Pre-Covid data revealed that only 25% of employees describe their workplace as a happy one, and less than half were happy in their current job role. Sadly, these numbers have fallen even more since work-from-home and other protective measures altered the workplace locations and relationships for so many employees. As organizations scrambled to adjust, many put efforts to maintain employee engagement on the back burner. Lost in the shuffle were two questions every business should be asking right now: Why is employee engagement important? and What can we do to improve employee engagement?
We’ll start with the first question and tackle the second one in the coming weeks of this CONNECT2Lead series.
The Happiness-at-Work Factor
For those who feel “employee engagement” is business jargon or an intangible, perhaps it’s more useful to talk about people being happy (or unhappy) in their current job.
The business case for happy employees and for creating a pleasant employee experience is no small thing. Research consistently finds that happy employees are more likely to stick around longer.
The pursuit of happiness at work is so compelling that employees are willing to give up most extrinsic motivators in exchange for it. Spherion found that employees would willingly sacrifice the following if it could be replaced with happiness at work:
- A private office space (76%)
- Workplace and time flexibility (60%)
- Position or title (60%)
- Benefits such as vacation time or 401(k) contributions (41%)
- Additional pay (36%)
- Health benefits (31%)
Anecdotally, people believe that their co-workers are more productive when they’re happy, according to a study by Ultimate Software. This suggest that happiness and unhappiness are observable, as are the impacts on the business. (This means YOU could observe this, too!)
It's no surprise that happiness comes from friendships in the workplace (say 57% of respondents in a LinkedIn survey).
When people aren’t happy at work, they often leave. 71% of Millennials who are unhappy at work plan to leave their employer within the next two years (Deloitte). But there are repercussions when unhappy employees don’t leave. A Randstad study with unhappy employees found that:
- 38% admitted to listening in on private conversations.
- 5% drank alcohol on the job.
- 15% took naps on the job.
- 9% helped themselves to co-workers food in shared spaces.
- 40% played pranks on co-workers.
- 5% watched Netflix and/or other streaming services during work.
- 2% used the company credit card for personal purchases.
In other words, having happy employees can strengthen your organization. Having unhappy employees can weaken your organization and demoralize other employees.
But There’s More to Employee Engagement than Happiness at Work
It’s possible to be happy at work without being genuinely committed to the organization, mission, and team. Happiness is a feeling, one that could be swayed by current circumstances or short-term situations.
An employee can be BOTH happy at work and disengaged when working. For some, coasting and doing as little work as possible could result in happiness.
Happiness does not produce employee engagement. But engaged employees are more likely to be happy. That’s why focusing on and measuring employee engagement is a better choice than thinking too narrowly about employee happiness.
Employee engagement is defined by the CEB as “a heightened emotional connection an employee feels towards their organization that influences them to apply additional discretionary effort.”
It’s a two-part definition. The emotional commitment drives discretionary effort. (Make no mistake – employee always have the choice about how much effort to apply!) CEB also reports that “Emotional commitment is four times as valuable as rational commitment in producing discretionary effort. Indeed, the search for a high-performing workforce is synonymous with the search for emotional commitment.”
What this means is that we can’t dodge or deny that EMOTIONAL commitment matters.
To have engaged employees, you must take proactive steps to earn and keep their emotional commitment.
This isn’t about making people happy. It’s about giving them what they want from work. This includes:
- regular and timely feedback that will help them improve and develop,
- managers who know them as individuals and care about them personally,
- a sense of belonging, inclusion, dignity, and respect,
- opportunities to discover and unleash their full potential,
- a sense of career pathing and clarity about expectations for how to move ahead,
- adequate resources and time to the work they’re assigned, and
- a sense of meaning and purpose in the work they do.
Managers and senior management are responsible for creating workplace cultures that provide these drivers of employee engagement. Developing leaders at every level is the best way to ensure that managers understand what it means to lead and engage others.
Why Is Employee Engagement Important Enough to Focus on Right Now?
You’re competing for talent every single day, and that competition is about to get tougher.
Gallup’s recent analysis found that 48% of America’s workers are actively job searching. Businesses already have a record number of unfilled positions and resignation rates are already at all-time highs.
The percent of those who are actively seeking a different job is higher among those who are less engaged. But, even for those who are engaged at work, the percent who are seeking a new job is higher now than it was in pre-Covid studies.
What this means is that you need to heighten engagement across the board or prepare for a mass exodus of employees. But if you replace the ones you had with others who are seeking workplace engagement, you’ll soon be repeating this cycle UNLESS you fix issues that impair engagement.
To fix those issues, start with frontline managers. In our next article in this series, we’ll focus on precisely what managers need to do to boost employee engagement. Managers who are highly effective in employee engagement have highly loyal employees. Their organizations have significantly less turnover, higher productivity rates, improved customer satisfaction, and strong bottom lines.