INFOGRAPHIC: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC – Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement

Engaged employees

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is an emotional state where employees feel passionate, energetic, and committed to their work. This translates into employees who give their hearts, spirits, minds, and hands to deliver a high level of performance to the organization.

When we first look to join an organization, we may be enticed by some salary promises, the company brand, or cool perks. Important? Of course. But these factors, called “satisfaction elements,” don’t increase employee engagement. Engagement goes beyond satisfaction. Employee engagement occurs when we find meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection–MAGIC–in what we do.

5 keys for engaging people infographic

Employee Engagement is collaborative.

Employee engagement is a 50-50 proposition–a two-way street. Yes, the organization is responsible for creating an environment where engagement can flourish, but the employee has an equal responsibility to CHOOSE to be engaged.

Employee Engagement is MAGIC

The data–lots and lots of data–is what sets ENGAGEMENT MAGIC apart. Over the years, DecisionWise has deployed assessments in thousands of organizations in more than 70 countries and in more than 30 languages.

From these assessments, DecisionWise has built an engagement database of more than 50 million responses. ENGAGEMENT MAGIC: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations summarizes this research and provides a guide for managers to increase engagement.

Do you like Infographics? Here are some more for your enjoyment:

5 Growth Conversations to Engage and Retain Your Employees

How Leaders Can Help Shape The Employee Experience in Times of Crisis

The Cost of a Bad Manager

Employee Engagement eLEARNING

When Engagement Replaces Satisfaction

What does it look like when engagement replaces satisfaction? Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with volunteers who do work in developing countries.  These volunteers—typically university students—dedicate up to three months each summer in leaving their comfortable, US-based surroundings to work in locations where poverty is the norm.  Their work may include bringing water to a small mountain village, working to prevent river blindness, teaching single mothers about nutrition, building latrines, or any number of other welfare and educational projects.

DecisionWise CEO Dr. Tracy Maylett (back center) working with a group from HELP International to bring water to Villachulucanas, Piura, Peru

These volunteers often live in unfamiliar conditions where, while not typically dangerous, they experience many of the hardships found in some parts of the world.  This may include limited access to clean water, less-than-ideal nutrition, dirty conditions, and crowded living spaces (during my last visit to Peru we had 19 young people squeezed into two small rooms on the upper floor of a small, concrete home).  These conditions were also similar to what I experienced in previous stays in Guatemala and El Salvador, yet these young people choose to do what they did.

Here we have 200+ students, all leaving the conveniences of life and family for a three-month period in order to work in conditions most of them have only seen on their 55-inch big-screen televisions or on their iPads.  And what’s really amazing… they pay to do this!  Each student is required to pay his/her own expenses, as well as part of the fees to support the projects in which they participate.

Let’s put this in perspective.  Suppose I go to your employees and say, “Team (because when we call them “team” it makes them feel better about what I’m about to ask of them), we’re going to change working conditions a bit.  First of all, you will pay me, rather than me paying you (I won’t break it to you yet that you’re going to put in some hard work and live in some pretty harsh conditions).”

Obviously, that ain’t gonna’ fly.  Perhaps a bit of a stretch to emphasize a point, but let’s consider the intent.  What makes 200 students willing to do what they do in this scenario?  I make it a point to continually ask that question of each of the volunteers, who inevitably respond with variations on a central theme: they are willing to temporarily overlook the “satisfaction elements” because they have chosen to be engaged in what they do.  They find meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection (M-A-G-I-C) in what they do.

Employee Engagement Differs from Satisfaction

Let’s take a look at why this is the case, by examining how employee engagement differs from satisfaction.  Certain elements must be present in order for me to be satisfied in my work.  These elements may include safety, basic levels of respect, tools to do the work, training, and even appropriate compensation.  However, these volunteers are willing to overlook these basic satisfaction elements for a temporary period (in this case, three months of the year) because the elements of engagement (ENGAGEMENT MAGIC) play a greater role for them than does the need for those things we generally consider factors that satisfy us in our work.

Are they satisfied?  Yes.  But not because what we consider “the basics” are in place.  They’re satisfied because they are engaged.

Satisfaction is a transactional, quid-pro-quo (you give me x and, in return, I give you y) relationship, with some strings attached.  With satisfaction, when I do something it’s because I know that I will receive something in exchange that makes my effort worth what I put into it.  Satisfaction elements are generally the “price of admission.”  We must have the tools we need to succeed.  Our compensation must be fair, and we must be treated with dignity and respect.  However, many companies stop there, assuming their employees will be engaged if each of these elements is in place.  Further, the more I, as an employer, provide these for you (“let’s bring in a foosball table and hot chocolate machine for every floor!”), the more you’ll be satisfied.  Right?  Not quite.

