Engagement Is Everything
Numbers Don't Lie
My decades of work with organizations large and small on leadership and workplace morale have taught me one thing: you can’t ask people to work under extreme pressure except on a short term basis. There needs to be a rhythm, an ebb and flow of work. This is the key to employee engagement.
In fact, back in 2018 this was already more than apparent. A Gallup poll found that employee engagement, defined as “employees being involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace” was achieving its highest-ever recorded level.
The data also showed that, over the same period, active disengagement, defined as workers having “miserable work experiences” was at an all time low.
Great news, right? Worker engagement is on the rise and disengagement is going down! Indeed, that was both the headline and the takeaway in 2018.
But as bankers and investigators like to say, numbers don’t lie.
In fact, the real news in the Gallup Poll lay in the remaining data which, for whatever reason, was ignored at the time. In retrospect, it was as if we were peering through the wrong end of a telescope.
Because, while it’s true that employee engagement was rising and disengagement falling before the pandemic struck, the “record level” of engaged workers was topping out at only 34%.
Tellingly, a full 53% of workers were found to be in a third category, not engaged, defined as “employees not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace…who usually show up and do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.”
The current upheaval was there in the data all along. Somehow, though, in 2018 we saw those numbers like the tip of an undersea iceberg. We focused on the little peak that represented positively engaged employees and assumed that things were going great because that little peak was growing, ignoring the danger looming beneath.
Then the pandemic blew the lid off of what had been building for years.
So where do we go from here?
The answer has to be what it’s been for decades: inclusive and humane practices that take into account the necessary ebb and flow of work and minimize relentless pressure. The trouble is that, while companies recognize the importance of inclusion, they often act as if it can be silo’d–– outsourced to D&I rather than embedded in leadership practices.
This doesn’t work, has never worked, will never work. And it becomes more obviously ineffective as the pandemic pours more friction into the mix: financial pressure as companies reel from uncertain conditions. And human pressure, as having fewer employees means that those who stick around are expected to pick up the slack.
Next week I’ll be discussing a few cases in point, from healthcare to Wall Street. Stay tuned.