As the world moves into the “new normal” and a new frontier emerges in the state of work, HR departments across the world are being asked to ramp up their employee engagement efforts. The pandemic and its effects on the economy have shaken many organizations to their core, revealing incredible humanity and resiliency—as well as deep fissures that require attention. No one has a roadmap for what comes next, yet the longstanding correlation between employee engagement and organizational health is a clear sign that focusing on engagement can help companies navigate the uncertainly ahead.
Types of Engagement
Most managers have an idea of what defines an engaged employee but don’t necessarily have a detailed understanding of how different levels of engagement and disengagement can shape employee behavior.
- Engaged employees are set apart by the level of excitement they willingly bring to their work. They go the extra mile and feel connected to their organizations’ missions, and their passion drives innovation.
- Unengaged employees do just enough to get by but rarely go above and beyond their primary responsibilities. They’re there for the paycheck—and that’s about it.
- Actively unengaged employees are extremely unfulfilled at work and completely unable to be their best selves every day. In stark contrast to engaged employees, actively unengaged workers can have a negative impact on customer experiences, productivity, and profitability.
Unfortunately, the majority of the world’s workforce is unengaged, with “only 13 percent of employees working for an organization” falling into the “engaged” category. Compared to their engaged counterparts, unengaged workers have higher rates of absenteeism, are less productive, and create less profit for their organizations—all negatives that are likely to increase even more during a crisis if left unaddressed.
The True Cost of an Unengaged Employee
Unengaged employees represent the greatest opportunity for an organization to improve both its culture and its profitability. A disengaged employee costs their organization about 34 percent of their annual salary. When a company has multiple disengaged employees, such losses can quickly add up. And those numbers don’t even take into account the impact on morale after an employee leaves, the cost of resources needed to backfill the role, and the amount of time it takes to get a new employee onboarded and up to speed.
When a crisis emerges, the price of losing good talent can be far more than a dollar amount. That’s why having the right employee engagement strategy in place could determine whether a business thrives, scrapes by, or even fails. Clearly, engagement isn’t just something that’s “nice to have” but a necessity.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
No matter where an organization is in its life cycle, the first step it should take to address poor employee engagement is to acknowledge that the problem exists. Many leaders who believe that their companies have high levels of employee engagement usually aren’t asking the right questions. In these times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for organizations to monitor the health of their cultures. That process starts with an honest analysis of how employees feel about their relationship to their work.
An engagement survey can yield an accurate understanding of engagement levels in an organization. Employees want to be heard and they want their voices to matter. But in order to make the most of their feedback, the survey must collect data that is relevant for each segment of the company’s workforce, actionable, and tied to the organization’s key performance indicators.
Once the results are in, leaders should assess the baseline and then quickly and transparently share the findings. They should also brainstorm measurable solutions—a process that will likely involve identifying barriers to engagement, training managers to weave employee engagement initiatives into all employee touchpoints, and creating feedback loops to regularly assess manager effectiveness.
When taking place during a crisis (whether it’s a pandemic or economic uncertainty), however, this process will take on a different form. When the work environment becomes significantly altered or disrupted, leadership will face unique challenges as they try to keep their employees engaged. Although the future is unpredictable, organizations can strive to learn from past experiences and proactively create healthy, thriving, and profitable workplaces in which employees feel heard and understood.