Employee Engagement Is Declining, but Managers Can Help
New research shows that only 1 in 4 employees feels strongly valued.
Posted February 9, 2017
Employee engagement is one of those management attributes that can be hard to define. Different companies characterize it differently, but there's one thing they pretty much all agree on: They do want engaged employees. Why? It's simple: Engaged employees are usually more committed, hard-working, and productive.
Which is why it was disturbing (though not too surprising) to read about declines in key management metrics in a new report from TINYpulse, "2017 Employee Engagement Report: The Broken Bridges of the Workplace."
There are three measures in particular in this research that I feel go to the heart of substantive problems management often deals with - problems that if not resolved have far-reaching consequences on employee engagement (or more accurately, disengagement), productivity and retention. The three measures are:
Lack of employee recognition. According to the survey, the number of employees "who feel strongly valued at work" dropped 16% - from 31% in the prior year's survey to 26% in the current one. The fact that barely more than one in four employees feels valued is a sad commentary on management. Over the years I've spoken with many, many employees who didn't feel valued in their jobs, and this sort of malaise is usually a deeply personal disturbance that rarely has a good outcome (e.g. disengagement, reduced productivity, leaving for greener pastures). The most unfortunate part is, the kind of recognition that is often most desired - simple, honest words of praise from one's direct manager - has no cost and takes little effort. Yet organizations continue to falter in this regard, as this current survey indicates, at a high cost to many companies.
Lack of transparency. Lack of management transparency is, like lack of recognition, another common morale-killer. Why wouldn't it be? Who wants to feel their own management is routinely less than direct and honest with them? Yet this survey places the number of employees "who feel management is very transparent" at only 25%. (The figure rises to 42% for those who are part of management.) But if only one in four individuals on the employee side feels transparency, the great majority inhabit an at least somewhat mistrustful environment where it's only natural for motivation and extra effort to lag.
Disconnection from peers. There's a mountain of data out there (plus of course good old common sense) that tells you that on-the-job relationships are an integral element of the employee engagement formula. A collegial day-to-day environment makes a great difference in one's experience of work. Yet data in this survey shows that only 24% of employees "feel strongly connected to their co workers," an 11% drop from the prior year. A common theme in employee responses was "my team is OK, but others aren't." Or as the report concluded, "Management's failure to foster cross-functional relationships is increasing the gap between departments." Only 27% of employees thought their company was "doing a great job with team building."
The bad news about these numbers is that they're bad for business. Very bad for business. And they're unnecessary. Very unnecessary. Issues like recognition and transparency and team-building don't take a huge management effort to address. They don't require massive budgets or complex project plans.
The good news about these kind of numbers is that with the right kind of management these numbers are fixable. Very fixable. None are insoluble or even, for well-trained and thoughtful managers, difficult. They take no great technical skills that can only be learned by MBAs from B-schools with ivy growing on them.
Recognizing and valuing employees is simple; it just takes a little time and effort and awareness that it does indeed make a difference. The way I like to put it: There's little for a manager to gain by being emotionally stingy.
Transparency is easier still. It's arguably harder to not be transparent and to have to make up explanations that aren't real but sound credible. Transparency just involves open, straightforward communication - plus of course a senior management who will support it.
Helping to create a positive team environment where employees feel free to speak their minds and connect with each other is a bit more complex, but by no means unattainable. Mostly it takes managers who understand how different personalities interact... and who can make employees feel comfortable while still getting the needed results. It takes managers who can create an open atmosphere where friendships can flourish.
Not one dominated by fear and uncertainty.
This article first appeared at Forbes.com.
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Victor Lipman is an executive coach and author of The Type B Manager.