Download: Employee Satisfaction Survey

Engagement differs from satisfaction in that engagement involves the heart, hands, and mind of the employee (or volunteer), rather than the transactional relationship brought about by satisfaction factors.

Engagement occurs when the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC elements of engagement—meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection—are in place. The volunteers found ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® in what they did.

In the case of these students, each continually cited meaning (when the work has greater purpose beyond the task itself) and impact (when I can see the positive outcomes of my efforts) as primary reasons why they were involved in this work.

Not a single volunteer mentioned, “It pays well,” or “I like the foosball break room.” Obviously, not many of these satisfaction factors were present in their day-to-day working conditions.  Yet, many businesses today ignore engagement factors, and focus solely on satisfaction.   However, satisfaction factors do not bring hearts, hands, and minds into the game.

While satisfaction is important, it’s transactional, and reaches a point of diminishing returns.  Foosball tables and free drinks only go so far—and we must continue to outdo what we’ve already done.  Yet, as these volunteers can attest, MAGIC happens when we include hearts, hands, and minds.

These young volunteers were able to accomplish some pretty amazing things—and it was because they chose to do so.  What are your employees choosing?

5 Keys of Employee Engagement White Paper

Related Post: Stop Wasting Your Money on Employee Satisfaction
Related Post: Why Employee Satisfaction Does Not Always Result in Employee Engagement

What Employee Engagement Is Not

They're in the planning phase of their project

Many definitions are thrown around today to describe employee engagement.  Some of these definitions include references or similarities to other common organizational behavior terms, to the point where “engagement” has become a catchphrase that includes all the positive feelings and qualities that we want in employees.  If it’s a positive behavior, we lump it into the “engagement” category.  However, this creates a good deal of confusion as many try to define engagement for their particular organization.

Download Employee Engagement Survey Sample


So, let’s take a different approach.  Let’s address what employee engagement is not first:

  • Employee Engagement is not Satisfaction.  Satisfied employees are content with their pay, working environment, and the job they do.  Satisfaction must be in place for employees to be engaged (it’s the “price of admission”) but it does not cause an employee to be passionate about her job, nor does it cause an employee to throw his heart, hands, and mind into his work.
  • Employee Engagement is not Happiness.  Employees can be happy at work but not necessarily engaged in their work.  A fun working environment can contribute to engagement, but it may only make your employees happy without contributing to engagement.  We’ve seen plenty of employees who are happy with their jobs (think “Dude, it’s so easy . . . I don’t have to do anything but sit all day and watch YouTube”), but are not engaged in their work.
  • Employee Engagement is not Motivation. Motivation is a component or result of engagement in one’s work.  Engaged employees feel motivated to do their best because the conditions for engagement have been met.  Additionally, motivation does not always equate to action (I’m motivated to diet, but that sure doesn’t mean I’m going to).
  • Employee Engagement is not Empowerment. Autonomy or empowerment is a component of engagement, but some mistake being empowered with being left alone.  The opposite of this, of course, is to be powerless and micromanaged.  Empowerment also often ignores the fact that engagement is a choice.  While I may be empowered, once again, I may not act.

So what is engagement?  Let’s keep it simple: employee engagement is a state and a behavior that makes employees feel passionate about their work, and give their hearts, hands, and minds to that work; it leads to employees caring more and contributing more to their work and their companies; it is driven by experiencing meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in one’s job.

Any other terms you would add to the list? How would you describe employee engagement?

Listen to Podcast: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC, Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement, Listen as David Mason, Ph.D. discusses the five essential ENGAGEMENT MAGIC keys (Meaning Autonomy Growth Impact Connection) that managers need to cultivate lasting employee engagement with their teams.

2016 State of Employee Engagement Report

Related Content: What is Employee Engagement?
Related Post: 7 Definitions of Employee Engagement
Related Post: 5 Research Studies on Employee Engagement
Related Webinar: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: The Five Elements of Employee Engagement
Related Training: Engagement MAGIC® Training

Do Your Employees Grow or Go?

Lack of opportunity for personal growth or career development is the number one reason that employees leave a company. So what’s it like in your organization? Have you implemented growth into your employee retention strategies? Do your employees grow or go? According to a survey by Glassdoor and Harris Interactive, more applicants—52 percent—wanted to hear about growth opportunities when interviewing for a job than about any other perk. The same survey also found that one-third of employees left a job because of—wait for it—lack of career growth—than for any other reason. Only 8 percent left because of their managers.105

Download employee engagement survey.

