Improving employee engagement is not simply about improving productivity — although organizations with a high level of engagement do report 22% higher productivity, according to a new meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees conducted by the Gallup Organization.
In addition, strong employee engagement promotes a variety of outcomes that are good for employees and customers. For instance, highly engaged organizations have double the rate of success of lower engaged organizations. Comparing top-quartile companies to bottom-quartile companies, the engagement factor becomes very noticeable. For example, top-quartile firms have lower absenteeism and turnover. Specifically, high-turnover organizations report 25% lower turnover, and low-turnover organizations report 65% lower turnover. Engagement also improves quality of work and health. For example, higher scoring business units report 48% fewer safety incidents; 41% fewer patient safety incidents; and41% fewer quality incidents (defects).
While people define engagement in various ways, I prefer a plain and simple definition: People want to come to work, understand their jobs, and know how their work contributes to the success of the organization.
Jim Harter Ph.D., a chief scientist at Gallup Research explained what engaged employees do differently in an email interview: “Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”
Harter, who has co-authored over 1,000 articles on the topic as well as two bestsellers, also says engaged employees “continuously recreate jobs so that each person has a chance to do what they do best.” Engaged employees “listen to the opinions of people close to the action (close to actual safety issues and quality or defect issues), and help people see the connection between their everyday work and the larger purpose or mission of the organization.” When engaged employee do this they create a virtuous circle where communication and collaboration nurture engagement and vice versa.
Considering the benefits, why do companies still struggle to foster engagement? Harter writes, “Many organizations measure either the wrong things, or too many things, or don’t make the data intuitively actionable. Many don’t make engagement a part of their overall strategy, or clarify why employee engagement is important, or provide quality education to help managers know what to do with the results, and in what order.”
So where do you begin if you’re committed to improving engagement — but feel intimidated by that laundry list of pitfalls? One way to simplify it is to focus on purpose. Communicate the purpose of the organization, and how employees’ individual purposes fit into that purpose. When employees “clearly know their role, have what they need to fulfill their role, and can see the connection between their role and the overall organizational purpose,” says Harter, that’s the recipe for creating greater levels of engagement.
First posted on HBR.org 7/04/2103