A New Look at Engagement

21 Oct 2011

By: Barb Krantz Taylor
Source: Talent Management
Original Article

Here are nine intangible elements of work that employees rank much higher than salary or perks on engagement surveys.

Engaged employees perform at 100 percent of their ability, but the most highly engaged employees perform at 122 percent. This was an assertion made during a Towers Perrin — now Towers Watson — webinar called “Leadership Drives Engagement and Retention” a few years ago.

Let’s do the math. Every employee who’s elevated from engaged to highly engaged is expected to add 22 percent more productivity, potentially resulting in the equivalent of one more full-time employee for every five new highly engaged employees.

Employee engagement has always been of interest to talent leaders, and the need to drive engagement is only growing in importance. During the tumultuous economic downturn, people were happy just to have a job, but now companies are seeing signs of movement in the market as recruiters come knocking.

There’s a high cost to low engagement and burnout. A Families and Work Institute report titled “Overwork in America” noted in 2005 that people are overworked more than ever, and react badly to stress and longer hours. Organizations with low engagement will also experience higher turnover, lost productivity, transition chaos, loss of critical knowledge and skills, disrupted succession plans and less profitability and business value.

Traditionally, companies have used carrots or sticks to motivate or engage employees. They offer raises, bonuses and other perks as carrots. They also try sticks such as performance quotas tied to disciplinary action, demerits and loss of privileges. However, these things don’t drive engagement. Sticks tend to create resentment rather than top performance. Compensation and other carrots are good, but highly engaged employees expect more.

Here are nine key drivers of engagement as identified by The Bailey Group. Most organizations have at least some of these, but are missing a few. These intangible elements of work rank much higher than salary or perks on employee engagement surveys. Individually, these drivers can indicate strengths or concerns, but all nine must be considered to determine a complete picture of engagement. Notice how money isn’t even mentioned.

1. Trust in leadership. Leaders demonstrate behaviors or traits that positively impact engagement, such as authenticity, communication, presence and honesty.

2. Manager-employee relationship. Managers relate to employees in a positive and open manner and take an active interest in getting to know their employees.

3. Co-worker relationships. Employees trust and feel connected to co-workers, team members and others they collaborate with on a daily basis.

4. Job satisfaction or enjoyment. Employees are satisfied with and really enjoy the responsibilities they have.

5. Connection to vision or clarity of purpose. Employees fully understand their roles within the organization, believe their work is important and connect it to the organization’s purpose and strategy.

6. Pride in organization. Employees are proud of the organization they work for, recommend it to others and plan to stay.

7. Development opportunities. Employees recognize opportunities to learn and grow within the organization, and their development is supported by company leadership.

8. Utilization of strengths. Employees feel encouraged to explore and use their unique talents and strengths at work.

9. Discretionary effort. Employees are willing to put in extra effort to accomplish a task and be more successful in their jobs.

Organizations that conduct employee surveys just to show that they’ve done something — but fail to follow through with an action plan — can actually reduce, rather than increase, engagement. People get a sense that their opinions don’t matter, which hinders engagement.

In some cases, small changes — such as creating an individual development plan for top performers and including them in the design and management of their plans — can be all it takes to boost engagement.

People who are highly engaged will work harder even through tough times — as long as they feel like it’s worth it. To keep top performers from taking flight — and elevate less engaged people to that 100 percent range — don’t focus on carrots and sticks; instead, consider the drivers of engagement and focus on a plan for strengthening or developing your employees in the coming year.

Barb Krantz Taylor is a licensed psychologist, co-principal and executive coach with The Bailey Group. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.