It’s been more than 15 years since Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman began sharing the Gallup organization’s research on employee engagement. It was a great breakthrough. HR, L&D and training professionals finally had a way to quantify motivation and morale in an organization. There was great hope that, by understanding engagement more intimately, we would be able to improve it.
That has proven to be a challenge.
In spite of all the measurements over the past two decades, little improvement has been made in actual engagement levels. The number of engaged workers, as defined by Gallup, has stubbornly remained below 33 percent of the American working population. Worldwide, the statistic is 13 percent. In short, organizations have discovered that measuring engagement is a lot easier than improving it.
In 2006, our company began our own research into employee work passion. The purpose of the research was to identify the specific factors and leadership behaviors that could successfully increase engagement levels. We first looked at attributes someone would exhibit if they were engaged. People told us an engaged person would:
- perform at a higher level;
- put in extra effort as needed;
- act as a good corporate citizen;
- stay with the organization longer; and
- recommend the organization to others.
We created a 15-question, 6-point scale focused on theses five attributes and we asked 12,000 people how they would score themselves. This gave us a way to measure what we would call employee work passion and provided some baseline data we could use as a benchmark. It has turned out to be a remarkably simple, reliable and validated measure.
Now the Hard Work Begins
The goal is to actually improve employee engagement, not just measure it. Learning and development professionals have an important role to play in this process. Consider what might happen to engagement levels in your organization if managers were more highly skilled in meeting employee needs in these areas:
At the organizational level, performance expectations should be set so that people see their work compared to an agreed-upon standard. Are people clear on how their work will be measured? Is there support for job and career growth? Are policies and procedures consistently applied? Are resources, compensation and workloads fairly balanced?
At the job level, managers must ensure that people understand how their work connects to the big picture. Do people believe their work matters? Do leaders allow people to choose how to perform their tasks? Do people experience variety in the type and complexity of tasks they are asked to complete? Are workloads proportional to the time people are given to do the work?
At the interpersonal level, organizations need to encourage the sharing of ideas. Does a collaborative environment exist? Do people receive feedback on their performance and are they recognized for improvements and ideas? Do leaders make an effort to build both personal and professional relationships with their people?
Our research has shown that organizations can move the needle on employee work passion when their leaders address these factors. This work is challenging but it is worthwhile—and engagement levels are not likely to change until managers get involved.
So mobilize and engage this underutilized resource. Build these proficiencies into your leadership training curriculum and see more committed employees, more accomplished leaders, and a more thriving organization.