Employee Engagement in the Workplace is More Than Just a Business Problem

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In May of 2016, a study by  J. Galvas was done to test  a model based on engagement theory. The goal was to see  how “CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) would enable employees-particularly the growing millennial workforce-  to bring more of their  “whole selves” to work, which hypothesized would result in employees being more engaged.” In past articles, we have presented the surprising evidence of the lack of employee “engagement” with their employers and their specific jobs. Indeed, studies show an estimated 70% of employees have little interest or passion for whom they work or what they do. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to suggest this moribund attitude can have a major impact on productivity and the level of success of an enterprise. Moreover, as the USA has become a services based economy, those less inspired attitudes show themselves in many places along the service delivery chain. We can all hear it: “I am so sorry for the inconvenience this problem has caused you, but……” Or: “I understand your frustration, but that is company policy. Sorry. Is there anything else I can do for you today?” This cynicism is not to degrade those new employees who are doing what they were taught. Corporations recognize the problem not only in the form of turnover costs but also in employees who are just incapable of critical thinking or real empathy.

Almost every service business uses post contact surveys not so much to identify problems but attempt to create some sort of accountability. But realistically, even the best people have bad days. What is implied is the establishment of a legitimate corporate culture that establishes values as well as procedures that truthfully reflect those values. Mission and Vision statements are good, but they need to be reinforced and consistently applied on a daily basis. But alas, that is a task out of utopia or dictatorship. So, what can be done to create a culture that realistically reflects solid and practical business ethics and best practices?

Employee Engagement in the Workplace

According to the Galvas study, there is a correlation between employees’ connection to the world around them through community interaction and their connection to each other, in the workplace. Galvas states that “both types of connections increase employee engagement by helping them feel as if they belong, rather than merely fulfilling their job-related duties, throughout the week.” To support what that means, Galvas cited an example. Four Winds Interactive was losing over $4M a year due to high employee turnover.  Because of this, they decided to invest in peer recognition programs, community engagement opportunities, wellness programs, and employee benefits.  In addition, they invested in an internal visual communication network that visually reinforced employees who participated in wellness or extracurricular activities.  As a result, their turnover rate decreased by half, after a year—which also saved them more than $2M. The takeaway: increasing an organization’s culture and level of employee collaboration with the community and each other will help minimize disengagement, boredom, and turnover.

To support this supposition, Villanova University did a study that suggested that employee and supervisor familiarity, basic training, employee development, employee recognition, teamwork, employee coaching, and customer-focused teams are actual actions that facilitate the same results as found by the Galvas Study.  Encouragement and inspiration are keys to maximizing engagement.

The Money Gap is a Big Negative for Employees

Talking about inspiration from management, Galvas pointed out that if there are very large gaps in pay between executives and average employees, these gaps “create destructive competition among management and cynicism among employees.”  In fact, one could cite that same complaint across the economy, and that income inequality is a growing concern for economists, social scientists, and political strategists. But this intuitive situation will become a major factor in defining our collective future.

Income inequality will be a major discussion as it has been expressed by Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders as well as the murmurs of a guaranteed basic income (GIB) program in the USA and Europe. This concept of GIB is an anathema to the Capitalist philosophy but could become the next great debate: Nanny state or Darwinian Capitalism, but that is taking the conversation a bit too far for the topic of this article on employee engagement. However, there can be no doubt that disengagement of society can be the downfall of societies as we saw in the dissolving of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s as well as in current day Venezuela, “the Trump phenomenon” and Brexit. So, engagement, as it refers to inclusiveness, is not just a business problem but can be extrapolated to a much larger context.

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