Getting engaged: Employee productivity key issue

Veronica Daehn Harvey

Here’s a troubling statistic for business owners and managers: Seven out of 10 American workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged at their jobs. That’s according to a 2010-2012 “State of the American Workplace” report from Gallup, a research and consulting firm that studies attitudes and behaviors.

Houston, we have a problem. A big one.

Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost U.S. companies $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity a year. Disengaged employees cost companies money because they often aren’t motivated to help the company succeed.

Of the 70 percent of U.S. employees who aren’t engaged at work, 18 percent of them are actively disengaged. Actively disengaged employees are defined as those who aren’t just unhappy at work, but act on their unhappiness. They tend to be less productive and make others less productive. They’re the employees who affect morale and derail the efforts of engaged employees.

But all is not lost.

Three factors play the largest roles in employee engagement, according to a national survey of 1,500 employees conducted by Dale Carnegie & Associates and MSW Research:

  • An employee’s relationship with his or her immediate supervisor. The supervisor’s attitude, behaviors and responsiveness to an employee affects employee engagement and satisfaction. 
  • An employee’s pride in the company.
  • An employee’s belief in senior management. Employees who trust top executives to lead the company or organization in the right direction with employees’ input in mind and to also openly communicate about the organization’s future are most engaged.

Other factors with less influence include:

  • Age. Employees under 30 and over 50 tend to be more engaged in their company.
  • Salary. Those who earn more than $50,000 a year are often more engaged.
  • Education. Those with a college education are usually more engaged.
  • Size of corporation. Large corporations often have larger numbers of engaged employees.
  • Management level. Senior managers tend to be more engaged than other employees.

According to the Dale Carnegie study, employees who’re less engaged or actively disengaged include workers who between 40 and 49 years old, hold post-graduate degrees, earn less than $50,000 a year, have been with the organization less than a year and work in clerical positions or roles involving client contact.

Clearly, engaging employees is a crucial part of running a profitable business. In addition to the money lost from low productivity from disengaged employees, the cost of recruiting new employees — thanks to turnover — can be 1.5 times an annual salary. Experts say the national rate of employee turnover is 65 percent.

So, if one way of retaining employees is to ensure they’re engaged in their work, and one way of increasing employee engagement is to have responsive supervisors, that’s the answer then, right?

It’s at least part of it.

According to Gallup, companies with the highest number of engaged employees make engagement part of the annual employee evaluation process. Managers at those companies are held accountable for their employees’ level of engagement and are trained to support, empower and engage their workers.

Some experts suggest hiring managers for their management skills rather than using management as a promotion in a career field.

Overall, Americans’ happiness with their work environment has declined over the past four years. In 2008, 51.4 percent of U.S. residents reported being happy at work. In 2011, that proportion had dropped to 47 percent, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which measures the health and well-being of U.S. residents in eight different categories ranging from emotional health to work environment.

Job satisfaction depends on a number of factors, but job security ranks first, according to a 2009 study of U.S. employees. Other factors include feeling safe at work, corporate culture, work-life balance, compensation, relationship with a direct supervisor and the work itself.

No surprise here, but 86 percent of engaged employees said they felt happy “very often” at work, according to the Corporate Leadership Council.

So when it comes to employee engagement, productivity, profits and overall success go hand in hand.