Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Engagement" -- Does Anybody Care Anymore?

According to a recent Gallup study on employee engagement, 54 percent of employees in the United States are not engaged, 17 percent are actively disengaged, and only 29 percent are engaged.

What is "engaged?" The short answer are employees who like their work, like their jobs, like their bosses, and voluntarily go beyond what it takes to get a gentleman's "C" on their performance reviews. They "own" their work.

Engagement was the hot issue 5 years ago when things were good. Companies strove to "engage" employees, from relationship development to communications, work-life balance to perquisites.

But that was then and this now.

The recession to end all recessions crushed corporate America and corporate America, in turn, turned to more immediate needs -- like staying in business, for example.

"Engagement" was out. Layoffs were in.

Now that layoffs are slowing down (at least for the moment), what about "engagement?" What happened to "engagement?"

Does anyone really care anymore?

The answer (the truthful answer) is "a handful."

A few forward thinking employers still read and recognize the intersection of engagement and financial performance. A recent Towers Perrin study concluded that companies with a highly engaged employee population turned in significantly better financial performance (a 5.75 percent difference in operating margins and a 3.44 percent difference in net profit margins) than did low-engagement workplaces.

What about the rest of employers, the huge majority?

They are still playing defense, remaining as lean as possible, disregarding employee needs and wants if only because they can. After all, most employees who have jobs know that "engaged" or not they have to perform to keep those jobs since there are a lot of would-be employees in the wings waiting for a chance.

What these majority of employers are getting is what I call "sugar engagement," kind of like a sugar high -- real but temporary. Fear can make employees do amazing things, one of which is put on a pretty good act of being engaged.

The problem with fear, admittedly an instant motivator, is that fear doesn't last. It is a poor long-term motivator. People don't stay afraid. At some point they take a leap of faith and change their circumstance and my guess is the best of those will look for employers where "engagement" remains relevant.


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