By David Mizne
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A rooster! (I actually said this.)
As children, we were asked this question over and over again. Even now as adults we ask the same question to the kids in our lives. It could just be a way to humor ourselves with the adorable answers we get, but truly, even from a young age we understand that the career path we pursue becomes a strong part of our identity. We don’t ask, “what do you want to do?” We ask, “what do you want to be?”
How many people actually feel a deep sense of belonging at their current job? Who among us said, “when I grow up I want to do something with borderline competency that I don’t really care about just to make enough money to survive”?
Unfortunately, about one-third of U.S. employees are not engaged in their work for a variety of reasons. Many don’t feel a strong connection with their company or the mission—if there even is one. You don’t need a study to tell you how many problems disengagement creates for a business, but for those who need more convincing, employees who are checked-out cost the U.S. economy up to $605 billion through loss of productivity.
If disengagement is so damaging and expensive, we should first understand what employee engagement is. I like to define employee engagement as a person who shows up to work each day as their best self by passionately adding value, and proactively seeking to achieve their company’s mission. Engaged employees demonstrate this through their interactions with coworkers, their attitude, and of course, their work.
Creating this sense of belonging with each employee requires more than free lunches or interesting work perks, it’s a commitment from the leadership team to focus on the specific and individual needs of every employee. Here are 7 workplace engagement trends and advice to create a more engaged workforce in 2019:
- Workforce engagement is on the rise
In recent years, the percentage of engaged employees within U.S. and Canada has stayed stagnant, hovering in the lower 30s with no jump in either direction. Fortunately, the most recent Gallup poll shows the needle is finally moving in the right direction with 34 percent of workers committed to their company and enthusiastic about their work.
Inversely, the percentage of actively disengaged workers is at an all time low. Only 13 percent of U.S. workers claim to be miserable in their role, and the remaining 53 percent are simply not engaged. This means an overwhelming majority of people don’t feel an innate connection to their role or company, putting most companies at risk of high employee turnover rates.
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- Millennials are here to stay
Within the last few years, we’ve seen that the millennials’ share of the workforce has increased dramatically. This generation of modern workers has now taken the spot as the largest living adult generation, and many have already worked their way up into leadership roles. With more Boomers retiring each year, millennials are on track to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2030 and continue to heavily influence employee engagement trends.
Businesses seeking to motivate employees in their work will now have to tailor their employee engagement strategies to this group. Research suggests that they are driven by open communication, a great work culture, involvement with causes, and achieving purpose and fulfillment. Despite the flack they receive from older generations, millennials are enthusiastic to learn, and thrive in collaborative work environments that value psychological safety.
- More compassionate leadership
It’s a common saying that “people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.” It turns out that the opposite is also true too. An inspiring manager creates more team engagement. According to research by leadership development experts Dr. Brad Shuck and Maryanne Honeycutt-Elliott, “higher levels of engagement comes from employees who work for a compassionate leader—one who is authentic, present, has a sense of dignity, holds others accountable, leads with integrity and shows empathy.”
Business review platform, G2Crowd, has published a post entitled, What is Employee Engagement? (+20 Best Tools for Pulse Surveys and Feedback). In this great resource, they seek to define Employee Engagement, and explore the benefits of engagement surveys, strategies, and activities. This piece also provides an in-depth comparison of the top 20 employee engagement software platforms on the market.
- Feedback is no longer a nice-to-have
15Five’s research on employee engagement found that the vast majority of employees who received little or no feedback were actively disengaged. Workforce engagement went up dramatically when employees received examples of constructive feedback about their weaknesses, and even more so when they received feedback about strengths. In 2018, a study by The Predictive Index found similar data further proving that employees actually enjoy feedback, yet most (44%) managers are ignoring this engagement trend and give very little feedback, if any.
Data can be a valuable metric, but the feedback/engagement connection is also intuitive. How much more engaged are you in any relationship when you are having open and honest conversation about what matters most?
- Work/Life balance is now Work/Life blend
The Society for Human Resource Management found that the best companies are embracing flexibility. For many job-functions there is no longer definitive reasons to require people to come into the office every day, or for work to be done between the hours of 9am and 5pm. (I am writing this from my kitchen table at 7:30 at night). More companies will continue on this path as long as the numbers continue to show that it’s a successful employee engagement trend.
- People Analytics will join the engagement trends
Looking at employee behaviors and their impact on performance is how leaders can make informed decisions. These metrics allow companies to gather actionable insights for their workforce, but progress to gain these solutions are moving slow. A recent study by Deloitte shows that 71 percent of companies see people analytics as a high priority in their organizations, but only a small fraction of companies are investing in it.
For the companies that are making use of people analytics, they’re gaining a much deeper understanding into areas such as recruitment, performance, and employee mobility. This hard data could provide awareness into what aspects are missing from your employee experience or help you find the right solutions to lower your employee turnover rate. Because of this, businesses now have the capabilities to pre-empt disaster before it happens.
- Technology will focus on the employee
Expert analyst Josh Bersin shares in this piece that over the last two decades, businesses have begun inching away from the classic “competitive evaluation” model that harshly ranked people, and adapting the “coaching and development” model that embraces a growth mindset. Because of this shift, the way we set goals, track progress, and manage people have changed almost entirely.
Through the use of performance management software, managers now have regular visibility into what drives their employees, understand the challenges they face, and create opportunities for employee feedback. This feedback is vital for companies to stay agile and adapt to new industry trends in real time, or they could risk falling behind their competitors.
Overall, business can be viewed as a living, breathing entity. It undergoes change, it grows, and it also recedes. A business can break, but it can also heal. The people are the individual cells that work together to ensure that the entity is healthy, productive, and thriving. In 2019, the brain (leadership) has more performance management tools at its disposal to predict and improve employee engagement trends. Maybe this year’s Gallup survey will report a positive radical shift in how people show up to work.
David Mizne is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360 reviews. David’s articles have also appeared on The Next Web & The Economist Blog. Follow him @davidmizne.