Employee Engagement

Free Article: Why employee feedback plays a crucial role in improving engagement levels.


Employee engagement has gained the attention it deserves but little progress has been made at the coal face with an ongoing Gallup study reporting that: only 26% of the U.S. working population is engaged (loyal and productive), 55% are not engaged (just putting in time), and 19% are actively disengaged (unhappy and spreading their discontent). Couple these discouraging statistics with the cost of staff turnover, estimated by Mercer to be between 50% to 150% of annual salary depending on the role and level of seniority, and it quickly becomes apparent why employee engagement is topical: the lack of it is hurting employers on the bottom line.

And this trend isn’t likely to go away: employers (60% when surveyed) are commenting that they are finding it hard to source talent. And over three quarters of these rate the impact of the talent shortage on their organisation as either high (66.6%) or critical (9.26%). And because competition for employees will continue to increase as the baby boomer population ages we will hear more and more employers talking about employee engagement until we learn how to do it well.

So given that employee engagement is so important today and that it will become even more pressing in the future, why aren’t more employers changing their business practices to achieve engagement? Could it be because despite extensive research on the subject there are still misconceptions between the employee and employer about what really keeps employees engaged? A simple example of this relates to why employees leave an organisation; the Saratoga Institute conducted a survey and it revealed that 89% of managers believe employees leave for more money. But, in fact, the survey found that 88% of employees leave for reasons other than money. A study by Mercer Human Resource Consulting conducted in Australia in 2003 revealed that the most important attributes that Australian employees value about their job were:

1. The existence of opportunities for advancement,
2. Training, and
3. A clear career path.

It was also important for employees to be proud of their organisation and to have their achievements recognised by the leadership. Accordingly, providing up-to-date training and opportunities to participate in innovative new projects help keep high performers motivated and productive.

Need further convincing about the disconnect that exists between employers and employees? Another study this time carried out by Accenture, further supports the findings above: pay is not likely to have the greatest impact on employees’ decisions to stay or leave an organisation. Instead, data suggested that employees who were planning to leave were most likely to do so for opportunities that allowed them to use and develop their skills – or for opportunities in a company with strong leadership. This Accenture study compared satisfaction levels of “committed” employees compared to those “planning to leave soon” on 40 different topics of organisational importance, such as strength of management, compensation, training and workload. The topics with the widest disparities between the two groups of employees – called “satisfaction gaps” – are the key drivers of attrition. Pay, usually considered the most emotional factor in the employer/employee relationship, only ranked as the seventh most significant driver of attrition. The widest gaps (between 32-34 percentage points) were found in areas such as “using my skills and abilities”, “opportunity for management” and “company has a clear sense of direction”; consequently, those are the three major indicators of attrition.

Yet another survey this time of 1,000 American workers and human resource professionals conducted by USATODAY.com and the American Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found the top three aspects that are “very important” to worker satisfaction are Job Security (65 per cent), benefits (64 per cent) and communication between employees and management (62 per cent). But HR professionals had a rather different view of what they thought workers needed to be satisfied with their jobs. HR professionals ranked communication between employees and management as most important (77 per cent), followed by recognition by management (62 per cent) and relationship with immediate supervisor (61 per cent).

What does this research tell us about employee engagement?

Clearly there is a large gap between what employers think are the reasons for a lack of engagement and the real reasons employees leave (or perhaps worse still remain but are disengaged). And the different reasons reported in the research mentioned above suggests that while it is nice to be able to generalise the reasons behind a lack of engagement the factors driving engagement may vary from company to company. So, how do you overcome this variance and as an employer find out what your employees want from you to become engaged?

Asking them is a great place to start.

Learn what your employees need to stay engaged and subsequently retain them. There are many stages at which you can establish just how engaged your employees are and learn what areas the company needs to improve upon to ensure employee engagement is raised and then maintained. The five areas below are a good starting point to show your employees that you value them enough to listen to them and, where possible, change your business practices to meet their needs:

1. New hire or induction survey: an effective induction process means that by the end of the first 4-6 weeks of employment, new employees would have been provided with information relating to each of the following areas:

  • resources (what tools and training do they need to hit the ground running?),
  • routines (which systems and regular events should they be part of?) and

relationships (who do they need to connect with?)

Ask questions to find out how your new hire found the induction process. Did they get all the information they need to be successful? Are they happy? Is the “reality” of the role what was sold to them before joining? By asking these types of questions and then acting on the results, the gap between the employer’s expectations and the new hire’s performance can be more closely aligned, leading to … you guessed it … more engaged staff.

2. Satisfaction or climate/culture survey: do your employees feel happy? Or is there a general air of discontent amongst staff? Why do they feel the way that they do? What suggestions have they got to improve their working environment and/or the culture of the company? Would employees feel comfortable referring a friend to work at your company? A regular staff climate survey can provide employees with an appropriate platform to voice concerns before they spiral out of control. Pay heed to the information generated at this level and you may find that keeping your staff engaged is not as expensive as you thought it was going to be.

3. Reward and recognition survey: employees often specialise in either a technical or management career track so each individual requires benefits and opportunities that match their preferences. And if they don’t get a package that ‘matters’ to them they are more likely to be disengaged. Designing an appropriate benefits package means going beyond monetary considerations. No matter how much money people earn, financial compensation won’t by itself maximise staff performance or retain staff. Effective benefits packages must combine two elements: tailoring to individual needs, and clear links to organisational goals , and a good reward and recognition survey can help ascertain whether employees feel this is being delivered.

4. Training survey: most employers appear to be ‘awake’ to the value of providing training to staff – both as a way to reward and as a way to provide further advancement up the ladder … but despite this how many organisations actually take the time to formally measure what staff really thought of the training and how it benefited them? Do your questions ever go beyond the trite, ‘so what was the course like?’ to really ascertain if the employee benefited from the money spent? Was the course content and duration appropriate? Would they recommend the course for other people in the company – have they got anyone specifically in mind who could benefit? How will the person be able to apply the training to improve their effectiveness?

5. Exit interview survey: what happens when someone leaves your organisation? If you aren’t asking why the person is leaving using a structured interview process you are missing an opportunity to help identify the common issues you need to address to improve the engagement of the remaining staff and to improve your retention rates.

Start small: choose one of the areas above and then start to gather your information. Once gathered you’ll be in a better position to establish strategies more in tune with what your employees really think. And as your employees see you taking an active interest in their needs and proactively changing business practices to support these needs, employee engagement levels will begin to rise and your staff turnover costs will reduce.

Why not have a look at PeoplePulse today?

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Stay Surveys – Establishing Why People Stay In Their Jobs