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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2 thoughts on “Employee Engagement: 2010 Research Insights

  1. Very interesting article. It’s obvious that there’s a huge opportunity out there a firm that looks at the glass half full.

    I’m disappointed your piece doesn’t take the issue further though. In our everyday dealings as consumers we see the results. But what are reasons for the lack of employee engagement. Is it lack of training by management or lack of a corporate vision that stresses customer service?

    Or is there a disconnect between generations, mainly Boomer management and ownership … and Generation Y front line employees. I believe this is a major contributing factor.

    Members of the Y generation do not think like their predecessors – they don’t have the same motivations. And no corporate initiate to facilitate employee engagement is going to have any effect if these people don’t believe in what the company stands for in the first place.

    Employee engagement in companies like Apple and Best Buy is high because employees like their company and are proud to work for them. They want to contribute to the solution their employers stand for. I think you’d be hard pressed to say that for banks and airlines.

    This younger generation of the work force is not inherently rebellious. On the contrary, their generational archetype, the same one as the heroes of WW2, is known for following direction and banding together. To know this is to know you can’t treat them or motivate them in the manner as their self-centered parents – or even their go it alone older sibling Gen Xers.

    Generation Y, the Millenials, like to work in teams, are concerned about the environment and are not motivated first by money. Structure a company and work environment that stresses social responsibility, teamwork, learning and employee contribution to their work structure and you’ll have a company that will not only have employee engagement but also a company that engages their customers.

  2. Hi Clay,

    There’s just not enough room to cover it all in a blog post. I agree that younger generations have different values than previous generations. It was something I began writing about five years ago at this link: http://www.epluribuspartners.com/pages/articles/Leading-through-community.pdf

    That said, it’s more complex that generational differences alone, don’t you think? A changethis.com manifesto I wrote is probably the best summary of my views on the disconnection between people and their work that drives today’s dismal levels of employee engagement. Would love to hear your thoughts about it. Here’s a link to the free download: http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/44.06.ConnectionCulture

    Best wishes,
    Michael