Over the last 20 years, we have seen remarkable advancements in technology and knowledge sharing. These advancements have made the workplace increasingly more efficient. U.S. employment law offers more employee protections than ever before, and employer-sponsored benefit programs are more generous than in past decades.

With all of these advancements, some might postulate that employees are fully engaged and satisfied with their jobs, however, survey after survey provide us data to the contrary. Research by Gallup, Randstad, Mercer indicates that a majority of today’s employees are disengaged, burnt out, stressed, and are not feeling challenged or motivated. Gallup has found that a staggering 68.5 percent are not engaged or satisfied with their work.

Ensuring that managers are actively participating in and managing employee engagement plans is the biggest contributor to increasing workforce engagement and the organization’s overall success

Why are employees dissatisfied? Certainly, COVID-19 has been an added stressor to all organizations. The uncertainty regarding the company’s direction, potential layoffs, and budget cuts have all contributed to increased anxiety and stress. The increasing pressures to be “on” and answering emails 24/7, competing family obligations, rising student loan debt and health costs, and late retirement, have all contributed to increasing disengagement. 

The constant change in organizations may also be a contributor to disengagement and dissatisfaction. New management, systems, regulations, processes, and role expectations have employees worried about the steep learning curves. The commonly expressed concern in my conversations is “Will I be able to keep up?”

Changes in industry practices, legislation, regulatory oversight, have to be considered in tandem with the need to develop a competitive advantage via product, service, and user experience innovation.  However, in many instances, the technology required to work smarter and faster is slow to change within organizations. Management buy-in, vendor selections, and system implementations all take time. Most organizations are asking employees to do more with fewer resources/headcount. The result is that the necessary advancements, program/system implementations, etc. are stacked on top of the employee’s daily duties and workload.

Most Human Resources departments today understand the correlation between job performance, job engagement, and job satisfaction. Employees typically fall into one of the following engagement categories: actively engaged, satisfied but not engaged, and actively disengaged.

Actively Engaged – This group tends to be visibly enthusiastic and focused on their goals and projects. They demonstrate more focus, feel invested in the department and organization's success, and are willing to go beyond the scope of their roles demonstrating proactive, adaptive, and/or innovative behaviors.

Satisfied, Not Engaged - These employees are content/comfortable with the organization’s compensation practices, benefits, and job security. Employees that are satisfied but not engaged typically do not have performance issues, they perform their designated duties, but they do not display proactive or “going above and beyond” behavior.

Actively Disengaged – This group does not feel invested in the organization’s success.  They may not feel a connection to their work, colleagues, and/or management team, which usually manifests via increased employee relations issues/conflict, increased absenteeism, decreased accountability, decreased department morale, and decreased employee productivity.

The challenge for the organization, Human Resources, and management are developing a culture of engagement. This starts with strategic leadership and executive communication. When leadership understands the competitive advantage that an engaged workforce can provide an organization, they are more likely to endorse total rewards, talent development, and performance management strategies designed and evaluated by Human Resources that reward, nurture, and generate engaged behavior. Additionally, when leadership invests in employee engagement, they are more likely to hold individual teams and managers accountable for their engagement action plan.

Any employee can become actively engaged or disengaged depending on the employee’s manager(s). Employee engagement increases when the daily interactions between employees and managers are positive, respectful, and trusting.  Research, as well as personal experience, have taught me that people tend to join companies due to organizational drivers like compensation, benefits, flexible work schedules, and corporate reputation, but they stay or leave because of the relationship with their managers. Ensuring that managers are actively participating in and managing employee engagement plans is the biggest contributor to increasing workforce engagement and the organization’s overall success.

Engagement Action Plan:

  • Provide challenging work
  • Invest time into the employee’s development by providing mentorship
  • Create opportunities and pathways for growth
  • Build trust through empowerment and consistent communication
  • Make the employee feel valued by providing timely recognition

Work expectations have changed over the last few decades. Compensation alone will not ensure your organization has successful long-tenured employees. Candidates ask me “Is there a work-life balance?” “Is there flexibility to work remotely?” “Is leadership supportive of employee growth?” “Is the work environment supportive, inclusive, and transparent?” With the increasing financial obligations and the need to stay ahead of the learning curve, most employees are looking for mentorship, professional development, growth opportunities, challenges, impact, and purpose. When they do not find that, they become disengaged, and the organization ends up losing the skills, talent, and competencies necessary for sustainable and profitable growth. By fostering a culture of engagement, managers can directly influence their employee’s engagement levels.  If you want to keep your talent, make them feel valued, trusted, and empowered. If you want to hire great talent, you need to offer them something of great value above and beyond compensation.