What Happened to Employee Engagement?

What happened to employee engagement? Companies have been measuring it and talking about it for years. Yet, according to a recent Gallup survey, less than 30% of US employees are engaged. In fact, Gallup has reported similar percentages annually, since 2000. (Gallup, 2016) That is fifteen years in a row with approximately 70% of employees showing up at work disengaged! This is even more concerning, because there is no shortage of employee engagement programs.

When I think about my career, there have been many times when I was very engaged. I reflect on the eleven years I spent at Just Born, the mid-sized candy manufacturer in Bethlehem, PA. I brought all my energy to work, and poured myself into every task. Just Born was a family owned business, and I felt like part of the family. While I was quite happy in my role, and very satisfied with my job, employee engagement is more than that.

According to Kevin Cruse, engaged employees demonstrate an emotional commitment to the goals and objectives of the organization. (Kruse, 2016) He explains in his article on Forbes.com that engaged employees get more done. They do above and beyond what is expected by bringing their discretionary effort to the workplace.

Why should employers care about engagement? The only thing that really matters is employees doing their job, right? Actually, companies with higher levels of employee engagement consistently outperform their peers with less engaged employees. Businesses with highly engaged employees drive better results. Engaged employees result in engaged customers, better products and services and higher revenue. In fact, Gallup reports that “when companies increase their number of talented managers and double the rate of engaged employees, they achieve, on average, 147% higher earnings per share than their competition.” (Gallup, 2016)

So what’s wrong? With the existence of so many employee engagement programs, why isn’t employee engagement higher? Some would argue that an employee engagement “program” doesn’t actually drive employee engagement very effectively. According to Les McEown, (President and CEO of Predictable Success) employee engagement programs don’t make a huge difference over the long term. He said “people aren’t engaged by programs, they are engaged by people. This isn’t rocket science. Employees are engaged because they like their work, and they like the people they work with and for.”. (McEown, 2016)

For me, I have always been most engaged when I have had a great boss. When I felt that my supervisor cared about me as a person, and not just as a “tool” to get their goals met, I have always felt more tied to the organization’s success. While employees may join a company because of their vision or mission, their direct supervisor is the key to employee engagement.

Gallup data would support this statement. A recent poll they released indicated that, an employee’s relationship with their immediate supervisor is accountable for 70% of the variance in employee engagement. (Gallup, 2016) The verdict is out! Businesses that want to improve their employee engagement results may want to consider focusing less on employee engagement programs, and more on developing their leaders.