When professional growth opportunities are absent in a retention strategy, you get stagnation, boredom, and finally attrition. People work on autopilot. They aren’t present; their minds are not on their work. Errors happen. Quality drops. Indifference sets in. Work becomes routine. It may still get done—how many times have you driven a familiar route mindlessly, only to end up safely at your destination with no memory of getting there?—but nothing new happens. Innovation grinds to a halt.

We analyzed survey results from over twenty thousand employees who had left a large biomedical company and its subsidiaries during a period of five years. We compared attrition numbers with engagement scores, and the results were intriguing. Typically, employees enjoyed a high level of growth during the first six months of employment. However, at the nine-month mark, these companies experienced much higher than average levels of attrition, and engagement levels plummeted. What was happening?

Upon further investigation, we learned that during the first six months, these employees were constantly learning. This made sense; the job was new to them. However, at about the nine-month point, employees had learned the basics of the job and were no longer as challenged as they were during the first six months. At that point, their levels of engagement dropped sharply.

What was even more interesting was that once employees hit the fourteen-to eighteen-month mark, engagement and retention increased again until the two-year mark. What was happening at each of these points in time that impacted both engagement and retention? Simple—it was about growth.

Employees were learning and growing the first six months, but at about the nine-month mark they stopped. They also had little concept of where to go from there. They couldn’t see any growth opportunities awaiting them. They felt stagnant. Those who stuck around for fourteen to eighteen months suddenly began to be presented with further growth opportunities, such as new assignments, promotions, and different team roles. They were, once again, growing. Engagement increased.

This pattern remained constant until the two-year mark, at which time employees began looking outside the organization for new opportunities and challenges. Some of those who remained fell into the same patterns of stagnation and disengagement.

For these companies, the solution was clear: Step up efforts to create growth opportunities at the nine-and twenty-four-month marks. Employees, in turn, had to choose to take advantage of these opportunities. Those who did showed clear levels of engagement. Those who did not generally left the organization. That, reasoned these companies, was “good turnover.”

Among some organizational leaders—executives and managers alike—there’s a great deal of fear that by helping employees develop professionally, they’ll only be preparing them to leave for greener pastures. It’s the “help them grow and watch them go” syndrome, and it’s simply not valid. As Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni write in Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go,106 career development has become the “killer app” of employee engagement, which in turn leads to higher revenues, greater profitability, increased innovation, and a host of other happy outcomes.

Giving employees an environment where they can elect to develop professionally is very much the lesser of two evils. Is there a risk that by doing so you’ll merely train your best people to leave for better jobs? Of course. But consider the alternative. Would you rather have unmotivated, unskilled people, numbed by routine, at the heart of your company, interacting with your customers?

Doesn’t it make more sense to help your people develop skills that make them worth keeping—and then hold on to them by creating a culture in which they have the autonomy, respect, and freedom to see how far they can stretch without fear of failing? Based on our research, it’s not even a choice: While some growth-minded employees leave, most engage and stick around, and the organization benefits.

Employees in hip office space

A growth-positive workplace is especially important to Millennials, who will form the next-generation workforce. A 2012 survey of nearly eight thousand college students conducted by Achievers and Experience, Inc., showed that the most important factor to them in choosing a place to work was career advancement opportunities, beating salary 54 percent to 51 percent. Also, “interesting and challenging work” tied with salary, 51–51, as the most important factor.107

Clearly, while pay and other hygiene factors need to be there, employees want growth and development not only to advance their future career prospects but also because it makes work more enjoyable and rewarding. Human beings are curious individuals who want to learn, adapt, and evolve; the circumstances don’t matter as much.

Even hourly employees want to be challenged and grow through their jobs. In a 2012 study of 2,743 employees in an international manufacturing company, our team found significant differences between the attitudes, beliefs, and values of hourly versus exempt employees. For example, only 51 percent of hourly employees felt that they had a voice in the organization and could speak up without fear of retribution or negative consequences, compared to nearly 70 percent of exempt employees. Only 39 percent of hourly employees reported receiving counseling in their careers, compared to 54 percent of exempt employees. Yet consider how important the role of the typical hourly employee is to a company’s well-being:

  • Hourly employees often represent the majority of customer-facing roles.
  • They are directly involved in production.
  • They directly impact quality.
  • They are advocates of safety.
  • They know where the problems are, and how to resolve them.

When was the last time a manager in your organization worried about training an hourly employee so well that he became too employable to stay?

