What employee engagement looks like may vary a bit from one company to another; however, Gallup defines it as workers who share and are aligned with the company’s goals and are enthusiastic about contributing their efforts to achieve those goals. The benefits of an engaged workforce are clear: lower absenteeism and turnover, fewer safety incidents, better sales and an increase in productivity and profitability. Engagement sounds like the silver bullet for businesses that want to leap ahead of the competition and set down a path of long-term success. Why, then, does global engagement hover around a dismal 16 percent?
For older generations, obtaining a position at a high-profile company was considered a privilege and sacrificing one’s personal life in service of the company was not only the norm, but the ones who gave up the most were rewarded with bigger bonuses and more promotions. Then the Millennial generation came along and smashed the old arrangement to bits. (Many people think “Millennial” is synonymous with “entitled, petulant teenager,” but keep in mind that the oldest Millennials are nearing 40 and many have teenagers of their own at this point, so we’re talking about grown adults who already make up more than half of the workforce, and will rise to 75 percent of the workforce in the next decade.)
The younger segment of today’s workforce demands to not only know what the purpose and goals of a company are, but also must feel that their personal values are aligned with that purpose before they can give their talents to an organization. This group is entirely unsatisfied with boring, meaningless work and instead craves valuable, worthwhile work – and this feeling is leaking out into older generations, too. After all, who wouldn’t want to feel challenged and satisfied rather than bored and restless at work? Another difference: Millennials are far less willing than Boomers to make work their priority – even with substantial compensation possibilities in the future. Instead, they want flexible positions that leave plenty of room to live outside of the office.
This apathy at work is costing real dollars: Millennial turnover is costing the U.S. economy more than $30 billion every year. As these people search for companies that prioritize the workers, the environment and society over the bottom line, failing to find such employment leaves them with a lack of loyalty and no qualms about hopping jobs more often and close to half of all millennials envision leaving their current position within the next two years.
The Root of the Problem
In most cases, companies don’t have sinister purposes and goals; the world is not full of comic book villains actively working against the greater good. Instead, the root of the problem appears to lie in poor work design. The Harvard Business Review conducted a study to understand how managers are developing work roles for others. One portion of the study asked managers to take a fictional, tedious part-time job of repetitive tasks such as filing and making copies and flesh it out into a full-time job by selecting from a list of available tasks. Almost half of them made the job even more boring by adding in another half-day of the same repetitive tasks.
Another part of the study involved problem-solving in terms of a fictional worker who was failing to meet her deadlines. The participants were told that the work design was poor, and that the worker was fast, yet still managed to fall behind. The vast majority of the study participants focused on changing the worker through training, advice and threats of a cut in pay, while only a handful looked for ways to improve the role even when they were told upfront that the position was designed poorly and the worker was considered fast.
On the surface, it can seem to be in the company’s best interest to make jobs as efficient as possible; however, this can mean repetitive tasks and responsibilities that are more similar to an assembly line than a rewarding work environment. While this arrangement might work well for machines, human beings need significantly more than reducing their daily lives into a repeat of yesterday, or we tend to suffer from a strong lack of engagement along with burnout and overall job dissatisfaction.
Organizations Must Evolve
In the above study, there is probably nothing that the fictional worker could do to save her position and her reputation as a hard-working human being with most of the managers who participated in the study. Her position was designed so poorly that she was destined to fail, yet managers insisted on blaming her for the failure rather than change their own views and restructure the position.
Managers have the ability to create meaningful and motivating environments for their employees, and the research has proven over and over again that doing so will improve productivity and profits across the board for the entire company. To stay competitive and to attract and retain the best and the brightest of the younger generations – and to retain the loyalty of older generations who are coming around to the wisdom of their successors – organizations must see that hierarchical structures are dinosaurs that have no place in the modern workplace.
Business ecosystems are the path to success and creating one requires a new mindset around how work gets accomplished. The idea behind the business ecosystem are groups whose contributions come together to create value. Each segment and individual in the group will benefit from a holistic view of the collective efforts as each can see the value of their contributions along with the accomplishments of the group as a whole. This might not be entirely new as a concept, but the difference today is that we have the technology – collaboration software, data, analytics and IT infrastructure – to build ecosystems that succeed.
How to Make the Leap
What employees need from managers and others who are defining job roles is to recognize the importance of well-designed work. Leadership teams must buy-in and then train managers and provide support as systems move away from narrow, repetitive work and into satisfying, engaging roles with room for individuals to stretch their capabilities and add something of themselves to the job. People want autonomy, not demands of strict adherence, and they expect to be heard and have their thoughts about the job design considered – especially during performance reviews.
In many cases, breaking out from the old model can be difficult, even for those who are committed to the process. If that’s the case, it’s time to bring in professionals. Specialists who have expertise in and a deep understanding of the type of roles that people want and how success profiles – not job descriptions – are created to bring success can absolutely transform how your company achieves high rates of employee engagement, and therefore all the riches that come along with it. Once the roles are redefined, the next step is to change the way new hires are assessed for fit and what existing employees need to develop and flourish in your new ecosystem to bring enduring success for both the individuals and the company.
Whether you have yet to design and implement an employee engagement program, or you want to ensure that your current program positions your organization for success, we’re here to help. Contact Holly Teska at 262-786-9200 or via email, if you have questions or to schedule a conversation about your approach to employee engagement.