Weekly Wrap: More Evidence That Companies Still Don’t Get Engagement

I get tired of writing about how important employee engagement is.

Although there are some who share my position that engagement is a critical workplace component (like TLNT contributor Derek Irvine), I mostly get feedback from people who believe it is a:) not all that big a deal; b) can’t really be measured very well; or, c) is complete and total BS.

That’s why this new survey from SilkRoad technology (a leading provider of social talent management solutions), titled the 2012 Employee Engagement Report, is important — because it shows that all too may organizations still don’t get it where employee engagement is concerned.

Companies need to get serious

The SilkRoad survey, to its credit, points out why more companies need to get serious where engagement is concerned. As they note at the beginning of the report:

As the economy begins to recover, star performers are at risk for being poached or jumping ship. Talent is still at a premium and companies are struggling to attract and retain the right employee for the job. With engagement, companies have found they can alleviate talent challenges by creating an environment where employees know that their work and ideas are valued.

An engaged workforce is your company’s “secret sauce” against the competition. By encouraging open communication between employees and managers, company culture and organizational values, employees can be fully vested in the organization and passionate about their work. This leads to better retention rates, decreased employee turnover, higher productivity and improved bottom lines.

Despite the benefits, many companies have yet to implement a formal engagement strategy. And those that have some elements of a program, struggle with bringing their vision to fruition. … We found that many are still wedded to traditional methods for engagement and measurement and have not fully embraced social media as an engagement engine.”

Only half have an engagement program

The key findings from the survey tell the story:

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  • Organizations that did and did not report having an explicit employee engagement program were split nearly down the middle, with 49 percent of respondents noting that a program did not exist. However, the majority of HR professionals indicated that they participate in a program. This implies that while most companies do not have a formal program, they do have some engagement initiatives.
  • The majority of organizations take a one-size fits all approach to employee engagement. While respondents reported Millennials as the least engaged, 78 percent of organizations do not differentiate their employee engagement programs based on generation.
  • Organizations are largely (58 percent) using a traditional employee survey to measure engagement on an annual level.
  • Most organizations are using social media and technology but not as a way to measure engagement. While 51 percent of respondents reported the use of social media within their organizations, only 16 percent said it was used to measure and assess engagement.
  • Engagement is important to the C-Suite, with 34 percent committed and 27 percent somewhat committed, but it’s not seen as a burning priority.

I haven’t gotten a complete breakdown of the survey methodology (I’ll link to it as soon as it goes on the SilkRoad website), but it was completed by 590 professionals, 87 percent of which indicated that they plan, manage or administer HR programs in their organizations. Additionally, 82 percent had five or more years of experience in HR, and 65 percent of respondents had 350 or more employees at their organization. Titles of respondents varied, from vice president and director of HR, to director of learning, director of talent development, CEO, manager of recruiting and relocation, and others.

How to make an employee’s life miserable

These findings, frankly, are pretty depressing. How can have of the companies responding not have a explicit employee engagement program? Maybe someone smarter than me can make sense of that, but it says to me — again — that all too many executives are all too comfortable talking about engagement rather than showing they’re really committed to it.

Of course, there’s more than another employee engagement survey in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Making an employee’s work life miserable — I read this first in Cindy Krischer Goodman’s blog in the Miami Herald, but the original story was in The Washington Post. Titled How to completely, utterly destroy an employee’s work life, it’s a must-read for every manager and HR pro. Here’s the essence of it, from two workplace researchers: “What we discovered is that the key factor you can use to make employees miserable on the job is to simply keep them from making progress in meaningful work. People want to make a valuable contribution, and feel great when they make progress toward doing so. Knowing this progress principle is the first step to knowing how to destroy an employee’s work life.”
  • Bring back the 40-hour work week — Yes, people have been working a lot more during the recession and its aftermath, but according to this story in Salon, long hours on the job have been going on for quite some time. It says,”Good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say, but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing.”
  • Raising pay for someone you’re in a sexual relationship with — This San Jose Mercury News story hardly need any commentary about it at all. “A longtime UC Berkeley administrator,” the newspaper reports, “has been demoted and docked in pay for improperly giving several raises to an employee with whom she was having a sexual relationship — but she will still make $175,000 a year.”
  • How business cards survive in the age of LinkedIn — It’s a good question: how do old-school business cards survive in our digitally-obsessed world? Bloomberg Businessweek digs into why business cards continue to roll along. “Reports of the 3 ½-by-2-inch business staple’s death appear to have been greatly exaggerated,” the magazine says. “Despise and deride it all you like, but the business card remains a growth market. How has this 17th century technology not just survived but continued to flourish?”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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3 Comments on “Weekly Wrap: More Evidence That Companies Still Don’t Get Engagement

  1. Great summary. Let’s face it: employee engagement is… well, it’s just plain difficult. It’s complex, it’s dynamic, it’s not easy to measure, and though its impact on performance is clear to people willing to see that impact, it’s a lot less clear to others. It’s awfully easy to predict the impact of a business process change (or so we have convinced ourselves, anyway) or capital investment, but this engagement thing is wooly.

    I’d argue that generally HR is focused on the wrong stuff when it comes to engagement and performance. We try to ensure our high performers are engaged, retained, promoted, rewarded, and so forth. Okay, great. In the midst of that, we overlook the opportunity to CREATE more high performers by engaging the middle. It kind of hurts to keep shooting ourselves in the foot like that, doesn’t it?

  2. Meaningful, purposeful and challenging work that you are recogized for will drive employee engagement.  In fact, if one is self motivated, challenged, has meaningful discretion and understands how their responsibilities fit into the big picture, chances are they will be engaged, even with a poor manager, as long as they are recognized.  Employee engagement should be managed and measured, but there are other ways to get there outside of a formal employee engagement program.

    In addition, the most critical component of an employee engagement program is holding leaders/managers accountable for engaged employees.  Managers who aren’t engaging employees should not be managers for long.  Even if you have the manager accountability without the formal program, you will likely see improved employee engagement.  You just need an accurate way to assess and measure a managers ability/inability to engage employees.

    Employee engagement is valuable, but there’s a reasonable argument to be made that a better way to get there is to focus on managing it through recruiting, performance managment, talent managment, work place structure/design and rewards & recognition, with the focus being on intrinsic rewards.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, John. I, too, tire of repeatedly explaining the importance of engagement (and not just satisfaction). But it is something I won’t stop doing – it’s too important.

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