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Why Employee Engagement Matters

March 3, 2020

Are your employees engaged? Do you know if they are? Do you care? How relevant is employee engagement in terms of business success? In a word, VERY! 

If you are leading your organization, a division, or even a team in your company, you ought to know whether your employees are engaged and you should care! Employee engagement has a tremendous impact on the success of your company and the teams within your company. The Gallup organization has been studying employee engagement for 20 years now and their findings are powerful – and concerning.

Gallup has recently published their latest “State of the American Workplace” report and according to this report, only 33% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work! That means only a third of your employee population is passionate about your company, the company’s mission, and the work they do for your company, doing their very best to create success for your organization. The remainder of your workforce (67%) is either disengaged (51%), doing only what they must do to maintain their jobs and collect their paychecks, or actively disengaged (16%), actively sabotaging what your handful of engaged employees are doing. These numbers mean that over half of your employees are not working very hard, and that for all of those who are working hard, with passion; half as many of your employees are trying to destroy what they are doing!

The findings are even more concerning if you are leading a global company. Even if the majority of your workforce is located in the U.S., if you have employees around the globe, your employee engagement levels may be even lower in those locations outside the U.S. Many countries worldwide hold different cultural beliefs and practices that make employee engagement levels in their countries lower than the level of engagement in the U.S.  Worldwide, in Gallup’s previous “State of the Global Workplace” report only 13% of the world’s employees were engaged! An additional reason for concern for global companies may also be that, generally speaking, the bigger your organization, the lower your levels of engagement.

Why does this matter? Because it impacts your bottom line! According to Gallup’s most recent report, “Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.”  That’s billion, with a B! Can you imagine how much more profitable your business would be if more of your employees were engaged? Gallup has also found that 51% of employees are seeking new jobs and 91% of those will leave their current companies for new roles. The goal of employee engagement is not simply happier employees; the goal is better bottom line results. When Gallup studied the companies that won their Gallup Great Workplace Award, they found that in those companies 70% of their employees were engaged. Those companies had higher profitability and higher earnings per share.

Gallup suggests that in order to increase employee engagement, organizations must treat employees as stakeholders, just as they would their customers and shareholders, because not only do employees have a stake in the future of the company, but also because they create the outcomes the company generates. Gallup also found that many of the disengaged employees “want a reason to be inspired,” thus if you want your company’s performance to improve, you have to find a way to reach these employees with a company purpose and mission that speaks to them and a company brand that makes them proud to work there and represent your brand.

What difference does it make when your employees are engaged? Gallup found that, “Business or work units that score in the top quartile of their organization in employee engagement have nearly double the odds of success…when compared with those in the bottom quartile. Those at the 99th percentile have four times the success rate of those at the first percentile.” According to Gallup’s report, when comparing these two elements those at the top realize the following improvements:

41% Lower Absenteeism

24% Lower Turnover (High-Turnover Organizations)

59% Lower Turnover (Low-Turnover Organizations)

28% Less Shrinkage

70% Fewer Employee Safety Incidents

58% Fewer Patient Safety Incidents

40% Fewer Quality Incidents (Defects)

10% Higher Customer Metrics

17% Higher Productivity

20% Higher Sales

21% Higher Profitability

Do the math! Use your own company’s numbers and do the math. Even if you only look at a handful of these metrics, like safety incidents, sales, and profitability, you will quickly see how much, in real dollars, higher engagement could mean to your specific organization if just one or two of these areas improved. What if you could improve them all? This is why employee engagement matters!

The goal of employee engagement is not only about meeting the needs of your employees so you can attract and retain the best, but also, and most importantly, to increase company growth, success, and profitability. Still wondering if doing something about making sure your employees are engaged makes a difference? In studying the winners of the Gallup Great Workplace Award, Gallup found that those organizations significantly outperformed their competitors. Specifically:

  • Publicly traded organizations that received the Gallup Great Workplace Award experienced 115% growth in Earnings Per Share (EPS), while their competitors experienced 27% growth over the same time period.
  • The actual EPS of the best-practice organizations grew at a rate that was 4.3 times greater than that of their competitors.
  • The best-practice organizations in the study had 11 engaged employees for every one actively disengaged employee. At the start of their engagement journey, these organizations had an average of two engaged employees for every one actively disengaged employee.

