Employee Engagement: 2010 Research Insights

Employee engagement research this year produced several insights about serious problems we presently face in America.  Now this may sound bleak to some but for wise leaders and organizations it presents a huge opportunity. Below, I’ll explain.

In January, our friends at The Conference Board published a report entitled “I Can’t Get No … Job Satisfaction, That Is.”  The report’s subtitle, “America’s Unhappy Workers,” captured the essence of The Conference Board’s message. Consistent with the report’s tone, its cover featured a picture of an impending storm.  The report stated that job satisfaction and employee engagement had fallen to the lowest levels since The Conference Board began surveying more than 20 years ago. The report explained that the decline in employee satisfaction and employee engagement began long before the Great Recession and should therefore not be viewed as cyclical in nature. Looking forward, The Conference Board expressed concern about the impact of declining employee engagement on American competitiveness.

In July, Hewitt released a report showing that for the quarter ending June 2010, 46 percent of the 900 organizations it tracks experienced declines in employee engagement versus 30 percent of the organizations that experienced improved employee engagement.  Hewitt noted that this was the largest quarterly decline in employee engagement it has witnessed in the more than 15 years Hewitt has been researching employee engagement.

To finish off the bad news before shifting to the good, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in August, more Americans quit their jobs than lost them. Voluntary job quits have been steadily rising since late 2009 which is quite remarkable given the continued weakened state of the U.S. economy. Certainly some of these quits reflect employees moving to other jobs. It may also be the case, however, that the pain level of remaining at some organizations has become so high that more workers have decided to leave of their own accord in hopes of making it as entrepreneurs or finding jobs down the road as the economy recovers.

Finally, on a bright note, the Gallup Organization published research that established a causal link between employee engagement and favorable business outcomes.  Previously, Gallup and others had merely established correlation rather than the more difficult to establish link of causation. In addition to this important advance in the science of employee engagement, Gallup’s research continues to find that emotional connections are far more important than rational connections when it comes to engaging employees.  (You may remember Corporate Executive Board research found that emotional factors were 4X as effective as rational factors when it came to motivating employees to give their best efforts.)

In summary, America has a big problem related to employee engagement and it’s getting worse.  The solution, however, is clear: create Connection Cultures that motivate people to give their best efforts and align their behavior with organizational goals.  You can learn more by reading the Connection Culture Manifesto, our book Fired Up or Burned Out, or watching the video of  a presentation I gave about Connection Cultures at the Human Capital Institute’s Employee Engagement and Retention Conference held in Boston earlier this year.   Check out the video at this link.

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