Yet by denying growth opportunities to all workers because of this irrational fear, some managers are preventing some of their most valuable people from getting better at their jobs. It doesn’t make sense.

These days, we’ve noticed a trend we call the “tour of duty.” A person comes to an organization, finds tremendous opportunities for professional and personal development, becomes more valuable, and leaves. However, because management encouraged his growth and gave him what he needed to get better, the relationship remains strong. A few years later, he comes back for a second tour, occupying a higher rung on the corporate ladder and often bringing with him an even better skill set.

That’s why the “grow and go” mentality is self-defeating. In the end, growth leads to engagement, and employees who find deep, satisfying engagement in an organization are more likely to form mutually beneficial long-term relationships with that organization . . . even if they’re working somewhere else.

105 Glassdoor, Harris Interactive, “The Age of Social Recruiting.”

106 Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go:Career Conversations Employees Want (New York: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012).

107 Jacquelyn Smith, “What Employers Need to Know About the Class of 2012,” Forbes, April 3, 2012.

Do Bonuses Engage Employees?

Bonuses come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, and amounts.  Some companies offer regular performance bonuses, including the elusive on-the-spot bonus when the big boss walks by; other companies have a structured, period-based bonus program: did we hit our targets for Q1?  Excellent—everyone benefits; still other companies dole out bonuses once the holidays arrive (perhaps to meet perceived pressures of expectation).

That’s great and all, but not all of these bonuses engage—and those that do create quickly fleeting levels of engagement.  What gives?

Our conversation needs to go back to the discussion of the differences between satisfaction and engagement—the former being comprised of elements like compensation (both regular and bonus); the latter, of elements that directly impact levels of meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection. 

According to Lalin Anik and Jordi Quoidbach, “Individual rewards . . . have been shown to be detrimental to employee morale and productivity.”  Roughly translated, that means if my boss decides to give me a bonus because I’ve worked hard, he should expect my performance to decrease.  I’m not sure I agree with that premise (if I did, I’m not sure I would want my boss to know).

Anik and Quoidbach proceed to promote a different kind of bonus program: “provide [employees] the same bonuses with one caveat: they must be spent on prosocial actions towards charities and coworkers.”  That’s a nice thought and all, but subjecting all bonuses to said caveat is a recipe for disaster.  Enter Frederick Herzberg.

Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory introduces a set of hygiene factors like job security, compensation (read: bonuses), working conditions, and status, none of which provide positive long-term satisfaction, though the absence of any yields dissatisfaction.  By converting the company’s once-selfish bonus program into a prosocial campaign, you can bet employees will passively rebel.  Removing a familiar bonus program (turned hygiene factor) will sharply increase levels of employee dissatisfaction.  Since satisfaction and its contributing factors comprise the necessary foundation for employee engagement, matters will only get worse.

Instead of doing away with all individualized bonuses, consider creating a hybrid program: individual performance-based bonuses and prosocial initiatives.  Anik and Quoidbach’s research quantifies the ROI of prosocial bonus programs: “on sales teams, for every $10 spent prosocially, the firm gained $52.”  At DecisionWise we recently held a prosocial on-the-spot bonus program called Amazing Acclaims.  Each week, we each received five bonus tokens, which we were encouraged to give to colleagues when we caught them doing great things.

The program became an easy way for us to recognize each other and express gratitude for hard work.  In addition to creating a social recognition program amongst colleagues, the program also helped us interact with and get to know other employees with whom we didn’t regularly work.  The result?  Engaged employees who rewarded and recognized other engaged teammates for their efforts—a continual cycle, if you will.  In addition, DecisionWise encourages employees to support worthwhile charitable causes by contributing to organizations of their (the employees’) choosing.

Though I can’t say Amazing Acclaims or corporate giving had a 500-percent ROI impact on revenue, they certainly did improve levels of engagement, which gets us back to where we started this conversation.
Though traditional bonuses don’t necessarily engage, they do create a foundation upon which engagement can flourish.  Additionally, they serve as positive recognition for joint contribution to success.

What kind of bonus programs does your company offer?  What are some other ways companies can make bonuses more engaging?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

5 Quick and Easy Ways to Engage Your Employees

Just tell me what to do,” said the manager after looking at the employee engagement survey results for his department.  We hear that a lot.  Managers are busy and don’t have much time to read reports and create action plans. Some feel understandably lost when trying to engage their employees.  Here are five quick wins—things you can do now to engage your employees.

