Employee Engagement Trends: What You Can Learn From Best Places To Work Lists

What better place to look for trends in employee engagement than a best places to work lists?

That’s what Quantum Workplace (a company that surveys over 1.5 million employees over 5,000 companies) has put together in releasing the trend report from the Best Places to Work of 2010. When I spoke to Quantum President Greg Harris earlier this month, we talked about what data would be useful to HR professionals and I think the trend report is a nice start.

One of the most interesting things that popped out from the report is that every single engagement factor from top companies is up from 2009 levels. That may not be a surprise from anecdotal observations but it is nice to get a little bit of data-based confirmation to back it up.

There were a couple of surprises mixed into what is generally a positive report.

Most engaged industries a surprise

One of the first surprises were the industries that had top engagement scores:

  1. Real Estate
  2. Construction
  3. Accommodations and Food Services

Harris was surprised by this outcome (and that these three were almost 10 percent more engaged than the average). I’m a little surprised, too. For one, all three of these industries have been gutted by the recession. Would it be surprising to anyone if employees in these industries would be more cynical than their peers? Could it be that hitting the bottom gave those still left in these industries a little bounce?

Anecdotal comments provide insight

I know that whenever I’ve done employee surveys, I’ve gone straight for the comments section.

Data speaks for itself and can be sliced, diced, and compared, but the comments section is where I can get a feeling for what’s going on in a company. Low response rate in comments? Perhaps an apathy that won’t show up in survey results. Divisive comments (very good and very bad) with not many middle of the road comments spells out a different kind of culture completely.

The anecdotal comments provided in the trends report were brief but interesting nonetheless. “Good people” and “good management” were one of the key phrases used in an open-ended question about what these employers are doing correctly.

What’s still stagnant?

There are still some indicators that seem stalled out in 2010. Employees feeling valued, their trust in senior leadership, job satisfaction, and retention risk are all very close to their 2009 levels. While these values all seem to be on the rise (again, all of these indicators are above their 2009 levels, even if only slightly), it shows that employers are not out of the woods just yet on key values to employees.

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As the economy continues to improve, we’ll see how strong these values truly are in relation to actual results (do people become more productive, stay at their jobs and believe in their senior leadership once again?).

Flat job satisfaction is a real victory for top companies in this economic environment, but the focus should be on improving these factors to post-recession levels before bringing out the victory champagne.

What’s starting to take off?

There is a silver lining here in that there are some factors that are coming on very strong. Individual contribution, manager effectiveness, and teamwork have seen some significant increases over 2009 numbers. What that indicates to me is that employees have figured out ways to deal with a less than desirable situation effectively.

Both employees and manager made gains in the last year to improve after some dreadful 2009 numbers. Similarly, co-workers have banded together with greater purpose to deal with what is often billed as a higher workload with less people.

I would expect things to continue to improve, and even if it isn’t at the speed some of us would prefer, it is still nice to see these things starting to move in the right direction.

Conclusion: at the edge of the tunnel?

These indicators are great for getting a pulse for the larger workforce. Certainly things weren’t as bad last year as they were in 2009, but there is still progress to be made. So, if 2009 was the search for the light at the end of the tunnel, we now seem to be at the edge of the tunnel looking out at generally positive results from the mouths of employees.

What will 2011 bring? More of the same trends or a reversal of course?

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