Employee engagement refers to an employee’s emotional commitment and involvement in their work and the organization for which they work. It is a necessary component for the success of any business or organization as it improves productivity, job satisfaction, loyalty, customer service quality, and the innovation mindset of the employee.
HR professionals have been discussing employee engagement for years, but recent trends have made the subject more frustrating.
In 2020, 36% of employees said they were engaged by their work. This came down to 34% in 2021 and further in 2022 again declined to 32%. According to Gallup, the polling organization which conducted this survey, it is the first annual decline in employee engagement in a decade. These survey results were released at the beginning of this year.
Those findings came amid talk of “quiet quitting,” in which employees commit to doing the bare minimum and otherwise check out of work. The term represents a mindset with deep roots, but one that has been fueled by a volatile talent market and rising levels of burnout.
Given the circumstances, employers, according to Davis M. Robinson, president and CEO of Horizon Consulting Services in Kentucky, must fundamentally rethink what employee engagement entails.
Robinson said during a presentation at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Conference on 17th April 2023 in his session whose topic was “Employee Engagement or EnCAGEment: The Six Tactics To Unleash The Full Potential of Employees”, that employers should prioritize strategies that highlight employees’ strengths and goals over those that aim to keep them satisfied enough to stay.
“We spend a lot of money and pay a lot of attention to engagement in our organizations, but for some reason, the needle is not moving,” Robinson explained. “The numbers aren’t looking good. They’re stuck.”
Robinson showed attendees an Audi commercial in which an employee quits after being named employee of the year. The takeaway for Robinson is that all of the typical engagement-focused perks on display — clean offices, awards, free food, and clear recognition by colleagues/coworkers — are insufficient to keep top talent from leaving.
Identifying the Right Priorities
An employee engagement strategy begins with clear goals and objectives, understanding employee needs, creating a supportive culture, providing meaningful work, investing in employee development, and measuring and evaluating engagement.
More importantly, defining an engagement strategy, according to Robinson, begins with understanding the spectrum of employees in the organization, including those who are already considered engaged, those who are actively disengaged, and those who are “nonengaged.” Employers should focus on this latter group of workers, Robinson continued, because employers can help create a psychological attachment to the job that these workers may currently lack.
Robinson referred to three psychological conditions of engagement articulated by Boston University psychologist William Kahn in a 1990 article: meaningfulness, safety, and availability.
Employers can focus on the first of these by ensuring employees feel they receive a return on investment from the work they put into their jobs, find meaning in that work, and can use their strengths on the job, according to Robinson.
“Most engagement models are centered on the work experience rather than the employees,” he further said. “Instead of organizations focusing on the inputs of the organization, we need to focus on the inputs of the individual.”
Approaches To Engagement For The Entire Job Cycle
According to Robinson, work begins at the hiring stage, when employers should consider how they review candidates and whether their hiring processes inquire about candidates’ talents, strengths, or skills. It’s critical, he adds, to consider which skills organizations can and cannot teach, particularly those that are related to a candidate’s own personality.
Managers, according to Robinson, play an important role once an employee is onboarded, and their conversations with employees should include direct questions about their strengths and whether those strengths are being utilized. Here are some examples:
- What are your plans for the future if you quit today?
- What does that have to do with your current job?
- To what extent are you able to put those skills to use in your current position?
- How did you get into this line of work?
- What natural abilities or talents do you have?
- What aspects of your job make you happy?
- These same question categories, according to Robinson, could be included in employee engagement surveys as well.
Career pathing is a popular engagement strategy in HR circles, and Robinson believes that redesigning or crafting roles can help employees feel more connected to their jobs. There may also be opportunities to incorporate work with affinity groups, employee resource groups, community groups, and other causes to assist employees in meeting their objectives.