The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

August 21, 2013

Low Employee Engagement: More than Just Job Dissatisfaction


Earlier this summer, Gallup’s State of the American Workplace declared that 70% of U.S. employees are not engaged in their jobs. Following the report’s publication, the statistic received extensive press coverage, perhaps with insufficient acknowledgement of its alarming implications.  The many corresponding news headlines, which mostly condensed the Gallup study’s principal finding to statements about the majority of workers “hating their jobs,” make the figure seem trivial without further investigation. 

Gallup’s discoveries go beyond general distaste for one’s profession. A poor showing for employee engagement means more than just scores of unhappy workers; the low number is actually associated with weaker performance, poorer health and decreased hiring, not to mention annual economic losses of about $500 billion, the report attests. Among the 70% of employees who are not engaged, about a fourth are “actively disengaged,” meaning they’re emotionally disconnected from their work and negatively influencing their colleagues.  Additionally, the term “engaged” isn’t to be mistaken for a more passive adjective, “satisfied.” Gallup qualifies employees as engaged if they are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner.” Workplace engagement is measured by factors including, but not limited to, cognizance of expectations, adequate tools and materials for task completion, recognition for accomplishments, assessment of progress, friendships with colleagues and the ability to do one’s best.

Business leaders should be particularly concerned with engagement’s effects on performance, health and headcount.  When individuals or teams in the workplace are given the opportunity to cultivate their strengths, they’re more productive, yielding greater performance for the business.  When engagement is combined with enhanced levels of consumer engagement, performance is said to increase by 240 percent.  On the contrary, disengagement counters productivity in that it fuels absenteeism, product shrinkage and customer dissatisfaction. Health and flextime are connected to employee engagement as well. Employees maintain substantially better physical and mental wellbeing when they’re both engaged and permitted to work a variable work schedule, rather than a rigid 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. position.  Finally, there’s a notable correlation between engagement and hiring.  Engaged employees are twice as more likely than actively disengaged employees to report that their organizations are hiring.  Meanwhile, only about 13% of the former group cited reductions in headcount, but 30% of the latter said so. 

So what can employers do, given that engagement affects such vital business functions?  For one, they should ensure that persons in supervisory roles can support and empower their staff.  Poor management, the report advises, is predominantly culpable for low engagement. All managers should be held accountable for their subordinates’ engagement, the report suggests.  Because a lack of concern for employees’ strengths is similarly detrimental, employers should also promote the utilization of workers’ strongest skills to enhance engagement. When employees aren’t able to focus their professional efforts on what they do best, they’re left feeling stressed, angry and unenthusiastic.  On the contrary, a focus on one’s strong points, once properly identified, significantly augments engagement.  When executed properly, these complementary strategies position a business to effectively engage its employees.

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