Employees are the backbone of organizations. But despite having the knowledge that an engaged workforce correlates to positive customer experiences and growing sales, high levels of disengagement still plague many organizations.
In fact, the latest Gallup report on the State of the American Workplace notes that despite changes to the U.S. economy since 2000, these have not been translated to the American workplace. The recent recession led to a decrease in employment opportunities, making workers less inclined to leave their job because of low engagement and employers less incentivized to ensure that their staffers were happy. However, while the tide is slowly changing, many workplaces are not changing their practices and investing in initiatives that ensure a high level of employee engagement.
In fact, only one-third of American employees are engaged in their work. "The vast majority of U.S. workers (70 percent) are not reaching their full potential-a problem that has significant implications for the economy and the individual performance of American companies," the report notes.
So, why are employees not engaged or entirely disengaged?
1. Bad management
As Jim Clifton, Gallup's chairman and CEO, notes, the single most important decision that business leaders will make is who to appoint as a manager. "When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision," he says. "Not compensation, not benefits-nothing."
Gary Magenta, senior vice president at Root, agrees. "Managers are key to employee engagement," he says. "Low employee engagement is often times in relation to low management skills." In fact, Magenta adds that often employees quit a job because they don't get along with their managers. On the other hand, staff members will often want to follow a great manager when they move on to another opportunity.
Further, bad managers don't solely impact those who answer to them. Instead, unhappy employees are likely to spread the word, impacting other staff members. As Clifton notes in the Gallup report, "these employees, who have bosses from hell that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent."
In addition, the way employees are treated will often be reflected in the way they deal with customers. "Employees cannot treat customers better than how they are treated themselves by management," explains Magenta.
2. Lack of transparency
Information is power. But apart from that, sharing information also creates a sense of trust between the person sharing the information and the one who's at the receiving end. "Invest in information," recommends Mal Poulin, product director at Ancile Solutions. "There's a sense of validation when employees are trusted with information," he explains. Further, information can help employees do their jobs better, especially frontliners who need to share details with customers. "They need to have the information that customers need," Poulin stresses.
Of course, business leaders cannot always share all information with employees, and there are likely to be instances where information needs to remain confidential. Lamont Exeter, executive director of learning innovation at TeleTech, recommends telling employees when certain information cannot be shared. "Let them know that you will share that information when you can," he says. This was the strategy taken by Ford when the company was experiencing financial struggles. As 1to1 Media explains in this article, the auto manufacturer made sure to share information with staff. Further, according to Sara Tatchio, Ford's manager for integrated global communications, "sometimes transparency means having to say 'I don't know yet.'"
At times business leaders don't share information because they claim that employees won't understand. This, explains Root's Magenta, is a mistake. "Organizations need to appeal to the highest level of thinking of employees," he notes. "People are smart. Don't assume that they don't understand." Instead, Magenta says, business leaders should share "easily digestible information" and if possible share stories which individuals find easy to understand and remember. Magenta uses the example of an airport which was experiencing low levels of engagement. The leadership decided to be as open as possible with employees and explain the reason behind an upcoming strategy change, which lead to a drastic increase in engagement.
3. Not enough investment in continuous training
Employees expect more from their managers than just telling them what to do. They require coaching. Continuous training that helps employees expand their knowledge and abilities is an important driver of engagement. Failure to provide this will leave employees feeling unfulfilled and uncertain about their potential to grow within the company. "It's imperative to help employees grow," stresses Exeter.
Training, Poulin explains, doesn't need to be a formal affair. "It's not just about classes," he notes. Instead, organizations should make sure that managers spend time speaking with individual employees, letting them know what they're doing right and what requires improvement, and giving them the needed guidance to be able to do their jobs better. "Spend time with employees," he adds.
4. Wrong hiring practices
While organizations can implement strategies to improve and retain high levels of employee engagement, they first need to set the right foundation by hiring the right people who are fit for the job. A major contributor to disengagement is when employees feel they don't fit within the organization and cannot contribute to the best of their abilities.
Therefore, organizations need to make sure that they are hiring people with the right attributes to excel in their jobs and be successful. While being able to perform the task at hand is the key; it's also important to make sure that new hires have the right personality traits to fit within the given company.
One mistake that some managers make is hiring individuals who are just like them. "Hire for the job rather than someone who's the exact replica of yourself," Exeter stresses. In fact, he the need to build a diverse team that will work well together and complement each other.
5. Overdependence on compensation and benefits
There is no hiding that at the end of the day almost all employees work because they need the paycheck. While many people seek a job that they like, the right compensation is extremely important, as are benefits. However, Exeter warns that business leaders shouldn't try to resolve disengagement issues by increasing compensation. "Many times people throw money [at employees] to resolve problems," he notes. While the right compensation is important to employees, this will only contribute to improving engagement if the other actions are also taken. Poulin agrees. "It's not only about the money, but about training, enablement, recognition, etc.," he stresses.
Finally, business leaders need to make sure that they are constantly communicating with employees and encouraging them to voice their opinions about issues that might be negatively impacting their engagement levels. Further, managers need to create an atmosphere where employees are not penalized for coming forward and sharing their thoughts.