Weekly Wrap: With So Much Research to Read, You Gotta Pick and Choose

Most weeks, I get as many as a dozen whitepapers, research findings, survey results, and other polls and related data.

Most of it is focused on talent management and HR, but sometimes, I’ll get something sent to me that is so far out-of-bounds for the TLNT audience that I have to wonder why someone wasted their time sending it along,

Some of the research I get is pretty good, some head-shakingly bad, but a lot is distinctly mediocre and not particularly memorable, with little insight or sharp analysis.

Is a 16% “fully engaged” number meaningful to you?

Yes, I’m overloaded and my mailbox is full, so the trick is figuring out the reports and data that make the most sense for TLNT readers.

For example, Modern Survey just released a whitepaper on The State of Employee Engagement: Fall 2014Everybody is interested in engagement it seems, so this is a report that I just had to dig into. And, here’s the top line finding — according to Modern Survey, “the state of employee engagement is very positive … (and at) the highest level seen since Modern Survey began conducting the study in 2007.

That sounds intriguing and positive, and it is — until you look at the real numbers. They break down like this:

  • 16 percent of employees are “fully engaged,” and that’s up three points since last spring;
  • 28 percent of employees are “moderately engaged;”
  • 35 percent are “under engaged;” and,
  • 22 percent are “disengaged.”

Why you need to really dig into any research

Modern Survey’s analysis of the research tells why the engagement numbers are improving (“at levels not seen since before the recession”) yet they also say that “the number of employees who are looking for new jobs at different organizations continues to rise more employees.”


What this says to me, despite Modern Survey’s take that employee engagement is dramatically improving, is that having only 16 percent of the workforce “fully engaged” is hardly an engagement number to write home about. By any marker, finding that just 44 percent of employees are engaged at some level is pretty terrible, even if it is better than it has been since before the Great Recession.

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No wonder more employees are looking for new jobs, but you might not come to that conclusion just skimming The State of Employee Engagement: Fall 2014 because the folks at Modern Survey seem to be putting the best possible face on some pretty bad engagement numbers.

They probably see it differently, of course, but I don’t believe any reasonable person would buy their conclusion that these engagement numbers are good.

Some other surveys I saw this week

That’s the most intriguing survey/research/white paper to cross my desk this week, but not the only one by any means. Here are a few others I looked at:

Human capital reporting offers great opportunities for the HR function to demonstrate its contribution through playing a core role in shaping the organization’s value creation narrative, and in developing better teamwork across functional boundaries. There are also threats to HR if it is underprepared – if it is a bit player in the corporate reporting process, with little knowledge of the various emerging standards; and if its HR information systems and analytics are patchy and un-integrated, with limited ability to demonstrate cause and effect between human capital investment and business results.”

  • Employee Handbooks 101: Dos and Don’t For Every Employer, is a whitepaper from XpertHR, on — get ready for it — writing or revising an employee handbook. This is full of nuts and bolts “how-to’s” for whenever you need to revise company’s handbook, and the undercurrent to the whitepaper is this — “It’s crucial that employers be aware of recent changes in the law, society and technology or they could face government sanctions. … (because) The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been proactive in pursuing employers for handbook policies that can be interpreted as infringing upon the right of employees to engage in protected conduct.”
  • Top Jobs for 2015 That Don’t Require a College Degree and Those That Do is CareerBuilder’s latest research, and this one falls into the category of “interesting to know but is there anything you can do after reading it?” As CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson says in his analysis of the data, ““For nearly 70 occupations in the U.S., the rate at which workers are being hired isn’t keeping up with the frequency and volume of open positions being advertised. By drawing attention to talent deficits, our list underscores opportunities in everything from technology and health care to sales and transportation for job seekers looking to make a change.”

I could go on and on with more surveys and whitepapers, but you get the picture. There is a lot of research out there and it is easy to think all of it is important and meaningful. It’s important for me to try to sort it out for you, but just because I find something interesting doesn’t mean you will.

In other words, research is in the eyes of the beholder. There is a lot of it out there, but probably not much that really matters to you. Caveat emptor, as they say, because if you are like me, you need to pick and choose carefully so you don’t get overwhelmed by the tsunami of data rolling in.

Cutting all vacation and sick time

Of course, there’s more than just the flood of research I’m seeing 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.

  • LA Times employees lose all vacation – and sick time, too. Here’s a new way to manage employee time off: take it all away and require workers to request “Discretionary Time Off” that must be approved in advance by a manager. Of course, management of the Los Angeles Times thinks this is a plus for employees, but as the website LAObserved.com notes, “In one stroke, vacation time and sick days become a management tool to monitor and reward or punish performance — or to favor the yes men that plague the Times’ organization — and crucially, a way to get that expensive banked vacation off the books.”
  • Title inflation is everywhere, even in Major League Baseball. I hate the silly titles that all-too-many organizations waste time dreaming up — Chief Talent Evangelist is the all time worst — but now baseball is getting into this silliness too. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “Since the end of the 2013 season, five of the seven teams that have hired or promoted new people to run their baseball departments have given them lofty titles that don’t include the traditional description of the role: general manager. Three of those teams have, in turn, named that person’s chief underling the general manager, redefining what it means to have that coveted job.”
  • Why CHROs make great CEOs. The Harvard Business Review makes a bold statement — Chief HR Officers make great CEOs. It’s not easily summarized here, but take a read because it offers great insight into the value smart and insightful HR can bring to the entire organization.

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.


2 Comments on “Weekly Wrap: With So Much Research to Read, You Gotta Pick and Choose

  1. I agree with your sentiment that 16% of the U.S. Workforce being fully engaged is too low, however, when you consider that three years ago it was only 8%, it is hard not to admit that engagement is moving in the right direction. Disengagement has dropped from 32% in March 2013 to 22% as of the Fall 2014 study. Again, movement in the right direction.

    If you are a CEO or head of HR and the profile of your organization has engagement numbers like these, you have a right not to be happy.

    As sad as the current state of engagement might be, the recent study is the best we have seen since we began conducting it in 2007.

    Don MacPherson
    Modern Survey

  2. Don —

    I agree that the engagement number has improved, and that any improvement is a good thing. But it is sort of like a football team that loses one week 50-0, then loses again the next week 49-21. Yes, the losing team has improved, but it is still pretty terrible — and it still lost.

    So it seems with engagement scores. Yes, 16 percent engaged is better than 8 percent engaged three years ago, but I think it is a real stretch to say that CEOs or CHROs would be happy with the numbers. They are probably happy they are improving, but my guess is that they probably think they are still pretty terrible and not improving fast enough.

    I guess it is a sign of the times that follows the notion that the current monthly unemployment numbers are also good because they have gone done in the l;sat few years. Yes, unemployment is down, but the numbers don’t count those who have given up looking, or are underemployed, or have gone through their unemployment payments. In other words the numbers have improved but the underlying impact is still pretty bad.

    That’s how I view these engagement numbers. If we think having only 16% of the workforce engaged is a good number, well, something is terribly rotten in Denmark.

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