Wondering how to engage employees and if it matters?

by Danielle Sarmir

how to engage employees - Root360Today’s business leaders are faced with a growing number of challenges as they try to compete and succeed in a rapidly changing marketplace. Employee engagement is one many factors that must be balanced – and one that’s gaining greater importance as the advantages become clear to businesses big and small. With benefits like retaining high-level talent, boosting productivity, and improving the overall bottom line (just to name a few), it’s no wonder that everyone is talking about how to engage employees!

Gallup – who tracks employee engagement in the U.S. and worldwide – defines employee engagement as ‘those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.’ How to engage your employees in the most effective way will vary based on your workplace and industry, but techniques like mentoring; communicating your vision and policies clearly and often; and instituting wellness initiatives can work for nearly everyone.

The good news

Senior executives view employee engagement as a top priority. The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s 2014 State of Corporate Citizenship survey finds that more than 80% of executives consider employees as a key stakeholder group when planning and implementing their efforts. Looking deeper, the annual Conference Board CEO Challenge® 2015 finds that CEOs strongly value their ‘human capital’ and see ‘using it effectively’ as one of their top challenges.  The 2015 survey results show that the strategies CEOs use to improve productivity center on “greater leadership effectiveness, building a performance culture, providing training to upskill their workforce, and raising engagement.”

The not-so-good news

Despite CEOs calling employee engagement one of their top priorities, Gallup released stats at the beginning of 2015 that show just 31.5% of U.S. employees are considered engaged; meaning 68.5% of the U.S. workforce falls into the categories of “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.”  To pour salt on the wound, this is the highest level of engagement reported since 2000.

When you take a look at just managers, the engagement number raises ever so slightly to 35%.  This is particularly alarming, as a manager’s engagement has a very important and direct impact on his/her employees’ engagement; employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by disengaged managers.

This level of active employee disengagement (also from Gallup) costs the U.S. economy $450 to $550 billion per year.  Wow…just wow!

Taking employee engagement outside the office

The impacts of employee engagement are not just measured by your productivity or profit gains any more.  More and more investment funds – including Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch – are taking ESG (environmental, social and governance) performance into account when looking to invest.  Employee engagement is one of the many factors that can be examined through an ESG analysis.  US SIF (The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment)’s 2014 Report on Sustainable and Responsible Investing Trends puts the number of ”total assets that are managed with ESG factors explicitly incorporated into investment analysis and decision-making” at $6.20 trillion.

Beyond investment funds, employee engagement is also a marketing tool that you can use to bolster your company’s reputation. When employees share positive work experiences with friends, family and others in the industry, it is great word of mouth for your business.  Some companies like Coca-Cola even share their employee engagement numbers on their website (they have a brag-worthy 84% associate engagement number). There are also numerous systems that include employee engagement in their company rankings…from the Reputation Institute to your local ‘Best Places to Work’ list. Positive – or negative – employee engagement results can have implications beyond what you can imagine.

It’s clear that there are a lot of benefits to taking employee engagement seriously and incorporating it into your future business plans. It’s also clear that it’s not easy to do.  So, we want to hear your thoughts on how to engage employees – how is your business working to boost your employee engagement and what have you found?  Do you currently measure it? (If not, the www.root360.org survey can help you start.) What impacts do you see?  And, most importantly, are your employees part of the 31.5% who are engaged?  Share your thoughts below and we may include your experiences in future posts!

Danielle Sarmir is a Senior Program Associate for Manomet’s Sustainable Economies Program. She has more than 15 years of experience working in marketing, government and public relations, and has engaged with a wide variety of sectors from nonprofits to the hospitality industry to manufacturing (sustainable packaging, biobased materials, efficient lighting and more).

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