Now that we have a foundation for what employee engagement looks like - meaning a clear picture of the types of behaviors we should be seeing from our engaged employees - let’s work through why it even matters and how engagement really does impact our bottom line. Just in case we’re not on the same page yet, I’ll share the analogy I heard years ago that helped me understand how varying levels of engagement impacted a workforce…
Imagine being one of ten people in a boat. Not a boat with a motor, a boat where each of us have to row. Now imagine we’re tasked with rowing upstream (because I’ve never seen a business be successful over the long haul by just riding the current downstream). We’re rowing our hearts out to reach our goal, giving it everything we’ve got! After a while, you happen to look around the boat and realize that only three of us are actually rowing. The five folks in the middle of the boat are at least holding their oars but they’re talking amongst themselves and the oars aren’t even touching the water. As frustrating as that is, you look farther back and see that the last two aren’t even holding their oars and instead have what appears to be a hatchet that they’re using to chop a hole in the bottom of their end of the boat.
I realize that’s a crazy scenario to picture… But if you and I were in that situation, two of the three out of all ten people in the boat who were actually rowing, would you be frustrated? I sure would be - and I may even be inclined to adjust how I’m using my oar for a few seconds to help those last two find their way out of the boat… We’ll circle back to that another time!
In all seriousness though, this is basically what employee engagement looks like in almost every organization. When I first facilitated an employee engagement survey with around 650 team members about a decade ago, I was told that an organization with best-in-class employee engagement had around 30% of their employees who were actively engaged - those were the ones who were rowing the boat. The corporate folks sharing those numbers with me went on to say that about 50% of the team members in basically every organization were neither actively engaged or actively disengaged - those were the folks who were holding their oars but just talking with each other instead of rowing. They said that the remaining 20% in even the best companies on the planet were actively disengaged - doing anything they could get away with to sink the boat. They did say that the percentages for the actively engaged could be as low as 20% and the actively disengaged could be as high as 30% in a struggling company.
I recently saw a Gallup study suggesting that the number of actively engaged employees had hit a 15 year high and was at 33%. Interestingly enough, that study was released around the height of the pandemic when a bunch of people weren’t even reporting to work. Regardless, I can’t see how any organization could achieve its goals with only 33% of the team members helping row the boat...
Let’s consider the numbers… An article I found from the Harvard Business Review shared that “organizations with a high level of engagement report 22% higher productivity.” That same article went on to detail these differences between the companies with higher engagement and the companies with lower engagement:
“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)”
Hey, I’m all for having an environment where everyone plays nice with one another. I’m just not terribly patient with drama… And if a human resources initiative can make that happen, I believe there’s value in investing into it. But when we base what we’re working to create by earning employee engagement - employees who have “pledged or entered into a contract (with us) to DO something” and they’re actually rowing the boat - we can expect to see the results in all aspects of our company’s bottom line. That said, this certainly isn’t something that HR should be tasked with whacking away at on their own. We’ll look at who owns that responsibility next time...
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