What is the meaning of “engagement”? How can it be measured? What strategies can be employed to enhance it? And who bears the responsibility for fostering it?
Not long ago, employee engagement was not a significant concern for business leaders and HR professionals. Their focus was primarily on productivity and, to some extent, employee retention. The engagement was a concept that received little attention. Employees showed up for work, performed their duties, and received their wages – that was the extent of it.
However, in today’s landscape, engagement has emerged as a matter of great significance, capturing the attention of individuals across the organizational hierarchy, including CEOs. Several factors have contributed to the prominence of engagement as a focal point: the need for improved retention rates, the competition for skilled employees, the rise of transparency and employee review platforms, and the emergence of a new generation seeking greater purpose in their work compared to their predecessors.
Let us start off by understanding the employee engagement model.
Employee Engagement Model
The employee engagement model comprises four levels that correspond to different aspects of employees’ performance development. These levels are represented by a pyramid, with the basic level forming the foundation, followed by individual, teamwork, and growth at the top. Meeting the needs at the foundational levels establishes a climate of trust and support, fostering optimal performance at the highest level, which is personal growth.
These levels serve as a guide for managers to motivate and enhance their team members’ performance, with each level building upon the previous one. It’s important to note that these levels are not sequential phases, where managers complete one level before moving on to the next. Rather, managers must ensure that employees understand their expectations and are equipped with the necessary resources to perform their work while addressing needs at the second, third, and fourth levels.
To effectively support their team members, managers should consistently identify their needs and obstacles, proactively taking action to address challenges before they hinder employee performance.
Even with the roadmap laid out, employers are unable to have effective engagement models. Let us take a look at some of the reasons for it.
Why aren’t current employee engagement programs working?
Despite increased efforts by companies, nearly 80% of employees worldwide remain disengaged or actively disengaged in their work. One of the primary reasons for the failure of workplace engagement programs is the misconception that employee engagement is solely the responsibility of HR.
This belief leads to a lack of ownership from leaders, insufficient expectations for managers, and a lack of understanding among front-line employees. Consequently, some organizations mistakenly assume they have exhausted the potential of employee engagement as a performance driver without fully exploring its transformative impact on their business.
These leaders consistently face challenges of low engagement or reach a plateau that eventually results in decline, despite repeated attempts to improve engagement scores. In other cases, they may have high engagement numbers, but their actual business results tell a different story.
Struggling to explain these outcomes, leaders may attribute their problems to the tools, measurements, philosophies, or unique environmental factors. However, the apparent failure of employee engagement efforts often stems from how organizations implement their engagement programs. Some common mistakes include:
1. Complexity: Leaders make engagement metrics overly complicated by focusing on predictors that are beyond managers’ control and don’t address employees’ core psychological needs at work.
2. Inaccurate metrics: They rely on a “percent favorable” metric with low standards, which inflates scores and creates blind spots, giving the illusion of high engagement without generating strong business outcomes.
3. Survey overload: Organizations excessively use pulse surveys for immediate feedback but rarely take meaningful action based on the results.
In contrast, leaders who have successfully integrated engagement into their corporate strategy, consistently experience significant improvements year after year.
Now let us look at some causes of low employee engagement and ways to resolve them.
Causes of Low Employee Engagement and How to Resolve Them?
1. Inconsistent Expectations
One of the primary challenges in employee management is ensuring consistent expectations. Clear, realistic, and concise expectations must be communicated by managers to their employees.
However, there are instances where managers display leniency on one occasion and strictness on another, or they change the scope of a project after it has been completed, asking the employee to start over. Inconsistency is not limited to raising the bar but also treating the same employee behaviors differently at different times.
For example, an employee may submit the same report every month with minimal feedback from the manager. Then, suddenly, the manager closely scrutinizes the report without acknowledging the shift in expectations.
Lack of predictable expectations often leads to employee disengagement as individuals struggle to prioritize their efforts. This kind of response can have a negative impact on employee engagement.
How to address this issue:
Consistency is the key to maintaining expectations. While there may be times when minimal feedback is required for a report, it is essential to communicate the reasons to the employee. Changes in expectations, goals, or organizational requirements should be openly communicated to employees. Soliciting their feedback and involving them in the change process, particularly regarding expectations and goals, will facilitate timely alignment and enhance success.
