The 12 Elements of Employee Engagement

happy employee 2.jpg

It’s been four years since Gallup last issued a State of the American Workplace report, so its 2017 report was met with anticipation by anyone who cares about the employee experience and employee engagement. Using data collected from more than 195,600 U.S. employees in 2015 and 2016, Gallup created its third iteration of this report, which was first issued in 2010.

Alas, the news from the front lines is not good. In fact, it’s downright abysmal. With 100 million full-time employees, only 33% of American workers are engaged, versus 70% of workers at the world’s best organizations. On the other hand, 16% of employees are actively disengaged — “they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build,” as the report puts it. The remaining 51% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged - they’re just muddling along, and probably looking for their next job.

The report finds such a grim American work landscape that it advises business leaders that they have nothing to lose by trying something - anything - different to change the status quo. “The very practice of management no longer works,” the report declares. “The old ways — annual reviews, forced rankings, outdated competencies — no longer achieve the intended results...American leadership philosophy simply doesn’t work anymore. One also wonders if the country’s declining productivity numbers point to a need for major workplace disruption.”

What’s happening to drive this decline? Gallup posits that there are “historical and monumental” changes whipsawing the workplace, with new and emerging technologies transforming the way work gets done. More employees work remotely and teams have fewer face-to-face touch points. Millennial employees demand more purpose-filled work that adapts to their lives. Employees are feeling bullish about finding new jobs when they’re ready to move on, and they have seemingly unlimited resources in helping them find their next jobs. Turnover rates are through the roof; a record 47% of the workforce says now is a good time to find a quality job, and more than half of employees (51%) are searching for new jobs or watching for openings.

The result? Focusing on employee attraction and retention is more important than ever; most employees (91%) say the last time they changed jobs, they left their company to do so. Managers are being forced to navigate new headwinds in how they manage employees and foster more collaborative environments that address changing modern realities of employee preferences and style. 

Gallup states that while much has evolved since it began its State of the American Workplace report, what hasn’t changed are 12 questions that business leaders should ask about their workforce, as a prompt to understanding whether employees have what they need to be engaged. Gallup believes that these 12 elements are proven performance management practices that can boost the outcomes of individuals, teams and the entire organization.

Can your employees can answer positively to these 12 questions?

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.

  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.

  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

  10. I have a best friend at work.

  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Ultimately, Gallup points to the need for a major transformation of workplace culture. The short version of their suggestions boils down to this:

  • Call an executive committee meeting and commit to transforming your workplace from old command-and-control to one of high development and ongoing coaching conversations.

  • Dive in — don’t put your toe in. You can afford a lot of mistakes and even failures because the system you currently use doesn’t work anyway.

  • Switch from a culture of “employee satisfaction” — which only measures things like how much workers like their perks and benefits — to a “coaching culture.”

  • Change from a culture of “paycheck” to a culture of “purpose.”

  • If you have 25,000 employees, then you likely have about 2,500 managers and leaders at various levels. Transform them all.  

  • Institute a leadership philosophy of developing strengths versus fixing weaknesses.

These takeaways offer yet another reason for managers to double down on their employee volunteer and giving programs, which can and should provide the foundation for corporate cultures. Giving back programs not only enrich your company’s ethos with a greater sense of purpose but also provide opportunities for collaboration, leadership and skills training, camaraderie and pride that employees today seek from their jobs.

“Organizations have nowhere to hide,” the report finds. “They have to adapt to the needs of the modern workforce, or they will find themselves struggling to attract and keep great employees and therefore customers."

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, consider a substantially greater investment of time and resources in your social impact programs as a direct path to succeeding during this disruptive moment in time for the American workplace.  

Ryan Scott