Engagement in the Trough

Engagement in the Trough

Paul M. Sanchez, ABC, IABC FELLOW, APR

Word Count: 821 words
Time to Read: 3-4 minutes

In a recent article, Employee Engagement in this Age of Peril (published in a prior Wolf in the Workplace article) I wrote that, now more than ever, employers must take seriously the question of how engaged and motivated their employees really are. Further, as the recession abates, and employment stabilizes, and unemployment drops, there will be that inevitable resurgence of the War Talent, identified and framed in the landmark McKinsey studies.

The premise of this short article is that employer efforts launched now to enhance employee engagement will yield long term beneficial results for organizations, their employees and other stakeholders. However, if the matter of employee engagement is left on the back burner too long, the late-to-respond organizations will likely face a series of undesirable challenges:

  • Top talent will move
  • Programs to enhance quality will be less effective and could fail
  • Customer/client service will weaken
  • The workforce will grow even more skeptical and alienated

What should catch our attention and galvanize our resolve, is that there is fresh evidence on several fronts that employers are losing the battle to win on the engagement challenge. One such body of evidence is the recently released annual study conducted by the WorldatWork Association (1) and the consulting firm, WatsonWyatt (2). This study found "a sharp decline in the morale and commitment...of workers, especially top performers." The study found a nine percent drop in engagement in the companies surveyed over the previous study, and a twenty-five percent drop in the morale of those employees classified as top performers.

These results highlight the perceptions and attitudes of employees as organizations have implemented strategies and tactics to combat the recession, often without considering the adverse impact on the morale of the workforce or even how to ameliorate the adverse effects of what are often necessary survival steps. One universal indicator of engagement is the willingness of employees to recommend their companies as good places to work. This indicator has dropped twenty percent from the previous year. Another bellwether finding is that top performers are fourteen percent less likely to want to remain with their companies.

In another similar collaborative study conducted by the staffing firm Robert Half and human capital solutions firm Career Builder, there was ample evidence of intentional job movement by the respondents (and hence employees in general) as the recession retreats. These views were expressed by trained and experienced workers at all levels. The study's principal conclusion was that employers (should) heed the warning explicit in these perceptions "and take steps now to engage their valued employees and avoid unwanted (and damaging) turnover”.

A prevalent key driver of employee engagement is the prospect of growth, development and advancement. The WorldatWork study found that top performing employees were twenty-six percent less likely, during the study period, to be satisfied with development and advancement opportunities in their organizations.

In research previously published by Mercer, in its global What's Working studies, it was found that a number of leading industrialized countries’ growth and development showed up as in either the one, two, three key driver position of employee engagement. These converging data points should provide thoughtful organizations stimulus to consider pre-emptive actions to not only hold their employees, but to build stronger workforce relations to achieve their mid and long range goals and objectives.

As if these findings were not a sufficient wake-up call, the study's most alarming finding, in my opinion, is that top performers are twenty-nine percent less confident in top management’s ability to grow the business.

Confidence and trust in leadership is an essential element in creating an engaged workforce. Overall engagement studies point to four abiding factors leading to employee engagement: 1) Leadership; 2) Recognition and rewards; 3) The work itself; and 4) Communication. A study conducted by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), indentifies the leadership’s failure to communicate with employees in candid, timely and proactive ways to keep them informed and aware of business challenges and solutions.

Each of these four factors, when woven into a conscious and comprehensive engagement initiative, are the “DNA” building blocks to develop and sustain an engaged workforce. These cited studies show that these four engagement factors have dropped significantly.

Enlightened organizations will heed the current research, if they have not done so already, and look to the four building blocks of employee engagement identified above. Taking the view that employee engagement is not just a nice-to-have outcome, but a critical success ingredient is the only path forward as organizations, large and small, public or private, struggle to recover and position themselves for the post-recession competitive environment.

1. WorldatWork is the world's leading not-for-profit professional association dedicated to knowledge leadership in total rewards, compensation, benefits, and work-life. The cited study was among 1300 full time workers in large U.S, employers.
2. WatsonWyatt is a global Human Resources consulting firm, WatsonWyatt is a global Human Resources consulting firm, now merged with Towers Perrin, and known as Towers Watson.



Leadership insights in your inbox.

Nationally acclaimed speaker

International bestselling author Jeff Wolf is now available for your next meeting, conference or convention to provide a high-energy presentation filled with strategies and techniques attendees can immediately apply to improve their skills.