What Do Employees Want? 3 Simple Things That Will Improve Engagement

I don’t think any of us – manager or employee alike – could express shock at Gallup’s latest report that 71 percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.

I also don’t think any of us would be surprised that this isn’t an American phenomenon. A global analysis of Mercer’s What’s Working survey (30,000 employees in 17 geographic markets) shows:

For U.S.-based multinationals, these findings are concerning, as lackluster engagement is no longer just a U.S. phenomenon,” said Mindy Fox, a Senior Partner at Mercer and the firm’s U.S. Region Leader. “Widespread apathy and high turnover can be detrimental to an organization’s business performance, especially in the difficult economic environment we’re experiencing as companies are looking to drive productivity and efficiencies.”

According to Pete Foley, PhD, a Principal at Mercer and North American Employee Research Leader, “The overall employment deal is in a state of flux around the world, with employees rethinking what they want out of the employment relationship. Our research shows that, despite the ongoing economic uncertainty, more employees would consider leaving today for a better opportunity.”

3 things that employees want

So what is it employees want out of the employment deal? Employees largely understand and accept that a “job for life” as part of the employment deal is gone for good. Instead, employees are looking for:

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  1. Meaningful work They don’t expect that every moment of every day at work will change the world, but they do want to know that what they do every day contributes to something bigger.
  2. A sense of progress — None have put it better than Teresa Amabile in her research and book The Progress Principle – there is no better contributor to employee engagement than making progress on meaningful work.
  3. Recognition — Give employees the big picture view and a sense of ongoing progress with recognition of their efforts within the context of how they’re contributing achieving your strategic goals.

Is employee engagement slipping in your organization? What are you or your leadership team doing about it?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


2 Comments on “What Do Employees Want? 3 Simple Things That Will Improve Engagement

  1. Increase employee engagement with some communication and purpose? Everyone should be doing it. We’re really simple creatures with basic needs, and I think often we try to make things more complicated than necessary.

    For the business owners it’s an easy formula: make sure you’ve got a business plan (you’re not winging it), you’ve got a clear purpose and vision you’re working toward, and you communicate it regularly and talk about how, as a team, you’re achieving the goals. All basic business practices that everyone should be doing. With this, you get the upside of improving your business and engaging your employees at the same time. Win – win!

  2. I agree that every organization should try to improve their employee’s engagement because the workforce is definitely disengaged from my experiences.  A business purpose and communicating this purpose to the employees, can help get employees back on track.  I think this article is correct in saying that employees want meaningful work, a sense of progress, and recognition.  Good post.

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