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Employee Engagement: You're Doing it Wrong

Earlier this month, Gallup hosted a talk on employee engagement. Speakers emphasized how overall engagement levels haven’t drastically improved year over year. Since the early 2000s, employee engagement has hovered around 30% consistently. This trend remains when comparing changes of engagement at the industry level. Not a single occupation has improved engagement levels by more than a few points since 2012. This is concerning considering engagement has become a key focus for many organizations over the years, but somehow things don’t appear to be getting better.

Why, after nearly 2 decades and billions of dollars spent trying to remedy this “engagement crisis” are things not improving? For one thing, it doesn’t help that many benchmarks for employee engagement are created using surveys misrepresenting what is truly being measured. Outside of the survey itself, what are some other factors that impede engagement efforts? Perhaps one explanation is that despite your well-designed engagement survey (one-size does not fit all here) you missed a few key elements to driving your engagement efforts to success. Here are a few reasons why your employee engagement may not be improving:

Not reporting employee engagement survey results to employees

This is possibly the most damaging practice that can be done (or rather, not done) following an employee engagement survey. Not much sends the message, “we really don’t care about you,” as strongly as asking for input and then visibly doing nothing with the feedback. Organizations with a cycle of engagement efforts and no follow-up communication encourages employees to stop trying to make a difference or show initiative.

Next time you solicit employee feedback, consider following this three-step process for communication: 1) show gratitude by thanking those who responded, 2) demonstrate understanding through acknowledgement and empathy, and 3) ensure continued employee effort by asking for their ideas on solutions.

Not acting on your employee engagement results

When employee surveys are not followed-up with action, they can have the opposite effect from what was intended. In cases like this, not only was the survey effort a waste of resources, but it can also have a detrimental effect on employee engagement – the very outcome you’re trying to improve. Employees often feel frustrated and disappointed when management fails to take action on their feedback.

One simple way to show action: focus on small, low-barrier to entry change. This includes easy changes like “bring your own lunch” team lunches to increase co-worker connection. Enacting change based on employee feedback (no matter how small) shows commitment to change and will encourage your employees to continue participating in the feedback process.

Focusing too much on perks

Have you ever perused a best place to work list by trying to find the latest fad or workplace perk to bring to your office? Perks are fine, but they shouldn’t be used as an attempt to solve an experiential problem with a material solution. What perks offer are temporary happiness but don’t do much to influence engagement in the long run. Perks can be a wonderful reinforcer of a culture, however, they cannot, in themselves, create a culture. What’s meaningful to culture and fosters employee satisfaction are career growth and learning opportunities.

Stopping data collection efforts with surveying – ignoring a deeper dive

Creating a more engaged workforce is more about the conversation and dialogue created than the survey itself. Much like interviews offer different benefits than asynchronous skills testing, surveys don’t fully capture everything that shapes an employee’s experience. Surveys are excellent at quickly providing a 1,000-foot snapshot of employee perspectives, often uncovering weakness and strengths, but won’t direct you towards what action steps are needed to improve. Use surveys as a jumping point to leverage survey results towards enacting change. Then as one of your next steps, gather feedback in the form of one-on-one discussions or focus groups. For many employees, simply being included in the conversation further communicates the value of their feedback and reinforces a culture of honest and open communication.

Survey projects are often complicated, rife with risks that are not easily anticipated. Without planning, communication, and follow-through survey efforts will fall short and efforts will be wasted. When communication, impactful and meaningful action, and employee input takes place, you’re setting up your team and/or organization on the path to better engagement.

Ready to take the plunge? Check out our culture consulting practice to learn more about how we can carefully craft not only a tailored survey, but also an action-plan for all of the feedback you’ll get.