At Allen Austin, we have also been studying what makes great workplaces and creates organizations that significantly outperform their competitors and have come to similar conclusions. These companies operate upon the principles of Total Performance LeadershipTM (TPL), which transforms their organizations and gives them breakthrough results, delivering superior shareholder returns. We have found that organizations that practice TPL principles:

  • Outperform their next best peers by 25% or more
  • Deliver substantially higher customer satisfaction
  • Have employees who are engaged and satisfied
  • Experience dramatically lower workforce turnover
  • Enjoy a higher degree of strategic clarity
  • Perform much more effective execution

As stated by Rob Andrews, CEO of Allen Austin, “Leaders of TPL organizations have made a commitment to a journey that engages their employees and produces substantially higher returns for their shareholders. We have found that TPL organizations place their customers and employees first, and shareholders next. They lead with values and standards, not rules and policy manuals. They measure things that matter and lead to superior shareholder returns: Leadership, Employee Engagement, Customer Delight, Strategic Clarity, and Execution Excellence.”

When it comes to boosting employee engagement, what elements matter most to employees? Gallup has been using their Q12 Survey to measure engagement for 20 years and they have found that the 12 questions they rate relate most closely to higher performance when these employee needs are met within an organization. These needs break down into:

  • Basic Needs – What do I get? – I know what is expected of me, I have clearly set performance expectations, and I have the tools I need to do my job
  • Individual Needs – What do I give? – I get to do what I do best every day and receive recognition and praise for good work, and someone cares about me and encourages my development to give more.
  • Teamwork Needs – Do I belong here? – My opinions count and the mission and purpose of my company make me feel my job matters, my team mates do good quality work, and I have a best friend at work.
  • Growth Needs – How can I grow? – Someone has talked to me recently about my progress and I have opportunities to learn and grow at work.

Gallup has found that addressing these employee concerns and making it part of an organization’s strategic growth plan to build a highly-engaged workforce can improve individual, team, and organizational performance. When employees feel they matter and are contributing to a significant purpose, they are happier and perform better.

This is especially true of Millennials, who are now the largest generation in the workforce – and the most disengaged. As they continue to grow as a driving force in the employee base, it will become increasingly more important for you to build purpose-driven organizations that meet Millennials’ desires for making a difference, doing work that matters, having flexibility in where and how they work, and being provided opportunities for career growth and professional development. If you don’t do this in your organization, this generation, as we have seen, will jump ship to another company, where they feel these needs will be fulfilled.

Today, the cost of turnover can become an even more significant cost to a company’s bottom line if they cannot retain their best talent and are constantly having to hire and train new employees. Being able to do what they do best every day is the most significant factor when employees are considering leaving their company. Gallup’s data shows that lack of development and career growth is the number one reason employees leave a job. Employees who feel cared about can become your best brand ambassadors and provide the best customer service.

Mission and purpose, alone, are so vital that they deserve a mention of their own. This is most likely related to the deep human needs of Esteem and Self-Actualization in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in which we, as human beings, need achievement, self-esteem, respect of others, respect by others, morality, problem solving, and living to our highest potential. This engagement need according to Gallup is, “a strictly emotional need, and a higher-level one at that, as if employees cannot energize themselves to do all they could do without knowing how their job helps to fulfill a higher purpose.” What this means is that your organization could fail to some degree on the elements of job role clarity, providing the necessary tools, or even good feedback, but that if you do not provide a higher purpose for your organization, it will be exceedingly difficult for your employees to be highly engaged.

Gallup continues, “If a job were just a job, it would not matter where someone worked. But in a uniquely human twist, employees want meaning in their vocation. In fact, for Millennials, it is among the strongest drivers of retention.” Beyond their survival needs Gallup says, “employees want to believe in what their company does,” and simply posting it on the walls is not enough; your employees need to see your purpose in action, daily, in the behavior of their managers and leaders.

