Study after study shows engaged employees are ‘more satisfied, loyal, productive and profitable’ than their disengaged counterparts. The numbers contained in these studies are compelling, yet confusion still surrounds this emerging management topic.
Expressed in its simplest terms, employee engagement is a measure of what people are thinking and feeling when they arrive at work in the morning – which in turn determines how much effort they’re prepared to invest in their work.
Engaged employees typically turn up for work with a spring in their step. They know what they have to do and they’re keen to get on and do it. They are a positive influence inside the business, and advocates for it when they’re on the outside.
Conversely, disengaged employees shuffle into work full of dread for the day that lies ahead. They can’t see the big picture and have no idea of what they should be doing unless their manager tells them. And to make matters worse, they’ll slack off if they think no one is looking.
Is employee disengagement a problem in Australia? The unequivocal answer is, yes. The Gallup Organisation undertook a research study to establish the percentage of the population that reside in one of three employee engagement categories: ‘engaged’, ‘not-engaged’ and ‘actively disengaged’.
The survey found that only in one in five Australians are ‘engaged’ with their work, which is a disturbingly low ratio. Compounding this bad news, the survey found that three out of five Australians exhibit signs of being ‘disengaged’. That is, they turn up every day, but put no energy or passion into their work. This is another worrying result.
However, it’s the final group that creates the most cause for concern. The survey found that one in five Australians fall into the ‘actively disengaged’ category. These individuals aren’t just bored or disinterested; they are actively looking for ways to undermine the plans of their employer and the efforts of their more motivated colleagues.
Gallup estimates the economic cost of this disengagement at a jaw-dropping $32 billion. This is the sort of number that leadership teams cannot ignore, which explains why the issue of employee engagement is suddenly sitting at the top of their agenda.
As part of my background research into this subject I sat down with executives from some of Australia’s leading companies – Vodafone, ANZ, Stockland, AMP, St George, CSC, KPMG, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Unilever – to establish exactly what they were doing in this space.
The views and opinions these executives shared with me were reassuringly similar. They all described employee engagement as something that is extremely difficult to generate, requiring years of unrelenting effort. However, they universally felt that the substantial investment of time and money they were making was definitely worthwhile.
The benefits they were seeing ran right across their businesses and included improved employee retention figures, higher customer satisfaction scores and, most importantly, increased revenue and profit numbers. In other words, these companies were building their very own version of Harvard Business School’s people-service-profit chain.
The programs and approaches these executives were using to achieve their results varied tremendously. There were those who were looking to more effectively align their people around the corporate strategy. Some were providing their people with the training and tools they needed to enjoy more constructive relationships with their colleagues. While others were reworking their internal policies and processes, so they helped rather than hindered employees.
All these companies took different routes, yet their destination was the same. They were all striving to get their people to intellectually and emotionally commit to the vision, buy-in to the corporate strategy and operate in alignment with the firm’s values. Those that achieved this goal hit the mother lode of employee engagement – a rich seam of motivated employees who are all heading in the same direction for the same reason.
Companies that want to achieve fast growth in the future will need to operate with a similar talent pool. If you don’t already have an employee engagement strategy in place, the time to start preparing one is now.
David Croston is the author of ‘Employee Engagement: The People First Approach To Building A Business’. He has recently established Inside Research, a specialist employee research consultancy. www.insideresearch.com.au