It’s a Slow Fade

When dealing with a lack of engagement amongst the workforce the key is to recognize the early warning signs. Often it really is a slow fade – rarely do people become disengaged in a single moment in time.

A company’s culture and style of leadership bears a great deal of credit or blame as to whether the company is made up of happy and engaged workers, or just a group of 9-to-5ers going through the motions until quitting time.

It’s a question that is asked frequently but surely as long as the job gets done, does employee engagement even really matter? Turns out it does, very much. Gallup continues to carry out extensive studies of the effect of high employee engagement – eight studies so far and they are remarkably consistent each time. They look at almost 50,000 businesses that include roughly one and a half million employees in 34 countries. Spectacularly what they continue to discover is that those organizations that score in the top half of employee engagement have double the odds of success of those in the bottom half.

Low engagement levels amongst employees is estimated to cost the U.S. economy roughly $370 billion a year. How is a number like that derived? Well consider these impacts of truly engaged employees on key performance metrics:

• 37% lower absenteeism
• 25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
• 65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
• 28% less shrinkage
• 48% fewer safety incidents
• 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
• 10% higher customer metrics
• 21% higher productivity
• 22% higher profitability

So, if the case for employee engagement is clear, how do we recognize that we have a problem? According to Gallup, employee engagement isn’t binary. There are actually three classifications; engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. Engaged employees are easy to spot as are the miserable, dissident, obstructive workers who are actively disengaged. The real problem comes when considering the silent majority who are not engaged and apparently perhaps make up over 50% of the North American workforce according to some research, and are adept at blending in with the rest of the herd.

There are obvious signs – absenteeism, low energy, bad attitude, lack of enthusiasm…but there are also less obvious signs for those who take the time to look. How do we then spot the more subtle early signs of employee disengagement?

First of all it might not even be apparent. Poor work product is a reliable barometer for disengagement, but good work might be a red herring. An employee may feel disconnected from your organization but might still perform because of a personal work ethic. Don’t be fooled that everything is okay simply because the person is producing. We need to talk to the individual and ensure that they open up about their true level of engagement.

Second are the signs of avoidance. How often does an employee go to the break room for a coffee or snack? How often do they head out for a cigarette? How often do they wander around interrupting others ‘just for a chat’? Of course your employee may just be hungry, tired, be addicted to nicotine, or just be a chatterbox. However, people who are truly motivated by purpose often derive fulfillment simply by working diligently at their desks.

Third is the issue of saying nothing – silence. Ok so maybe you just have an introvert on your hands and some people just like to have their own space. But when the entire company or specific teams are experiencing a win and a select few show no excitement or celebration, that’s a potential engagement issue.

Finally, when is the last time that an employee shared an article of interest about your company, marketplace trends, or interesting research dealing with their role? When is the last time they shared anything at all? Curiosity is a good sign that an employee cares about the bigger picture. They want to learn and grow in their role and share that with others. When you encourage learning and growth as a company value and employees don’t share your enthusiasm, it’s time to take a closer look.

If you see any of these behaviors in your team, then you probably have an employee engagement problem. You don’t need to do another survey. What you do need is to start addressing the problem. There are numerous articles on how to create an engaged workforce – we’ll leave that for another blog, but all great leaders are able to identify the early warning signs and to get ahead of the problem. It’s a slow fade and people don’t crumble in a day…..

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