It is natural for managers to have a better rapport with some employees than others. Certain individuals may be more compatible to work with than others. However, similar to inconsistent expectations, managers sometimes respond differently to the same behavior from different employees due to personal preferences.
For instance, when two employees separately inquire about a piece of company news, the manager shares more information with one employee than the other.
Inconsistent responses, whether in terms of excessive praise or insufficient critique, create an unfair environment and detrimentally impact employee engagement.
How to Address This Issue:
To effectively manage this situation, it is vital to prioritize fairness instead of consistency. Ensuring fair treatment of all employees helps mitigate the risk of favoritism, regardless of how it may be perceived. While you may genuinely believe that you are not showing favoritism, it is crucial to remain mindful of how your actions can be interpreted.
By treating all employees equally, and sharing information transparently and fairly (except when confidentiality is necessary), you demonstrate your commitment to impartial leadership. This fosters an environment where employees understand that you are not engaging in any covert activities and that their concerns and contributions are valued equally.
Micromanagement poses a significant challenge, especially for individuals who have a strong need for control. Managers who struggle with micromanagement may convey a lack of trust in their employees’ abilities and competence.
This excessive control can lead to disengagement as employees may eventually feel demotivated and disinterested in their work.
Micromanaging supervisors may believe that they are the only ones capable of performing the job effectively. They may feel overwhelmed by performance expectations for their team, leading to insecurity and placing unnecessary pressure on employees.
Micromanagement ultimately hampers employee engagement, preventing both the employee from being fully engaged and the manager from investing adequate time in developing employees.
How to Address This Issue:
Micromanagement is gradually diminishing in the workforce due to evolving generational needs. Good managers understand the traits of their employees and adapt their leadership accordingly.
Communication plays a critical role in avoiding micromanagement. Clearly conveying expectations and requirements can help managers refrain from excessive intervention. It is essential to strike a balance and provide guidance without stifling employees’ autonomy. An open dialogue and a collaborative approach can mitigate micromanagement tendencies and foster employee engagement.
Some managers face the opposite challenge – they become too absorbed in their own responsibilities, leading to a sense of aloofness.
Distracted managers often neglect their employees, resulting in a fragmented work environment where individuals feel disconnected from their team and the organization as a whole. Employees lose sight of how their daily tasks contribute to the company’s mission and goals, which can diminish their sense of purpose and motivation.
How to address this issue:
As a leader, you must exemplify the behavior you expect from your employees. If you want them to be engaged, you must demonstrate engagement yourself.
Maintain a consistent and focused presence, avoiding scattered attention. By exhibiting stability and dedication, you reduce the likelihood of distractions originating from your actions.
If employees appear distracted, it is your responsibility to investigate the cause. Is it due to internal or external factors? Is it related to family matters or health issues? Understanding the root cause is crucial in effectively addressing the issue.
Remember, as a manager, you should not expect anything from your employees that you are not willing to deliver yourself.
If employees seem disengaged and overworked, it could be a reflection of their managers’ state. Similarly, if managers lead balanced lives, their employees are likely to follow suit.
Even when overloaded, managers who advocate for work-life balance may find that their advice is not taken seriously. Additionally, managers who send work-related emails during weekends or do not utilize vacation days and workplace perks often create an environment where employees feel pressured to do the same.
How to address this issue:
Once again, communication is essential. Engage in conversations with your employees and seek their input on how they prefer to be managed. A manager’s style can vary within the bounds of individual preferences while remaining effective, thereby preventing burnout and disengagement.
There will be instances where projects require additional effort, but there should also be opportunities to say no. As long as all parties understand the agreement, it can help prevent burnout and disengagement.
Furthermore, as a manager, reflect on your past experiences with ineffective managers. Use those lessons to guide your own management decisions. For example, if you worked under a manager who lacked clarity or maintained a hands-off approach, consider the impact it had on you as an employee when shaping your own management style.
In today’s world, employee engagement is paramount for success. However, it is easier said than done. The mentioned challenges only scratch the tip of the iceberg, but these challenges are not unsolvable and one way of solving these problems is by incorporating a reward and recognition system like Vega HR in your company which would refine your employee engagement.