A recent Gallup Poll on the state of the American workplace (http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx) looked at trends in U.S. employee engagement, and the impact of engagement on organizational and individual performance. While we all know that correlation is not causation, there is some interesting information, and some food for thought about your own employment status.
This survey is not new; it has been given to more than 25 million employees across a variety of industries since the late 1990s. There are 12 main questions that are invariant. They include statements such as “I know what is expected of me at work”, “In the last seven days I have received recognition or praise for doing good work”, and “This last year, I had opportunities at work to learn and grow.” Based on their responses to these statements, employees are grouped into one of three categories – engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged.
“Engaged employees” are those who “work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.”
“Not engaged” employees are “essentially checked out. They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy or passion – into their work.”
“Actively disengaged” employees are those who are not just unhappy at work, but “they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.”
I think we can all agree that there are some people who love their jobs and are always happy to be there, others who are just going through the motions and doing the minimum required, and a few who seem to be actively causing harm. (And we may move between categories at different points in time). According to this survey, about 30% of all employees currently are engaged, 52% are not engaged, and 18% are actively disengaged. These numbers have not changed significantly since at least 2000 (earliest date reported).
There are some things companies do that affect employee engagement.
For example, organizations that were currently letting people go had a significantly lower percentage of engagement than those that were not (13% vs. 43%). This is not surprising – if you’re worried you’re going to lose your job, you are going to distance yourself from it as a matter of self-preservation.
What might be surprising is that while workplace benefits (vacation, bonuses, flextime and so on) were nice, they did not correlate with increasing engagement. In other words, if you don’t enjoy your work, providing a free lunch or masseuse on-site does not make you feel better about it. You may feel more positively towards the company in general, but you will not be more engaged in your work.
With all the discussion lately on benefits or costs of working remotely, this survey looked at engagement as a function of time spent working remotely. Remote workers averaged 4 hours per week more than on-site workers, and those who worked remotely less than 20% of the time were slightly more engaged in their work than other groups. It appears that there is an optimal balance between time in the office interacting with co-workers, and the freedom to work wherever is most efficient.
In addition to conducting surveys, Gallup also provides advice to companies, and they have three strategies to help companies improve their employee’s engagement. Perhaps some of these will help you improve your own engagement with your job.
First, people are important. Good managers are those who genuinely care for their people, care about performance, and are willing to invest in talented people. Co-workers who are engaged in their work will help spread the enthusiasm. Does your manager and co-workers have a positive, encouraging attitude, or do they make it difficult to enjoy what you do?
Secondly, employees are more engaged when they can use and build on their strengths, as opposed to the more common practice of focusing on people’s weaknesses. Someone who is adequate at a particular task will probably never become stellar, no matter how often their deficiencies are pointed out to them. However, someone who is pretty good at a particular task can probably become outstanding with a reasonable amount of encouragement and effort. This not only improves the individual, but overall productivity as well.
Finally, engaged employees were found to be generally in better health, and to have healthier habits than other employees. So not only is it good for your career, but being passionate about your job actually correlates with improvement in other parts of your life as well.
How engaged are you in your work? If the answer is “not very”, what are you going to do to change that?
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.