As we have interviewed CEOs of exceptional organizations across various industries, including convenience stores, waste management companies, insurance companies, casual and fast food dining, and the U.S. Navy, among others, they have shared their stories of transformation and breakthrough that helped them determine the “secret sauce” to creating super success for all stakeholders: shareholders, employees, and customers. Through our research with these organizations, Allen Austin has revealed that leaders of TPL organizations discovered a purpose greater than just making money. They’ve conceived and instilled vision, mission, values and strategy that energize and engage the entire workforce, not just the shareholders.

In these TPL organizations you will not only see exceptional returns, you’ll see:

  • Trust
  • Smiling faces
  • Exceptionally low turnover
  • Spirited and healthy debate
  • Systems that are driven by purpose
  • Frontline employees who sound like company spokespersons
  • Delighted, evangelistic customers

TPL organizations have frontline employees and customers who tell stories about them, and are in fact their most effective salespersons.

It definitely pays to build an engagement culture in your organization and building this kind of culture starts at the top. Some of the most highly engaged organizations share a number of similar qualities:

  • First and foremost, they view high employee engagement as a strategic priority in their business and their top leaders drive this mindset to cascade down through the organization, making sure their managers are engaged, who, in turn, work to make sure their teams and individual team members are engaged.
  • These organizations take active steps to address the concerns of employee engagement on an ongoing basis so that they build purpose-driven, high-performance teams and organizations.
  • They employ engagement methodology throughout their people processes as well, and ensure that their leaders, managers, and employees get the professional development they need to do what they do best to serve the organization’s mission.

The world of work is changing drastically, the generations in the workforce are shifting and each one has different needs that employers will need to address to keep them engaged. As humans, we need to be driven by purpose to feel as if our contribution here matters, so we want to work for employers who serve a greater purpose than themselves. Technology is growing exponentially and rapidly changing not only the way we work and where we work, but also the kinds of work we do, how we relate to one another, and how word spreads about our organizations. If companies are to keep pace today, they need to adjust and make strategic changes in their business plans to include processes to enhance their employee engagement, because ultimately, your people, and their levels of engagement drive the outcomes of everything you do in your business, including your success, growth, earnings per share, sales, and profitability. Your people are the number one determining factor in the success or failure of your business; they are the heartbeat of your organization.

Today’s employees are not going to settle for just a paycheck to put a roof over their families’ heads and food on the table. Today’s employees want work that has meaning and purpose, with the opportunity to do what they do best every day, to work with teams of people who care about them and are committed to high quality work, and they want to learn, grow, and develop, both personally and in their career path. If they don’t get what they want where they are, with 51% of the workforce seeking new opportunities, they will leave your organization for one that provides them what they need. Or worse, they’ll stay and do only what they have to do to get by and keep their job. Or even worse, they may become resentful, thinking they deserve more, and actively sabotage what your small handful of highly engaged employees are producing. What will be the bottom line cost of that to your business? This is why employee engagement matters.

How can you transform your culture to one of high employee engagement? Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup has these suggestions:
1. Call an executive committee meeting and commit to transforming your workplace from the old command-and-control to one of high development and ongoing coaching conversations.
2. Dive in – don’t put your toe in.
3. Switch from a culture of “employee satisfaction” – which only measures things like how much workers like their perks and benefits – to a “coaching culture.”
4. Change from a culture of “paycheck” to a culture of “purpose.”
5. Teach your leaders and managers how to be coaches. Transform them all. Teach them how to coach, building strengths-based workplaces.
Employee engagement matters! It matters to the morale and productivity of your employees who drive everything about your business. When your employees are engaged, they are more creative and innovative, they provide better customer service, they are fully present and work with passion to achieve your goals, they make fewer mistakes so you have higher quality, you have lower turnover, lower absenteeism, higher customer satisfaction, higher sales, higher profitability, and higher earnings per share, and your employees become your organization’s raving fans – your best brand ambassadors to your vendors, to potential employees, to your customers, and to the world.

Now that you know why employee engagement matters, what steps will you take today to improve your employee engagement?