outlining strict operating procedures with no room for personalization, allow your employees to make their best judgment in situations that don’t fit inside the box. Eliminate potential barriers, such as access to funding or tools when needed. You may discover more effective ways to solve problems by equipping staff to tap into their unique skillsets.    

3. Regularly Check-In with Your Team

A way to show employees they are an important part of the team is to show them their opinions matter. Take the time to check in with team members regularly. This check-in includes offering clear feedback and opportunities for improvement, opening the door for them to communicate their concerns and ideas.

Employees want direction. Many companies still use the traditional annual review, but this isn’t frequent enough to help your team improve. Instead, try offering a brief weekly update to each team member. Take this time to highlight ways they have performed skillfully and to identify actionable ways they can improve.

4. Allow for Open Communication Both Ways

This improved level of communication also needs to go in both directions. First, make it easy for your team to provide their feedback, including any concerns they may have and ideas for the future. You can encourage this by implementing an open-door policy within the workplace, offering time for your employees to speak up during their weekly check-in, or providing the opportunity for anonymous feedback with employee satisfaction surveys.

Make sure you are following through on the information that you are given. Advocate for their ideas. If they continually offer their feedback and nothing changes, it will only create frustration. The goal is for your team to feel heard and appreciated, which means considering their suggestions.  

5. Offer Training and Learning Opportunities

Another way you can help your team grow and improve in their career goals is to offer skill development and ongoing education opportunities. By supporting your team in advancing their career, you will show them that the company is invested in their future. This continued investment of time and resources fosters an environment of dedication and loyalty.

Knowledge and education come in many forms, including:

  • Formal education (College and University)
  • Mentorship/Coaching
  • Certifications
  • On-the-Job skills training
  • Virtual learning opportunities  

When many industries are experiencing skill shortages, investing in your team is a way to benefit both your company and all who work for it. 

6. Show Employees You Care About Their Health

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on mental health in all areas of our lives. This renewed focus includes the workplace. Not only will access to better mental health support help to boost work performance and satisfaction, but it will also help to improve the lives of your team outside of work. 

There are many ways you can make the mental health of your team a priority.  This focus ranges from providing better mental health care in your company’s health benefit plan to allowing for more flexible work hours, paid time off, and “mental health days.” 

Prioritizing mental health is more than just providing care for mental illness. It also means encouraging a healthy work/life balance and providing opportunities to relieve workplace stress.

Improve Employee Engagement by Creating an Employee-Centric Work Environment

By creating a work environment focused on empowering and supporting your team, you open the door for your employees to perform to their full potential. It encourages trust, increases productivity, and boosts employee retention. Build a culture that leverages your team’s strengths, trusts their decision-making abilities, encourages communication, and supports the health of all employees. Taking these steps will inspire a healthy, balanced workplace for all.