Employee Engagement - What is it Good for? Absolutely Everything!

The economic turmoil that began in 2007 has left its indelible mark on individuals, families, companies and entire industries. Do you know anyone who has not seen a family member, friend, neighbor or former colleague impacted by the loss of a job or even several jobs over the course of the past five years?

Initially, surviving a downsizing in a massive company restructuring was enough to keep employees from jumping ship and feeling lucky they still had a job. Most employees were in a constant state of apprehension and uncertainty.

It didn’t appear to be “safe” in any industry, even if an employee seriously considered making a change amid mounting layoffs and company closings. However, feeling safe after learning you aren’t losing your job does not equal a fully engaged employee.

Fast forward to 2012 and we are facing a less volatile economic situation. As the economy slowly improves, are the rules of engagement changing? In a 2012 Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson, only about one third (35%) of more than 32,000 full-time workers participating in the study reported being highly engaged.

According to Towers Watson, most employees have been doing more with a lot less. They suggest that companies are at a “critical tipping point in their ability to maintain engagement over time.” Key themes emerging from the study include:

  • Retaining employees depends a lot on the quality of their work experience including factors seemingly always in the mix regardless of the economic situation. These factors include career opportunities within the organization, the relationship with the immediate supervisor, and overall work/life balance.
  • Leadership and the level of interest and support coming from executives is critical.  The leader behaviors and actions most important to employees are: “being able to grow the business, showing sincere interest in the employee’s well-being, behaving consistently with the organization’s core values and earning the employees’ trust and confidence.”
  • Job security is taking precedence over almost everything else and stress and anxiety about the future are prevalent.

No real surprises! However, one overlooked element in the engagement dialogue is the engagement of executives themselves. So much has been theorized, researched and written about what executives can do to engage employees but much less has focused on executive engagement itself. If a key concept in this dialogue is sustainable engagement, then one focus should be the engagement of executives who, in turn, can have a dramatic effect on the engagement (or lack thereof) of large numbers of employees.

I’m not talking about executive compensation. Surely, many people will say that executives are already being paid or incented too generously. However, ensuring executives are fully engaged in the business and in providing opportunities for growth and development of their staff represents at least one lever to pull in the overall engagement process.

Addressing executive engagement may include developing a formal leadership competency model that defines behaviors appropriate for building engagement. It might also involve, as many companies have seen, executive coaching and on-boarding programs to set the right stage and provide focused individual development to ensure executive level retention and engagement.

Employee engagement hasn’t really changed over the course of the past decade. While it is certainly influenced by the prevailing economic conditions, in the long run, it’s what a company chooses to do or not do with employee engagement issues that will potentially leave them in a bigger hole than the economic situation itself. Having or creating a comprehensive engagement strategy requires looking at executive engagement and the compounding effects it can have on employee engagement in general.  

Ask yourself, what can your company do to keep your executives engaged and energized? 

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  1. Kim's avatar
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    Great article John! Too many times we've seen hypocritical executives...they instruct the masses to do one thing while they do the opposite! Engagement, for me, starts at the top! I'm much more engaged and giving when I have leaders from the top down who are doing the same.
  2. John Madigan's avatar
    John Madigan
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    Thanks for your comment, Kim. I know that in many of my executive coaching assignments, it's easy to see the impact an individual executive's own engagement level has on the entire team.
  3. Nicole's avatar
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    I've seen a couple of times it's the disengaged manager that makes everyone less engaged. Once, it became a terrible place to work. When my manager started this coaching we were very unsure of where that would take us, but it made a difference to the whole's team engagement!
  4. Emile Bons's avatar
    Emile Bons
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    Good article. I would suggest to measure the executives and other employees in different groups (A-B analysis) and determine how the differences look like. You can do so by asking for help for one of those consulting firms out there, you could do that on your own or you could use of the web-applications out there to help you.

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