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Are 70% of your employees checked out?

December 6, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Kristin Cifolelli

A recent Gallup 2013 study reported that 7 out of 10 workers in America are either actively disengaged or not engaged in their work. Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger Folkman and a Forbes contributor, strongly questions the accuracy of the Gallup results. His doubt stems from multiple sources.

The first source is from direct experience interacting with employees in retail stores, hotels, data processing centers, etc., from all around the country.  During these interactions, Zenger and his colleagues found no evidence to confirm that 70 percent of employees were checked out or actively trying to thwart the company’s progress.

Secondly, they talked directly with the executives of these organizations, who vehemently disagreed with the Gallup survey.

Zenger’s third source is an Associated Press study that found 9 in 10 workers who are 50 years of age or older are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs.

Finally, the Zenger Folkman organization has its own survey data that sharply contrasts with the Gallup conclusion.  They gather information through 360 degree surveys distributed to thousands of leaders and their subordinates to help them improve leadership skills.  While Zenger Folkman’s questions are not identical to Gallup’s, they cover many of the same issues.  Data from these surveys report that 59 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree with the questions that measure employee commitment.

In summary, Zenger contends that the Gallup data is not only inaccurate, but it can be harmful by creating unintended prejudices in how managers perceive and behave toward their subordinates. Unfortunately, this can become a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.

Practical Implications for Employers

Whether or not you agree with the Gallup data or the Forbes article’s analysis, one thing is certain: The higher the employee engagement, the more successful that organization can be.  Employee engagement is defined as the level of commitment that employees feel toward their organization as well as the level of the employees’ discretionary effort and willingness to go the extra mile for their company.  While companies may have differences in strategies, technologies, and infrastructure, these are all features that can be copied over time.  What truly sets organizations apart from one another and can’t be duplicated are the people employed by the company.

While there are many factors that drive employee engagement, they really boil down to three main drivers:

  • The relationship with the immediate supervisor
  • Belief in senior leadership
  • Pride in working for the company

We’ve all heard the saying “employees don’t leave organizations, they leave supervisors.”  That statement rings true when it comes to employee engagement.  By far the most important driver to an engaged workforce is the employees’ relationships with their supervisors. 

In studies conducted by Dale Carnegie, employees reported wanting their managers to care about their personal lives, to take an interest in them as people, to care about how they feel, and to support their health and well-being.  The better a supervisor was able to build relationships directly translated to an engaged environment in which employees felt pride in their organization and would perform at their highest.

Carnegie’s studies also indicate that trust in senior leadership to listen to employee feedback and openly communicate the state of the organization is also a key factor for engagement.

While these concepts aren’t rocket science, they are truly common sense.  After all, who wouldn’t want their employees to be performing at their highest levels, especially since the issues most commonly identified as important by employees do not cost anything to achieve?  Often supervisors struggle with how to build personal connections. They may let themselves be mired down in day-to-day activities, because building these connections takes time and effort.

Ultimately, employers can’t afford to let employees become disengaged.  No longer do employees join an organization and stay until they retire. The cost of recruiting and replacing key employees is expensive. Many estimate this cost can be 2-3 times their salary.

Engaged employees are more committed, dedicated, and motivated to making their organization a success — and this ties directly to sales and profit.   

So the next time you look around your organization, can you tell which employees are engaged?

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