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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

The puzzle of employee engagement

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

Our organisations are broken – and it's breaking our people (1)

A week or so ago we published two posts on LinkedIn – one was about supporting employees through parenthood. The other was on flexible working hours so that walking the kids (and the dog) to school, picking them up and going to their open day (the kid’s, not the dog’s) aren’t impossible tasks – involving military style planning, compromise and the inevitable feeling that you’re letting someone down.

The interest in the posts was the highest we’ve seen.

‘If you decide to have them, balancing children with your career is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.’ (2)

Society is arranged so that every family has a caretaker who stays home, even as fewer and fewer families are arranged that way. I think I have it under control, until something happens. You suddenly realise your kids shoes are two-sizes too small and you burst into tears. You’re a horrible mum because you got too caught up in the day-to-day. My life brings so much pressure, I tend to lose my temper with the kids at the smallest of things.’ (3)

How can anyone be fully engaged at work without having their work and home lives in balance? Getting this right is even harder for the growing number of single parents.

One of our main goals in setting up EGM was to create an environment where working parents could flourish at work without neglecting the most important job of all - and remove the guilt (4)

In an uncertain world, one certainty remains - employees continue to seek better experiences from their employers. (5)

Perhaps the puzzle of employee engagement can be solved by treating people like adults.

But most companies don’t get it.

Try our quiz (answers at the end):

  1. What % of Australians have a low level or average employee engagement?

  2. What % of Australian workers between ages 18-24 are highly engaged?

  3. What % of Australian workers between ages 34-60 are fully engaged?

  4. What % of Gen Zs have experienced burnout in the past year?

  5. Every week, what % of Australian workers feel fatigued and stressed at the thought of facing another working day?

  6. What % of senior managers and executives are highly engaged?

  7. What % of workers in financial services are highly engaged?

  8. What % of workers in government are highly engaged?

  9. What % of workers in small companies are engaged?

  10. What % of workers in large companies are engaged?

Answers – 1. 76% 2. 6% 3. 30% 4. 49% 5. 33% 6. 28% 7. 15% 8. 36% 9. 36% 10. 26% (6)

The impact on profitability is enormous:

  • The cost of employee turnover in Australia is estimated at $3.8 billion in lost productivity and $385 million in avoidable recruitment costs per annum -therefore, an engaged workplace both retains productive staff while avoiding costly rehiring and training costs (7)

  • Willis Towers Watson report that companies with high and sustainable levels of engagement have operating margins up to three times higher than companies with low levels of engagement

  • In a Gallup study of 200 organizations, companies with the highest levels of employee engagement were 22% more profitable and 21% more productive than those with low levels of engagement. (8)

McKinsey published research in June 2020 on employee engagement.

Their ‘needs approach’ (a bit like an updated Maslow ‘hierarchy of needs’), found that the key needs that drive engagement are:

‘a job in a stable, safe and secure environment, where individuals have trusting relationships, where inclusion is the norm and jobs have a purpose with people making a valid contribution.’ (9)

Key Themes

Stable, safe and secure environment

  • Job and financial security

  • Physical and mental health

  • Being rewarded fairly

In practice:

  • Authentic communication – striking the balance between describing the challenges ahead and giving confidence in the future – don’t say what people want to hear/ tell the truth

  • Effective two-way communication processes

  • Strong focus on employee well-being

  • Emotionally intelligent leadership – awareness / making a positive impact on people’s lives

  • Fair compensation

Trusting relationships

  • Working with people who I trust

  • Trust in leaders

In practice:

  • Strong values driven culture

  • Team building – recognition, social events – understand the impact of remote working, act on ideas generated by staff. People who see themselves as part of a team are twice as engaged as others (10)

  • Improve cross-functional relationships

  • Recruit / select against company values – test for ‘fit’

  • Don’t put up with toxic leadership behaviours – favouritism, bullying, micro-management

  • Introduce a leadership charter (11)

  • Focused selection and development of leaders (12)

  • Building trust rests on employees seeing how leaders care about their concerns and well-being.

Inclusion is the norm

  • Being treated fairly

  • Recognise individuals are different – valuing their contribution

  • Having supportive co-workers

In practice:

  • Recruit / select diverse teams

  • Protect individual uniqueness - recognise individual differences and what drives each member of the team – think about experience, skills and passions

  • Understand people’s unique strengths/ what they bring to the team – build on strengths

Individual purpose and contribution

  • Achieving work goals

  • Balance of work and private life

  • Realize - nothing gives more energy than a clear purpose. Without one, getting out of bed every morning becomes a challenge. (13)

In practice:

  • Employees are clear about what they’re expected to do – how their role fits into the bigger picture

  • Remove ‘clutter’ and let employees focus on key job elements – so they’re not overwhelmed with rules about how the work has to be done or with unproductive meetings

  • Embed purpose in how you talk to employees – explain the ‘why’ and the ‘how’

  • Bring purpose to life. Share stories (through video or town halls)

  • Celebrate and create role models of those who are living their purpose

  • Encourage work/life balance – know that everyone has different needs.

At the end of the day, engagement is about having employees who have a positive, fulfilling, work related state of mind every day.

We would all like to have the worlds most engaged people working on our team – to which the answer is you do already - you just have to help them step up to it.

  1. Get out of your own way: let’s build better companies, EGM blog

  2. How to work without losing your mind, Cate Sevilla

  3. Can’t Even, Anne Helen Peterson

  4. EGM Partners, LinkedIn

  5. Operating in the new normal: the economics of engagement, Deloitte August 2020

  6. Operating in the new normal: the economics of engagement, Deloitte August 2020

  7. Operating in the new normal: the economics of engagement, Deloitte August 2020

  8. How Employee Engagement Increases Profits,

  9. Covid-19 and the employee experience: how leaders can seize the moment, McKinsey 28 June 2020

  10. Marcus Buckingham shows you the most engaged employees in the world, YouTube

  11. See for example, EGM leadership development charter now over to you, EGM blog

  12. See, for example, Assessing leadership development strategy – seven Key areas, EGM blog

  13. What do people need to perform at a high level? Harvard Business Review 17 May 2021.

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