Business Killer: Employee Dis-Engagement

In our work assisting owners, CEOs and their management teams in developing and executing strategy, we often hear concern raised regarding the level of employee engagement and the risk it represents to achieving strategic objectives. A recent article by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath in the New Your Times sheds light on this critical issue and recommends steps that can be taken to improve employee engagement.

We have labeled employee engagement a “business killer” because only 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work according to the 2013 report by Gallup. As Schwartz and Porath state,”….in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.” The authors add that this experience is common not just to middle managers, but also senior management team members. Demand on people’s time is exceeding their capacity and this is compounded by intensifying competition, leaner organization’s and the 24/7 accessibility to information and requests enabled by digital technology.

Schwartz and Porath partnered with Harvard Business Review last year in conducting a survey to understand what influences people’s engagement and productivity at work. From the 12,000 mostly white collar respondents they found that employees are much more satisfied and productive when the following four core needs are met:

Physical – Opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work. Their experience shows employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one break a day.

Emotional – Feelings are valued and employees are appreciated for their contributions. Employees who say they have more supportive managers are 67 percent more engaged.

Mental – The opportunity to focus uninterrupted on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done. 20 percent of the respondents said they were able to focus on one task at a time at work, and they were 50 percent more engaged.

Purpose – Derive meaning and significance from their work. These employees are 1.4 times more engaged at work, and 3 times more likely to stay with their organizations.

Taking steps to support employees in meeting these core needs represents a significant opportunity for owners, CEOs and their management teams to build engagement, loyalty and job satisfaction. Meeting one or several of these needs creates the positive climate and resulting energy to enable change, such as what is required in executing a new strategy. The rewards can be significant. Gallup reported that when comparing employee engagement in companies in the top 25 percent with the employee engagement in companies in the bottom 25 percent, the top tier companies had 22 percent higher profitability, 10 percent higher customer ratings and 48 percent fewer safety incidents.

So how do you start improving employee engagement? Schwartz and Porath suggest, start by asking this basic question: “What would make our employees feel more energized, better taken care of, more focused and more inspired?” Low hanging fruit, for example could be mandating that meetings can last no longer than X minutes, or set boundaries around when employee are expected to answer emails and how quickly they have to respond. To meet physical needs identify break areas or promote at work fitness opportunities. Start to explicitly reward managers who demonstrate supportive behaviors to reinforce the importance of meeting employee emotional needs. The most important step is for Owners, CEOS and the management team to “Walk the Talk” explicitly encouraging employees and modeling ways to work that build engagement, loyalty and job satisfaction.

How much time do you spend in meeting your employee’s needs? We would be interested in your experiences, so please email us. We’d like to hear from you.