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Do You Know the Root Cause to Poor Employee Engagement?

Editor’s Note: The author, Dwight Mihalicz, is a subject expert matter on effective management and hosting a free webinar for Flevy’s audience on Empowerment 4.0.   The focus of Empowerment 4.0 is to help managers of managers understand the elements that need to be in place for effective teams.  Most management training focuses on the “soft skills,” whereas the teachings of Empowerment 4.0 are more fundamental and can help managers deal with root-cause issues of why they are not getting the team performance they desire and should be able to expect.  You can sign up for the free webinar here.

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I recently read an interview in Fast Company on the dismal state of employee engagement in the American workforce. Jim Harter, Ph.D., heads up Gallup’s research on employee engagement. Using 263 research studies across 192 organizations in 49 industries and 34 countries, Gallup recently conducted its eighth meta-analysis on the subject. The research overwhelmingly concluded that the vast majority of employees are disengaged in their jobs.

Employee Engagement

There are three ways to categorize these employees. The article I read provided an analogy of a group of people in a boat, with only a few people rowing, the vast majority passively watching the scenery, and a couple more individuals actively trying to sink it. So in other words:

  • Engaged employees are those who feel a genuine connection to their company and its goals. They are the employees who really care and are entirely committed to the success of their organization. Unfortunately, they make up only about 30% of the workforce.
  • Passively disengaged employees make up a little over half of the workforce. They are the employees who are indifferent to their organization—they just want to get their work done and go home.
  • Actively disengaged employees are those employees who are actively indifferent. They are dissatisfied with their organization to the point of intentionally harming it. They make up the remainder of the workforce.

The Facts

It is an indisputable fact that engagement has a huge impact on organizational performance. Jim Harter’s Gallup research, which studied nearly 1.4 million employees, demonstrates that engagement affects customer satisfaction, profitability, productivity, and quality. It also affects employee behaviour with regards to turnover, safety, theft, and absenteeism.

The research showed that companies in the top quartile of employee engagement had 22% higher profits than the bottom quartile. Those in the top 1% had four times the success rate of the bottom 1%. Engaged workforces also seemed to have recovered from the recession more quickly.

Measuring Engagement

Creating employee engagement is critical to the success of any organization, and measuring engagement is the first step. However, the problem with most employee engagement surveys is that they measure the symptoms of disengagement and not the root cause. For example, most surveys identify Communication and Collaboration as problem areas, so organizations hoping to create employee engagement try to improve these areas. They attempt to boost communication with newsletters, social events, and other such things. They try to overcome Collaboration issues with team building exercises. But engagement doesn’t improve because they are attacking the symptoms and not the root cause. It’s like taking an aspirin for a fever. You may feel better, but the underlying disease is not cured.

As Jim Harter says in Gallup’s business journal, “Measurement is one thing, what you measure is another. You can measure a lot of things that have nothing to do with performance and that don’t help a company implement a system that allows managers to create change.”

The Effective ManagersTM Survey

This is one of the reasons why we developed our Effective ManagersTM Survey. We wanted to discover the root cause of manager ineffectiveness, because ineffective managers cannot create an environment where employees will be engaged. Through our research we learned that effectiveness is related to accountability. Employees feel they’re not being communicated with when a proper accountability and authority framework doesn’t exist. When managers delegate effectively, assigning accountabilities and creating feedback loops, employees receive right-sized messaging at the right time.

All organizations should be concerned with employee engagement. In order to create employee engagement, you first need to measure it, but unfortunately this is where many organizations fail. If you want to heal the disease of disengagement, instead of just mitigating the symptoms, you have to measure the right things. If you’re looking for a solution that’s long lasting instead of fast acting, you must measure the right things.

About Dwight Mihalicz

Dwight Mihalicz has over 40 years’ experience helping local, national, and international organizations achieve greater productivity, efficiency, and performance. He is also teaching a 7-week Flevy Executive Learning (FEL) program on effective management called Empowerment 4.0, as well as giving a free webinar by the same title. Sign up for the webinar here.

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