Recognise This! – Don’t trust “fixed grin” employee engagement scores as an accurate representation of how employees really feel.

In this third in a series of posts about the Top 5 Critical HR Priorities for 2011 from the Corporate Leadership Council HR global agenda poll, Priority 1 and Priority 2 drive Priority 3.

Priority 3 for HR in 2011: Engaging Employees

I can’t seem to read my email in any given day without seeing another employee engagement research report, each riddled with stats. Here’s just a sampling from the last couple of months:

* 45% said improving employee engagement is a top challenge, and 70% expect that challenge to intensify. (UNUM)
* Employees’ levels of engagement are much lower than they were pre-recession, with levels of commitment to the organisation dropping by 17 percentage points since 2006. (Mercer)
* More than half of CEOs are not engaged in engagement, 22% do not understand it, 19% don’t see the business benefits, and 15% are aware of the concept but not ROI from it. (HR Magazine)
* 69% of Canadian companies consider low employee engagement a major issue in their organisation. (Poll)

Or what about these stats telling the reverse story:
* 2010 stats show an increase in overall engagement of 8% from 2008 levels and 12% from 2009 (DecisionWise)
* Employee engagement levels remained steady in 2008 and 2009 (Gallup)
* Some HR leaders faced an unexpected challenge when employee engagement scores came in for 2010: Engagement data wasn’t low enough! (TLNT)

What’s going on here? With the latter set of stats, it’s clear employees are putting on a “fixed grin” and surveys certainly don’t tell the entire engagement story.

What can be done about it? The Canadian research points out that the employees aren’t necessarily lacking in motivation, but managers (direct and senior leaders) aren’t creating conditions that engage employees. In that poll, 58% said managers at all levels need to give more praise and employee recognition. CIPD agrees with research citing feedback, praise and recognition as one of the most mentioned management competencies for supporting employee engagement.

Why should you care?
One survey of hospital staff found that facilities with higher employee engagement also had much higher handwashing compliance. So what? Think about it in a hospital environment. More handwashing means less transference of germs between patients, which means potentially fewer incidences of hospital-acquired patient illness and even death. That’s a good reason to focus on increasing engagement to me!

Prior posts on 2011 Top HR Priorities

Priority 1: Improving Senior Leader Capabilities at Managing the Workforce
Priority 2: Improving Manager Capabilities at Managing Their Direct Reports

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