Over the last decade, millions of dollars have been spent by organizations on employee engagement programs in a bid to increase the level of engagement in employees, but let me tell you, success still remains as elusive as the Holy Grail.

Engaged Strategy conducted an independent employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) survey in 2015 and found that only 30% of employees in Australia would actively recommend their company’s products or services and just 20% would recommend their organization as a great place to work.

It’s both sad and alarming to say that this attitude is not restricted to Australia alone. According to Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Workplace report, less than a third (32%) of employees consider themselves “engaged” at work; that leaves a substantial 68% of employees disengaged in the workforce.

It is quite obvious that the above findings should be raising alarm bells that warrant immediate action from leadership. However, in my opinion, the actual improvement in employee engagement has been abysmal to say the least.

Gallup records a 0.5% increase in US employee engagement from 2014-2015 and an Engaged Strategy survey saw no increase in NPS for employee engagement in 2014-2015.

But why engage your employees?

The purpose of engaging employees goes beyond just making your employees satisfied, happy or efficient. The Engaged Strategy eNPS survey also shows that Promoters have a stated loyalty of 85.4% and put in 77% more discretionary effort than Detractors.

In others words, engaged employees stay with the company longer, are proactive, and work to exceed expectations. Can you imagine the positive impact if even 50% of your employees were engaged?

Employee engagement is not a new concept but the issue has been how organizations approach the subject. I was faced with this stark reality when I had similar conversations with two CEOs in the space of a week. Both CEOs had a ‘cultural’ issue but did not know what it was.

When I dug deeper, I found that it had been two years since they last conducted an employee satisfaction survey, and though they had a clear idea about the culture they wanted, the survey failed to measure any of those aspects. Strangely enough, what should have been a coincidence has become a norm in the industry.

Now that you have a sense of the gargantuan problem at hand, the next question is how to tackle it. Well, here are three questions you need to ask for any employee engagement program to succeed.

What standard are you setting? Satisfaction or Engagement?

The first step to solving a problem is recognition, the second is measurement, and the third is taking action. Most organizations conduct employee engagement surveys that usually are thinly disguised employee satisfaction surveys. Try and avoid this stereotype.

An engaged employee is someone who has an emotional commitment to the organization, exhibits loyalty, and is much more likely to put in discretionary effort. In comparison, a satisfied employee is someone who is ‘happy’ with his job but may not be loyal or willing to go that extra mile.

Engagement and satisfaction are measured on different parameters, and organizations that develop engagement programs that are focused on satisfaction eventually end up with a large pool of disengaged employees.

Is there a genuine intent?

Most employee surveys are administered as a matter of corporate practice rather than to gain an actual understanding of employee temperament. Don’t fall into this category.

Following up these surveys with activities like corporate picnics, dress down Fridays and Employee of the Month awards only serve as a temporary respite without zero impact on the daily work experience.

Employee engagement stems from the vision set and sold by the organization. It depends on how leadership is able to give every employee a clear line of sight towards achieving that vision. It is also about making employees feel valued and supported.

If gauging employee engagement is not followed up with a genuine intent to build an amazing culture, then it becomes an exercise in just meeting metrics.

A key intent should be investment in the emotional well-being of employees so that they are resilient and confident under all conditions.

How frequently are you listening to the voice of the employee?

If you’re serious about employee engagement, you need to listen and act more frequently. It is virtually impossible for you to implement any practices that can actually help employees if engagement is measured annually or once in two years.

You need to look at engagement as an ongoing and dynamic effort, which can happen only through regular measurement, followed by actions that make your employees feel valued and supported.

Final Thoughts

Decreased employee engagement has become a global issue and is one of the main factors holding back organizations from realizing their full potential. With the right approach and an action plan designed to help employees perform, you can look forward to much higher levels of engagement.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score & NPS are registered trademarks of Bain & co, Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix. 

In our next blog, we will explore whether employee engagement is just about leadership.