    1. Talk about the big picture.  Many employees feel underwhelmed because they don’t find meaning in their work.  Instead of focusing only on revenue quotas, make a connection between what employees do to the mission of the organization.   Everything we do at DecisionWise plays off of our mission to “turn feedback into results.”  Our entire team is made up of feedback evangelists, which makes working here more enjoyable—and more engaging.
    2. Leave people alone.  Though employees do need some direction, don’t be a micromanager.  Let people dictate certain elements of their work environment.  One of our clients in the financial sector once commented that letting people choose how they perform their jobs isn’t feasible, what with all of the government red tape running rampant in the financial industry.  Even if you’re in a highly regulated industry, employees can still exercise self-direction.  Let them organize their workspaces in the most personally efficient ways.  Let them recommend new processes that still meet all of the imposed regulations, but let them work more quickly, more profitably, or more enjoyably (it sure would be nice to achieve all three).
    3. Ask employees what they want to do.  Recent DecisionWise research revealed that only 39 percent of hourly employees report receiving mentoring, counseling, or coaching in their careers, even though 70 percent of them see greater career opportunities in their organizations.  Odds are the employees in your organization feel the same way.  So, take time on a regular basis to meet one-on-one and ask employees where they want to go with their career.  You might just find one of your employees has a really cool idea for a special project that would add new value to your company—leverage that powerful opportunity for an instant win-win.
    4. Recognize results.  Just like a CEO looks for results from employees, employees look for results from their own work.  If employees don’t feel like their actions are making a difference, they become discouraged, irritated, and ultimately disengaged.  Take time to not only recognize the accomplishments of employees, but also describe how employees impact the overall success of the organization.
    5. Be friendly.  Employees shouldn’t be afraid of their superiors.  Managers can still maintain a professional relationship while being approachable, conversational, and overall nonthreatening. Our research shows that employees have to have good relationships with their coworkers and their manager(s) in order to be fully engaged.

What are some quick wins that you’ve identified in your employee engagement survey data?  Share your stories with us on how to engage your employees.
Related Post: Five Things Employees Don’t Love about Their Jobs
Related Post: 3 Keys to Helping Employees Understand Their Impact
Related Post: Do Bonuses Engage Employees?
Related White Paper: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: The Five Keys of Employee Engagement

Five Surefire Ways to Disengage Your Employees

Team Training Banner

5 Surefire Ways to Disengage Your Employees
We read a lot about how to engage employees. However, the reality is that engagement is a choice. The best we can do is create an environment in which employees can choose to be engaged. So, does the opposite hold true? Can our actions cause disengagement to occur? Our employee survey research shows a clear and resounding “YES!”
Here are five employee engagement worst-practices that are surefire ways to disengage your employees. (OK, I may have exaggerated a couple of points.) Whether you take a proactive approach to avoid committing any of these engagement sins or you continue your reign as a tyrannical and caustic manager is entirely your choice. (If you fall under the latter category, I really hope your employees find better work.)

    • Destroy any and all sense of meaning
      Remember that personally identifiable, honorable, and energizing company mission of yours? Yeah, don’t share that—especially not with employees. Keep it to yourself. If you do share your company mission, make sure it’s printed on a key chain or t-shirt—nothing deep. If any of your employees find meaning and purpose in their job, remind them that their main responsibility is to make money for the company. Make sure everyone understands that they’re not working to save dolphins or feed the hungry—you never can be too careful. Oh, and the old “You should just be grateful to have a job in this economy!” goes a long way.
    • Don’t let employees make their own decisions
      Make sure any and all decisions require a three- to five-step approval process. So an entry-level employee comes up with a killer marketing concept? Great, she can address her department manager and all of her peers in a two-hour meeting held on the third Tuesday of every other month at noon (no time for lunch if you have groundbreaking ideas to discuss). Committees are especially helpful here. Don’t stop at stifling new ideas, though; let your micromanaging prowess kill any employee’s sense of self-direction or autonomy. After all, if it were a good idea, you would have implemented it long ago. Right?
    • Never challenge your employees
      Don’t assign tasks that would challenge or stretch an employee to learn and grow. Such tasks are simply distractions from employees’ daily duties. The workplace is not a time to learn; it’s a time to implement. Isn’t college the place to get that education? Remember how your new hire talked about his aspirations for learning new skills and taking on new, more challenging tasks with your company? Well, achieving those dreams is not your responsibility (unless, of course, you can manipulate the employee into thinking that all of this grunt work is “for his own good”). Challenging your employees to grow and develop is just opening the door for more mistakes, not to mention the fact that they’ll take all of this learning to another company when they leave. So, what? You’re going to educate them so that someone else can take advantage of your investment. I don’t think so!
    • Downplay any positive results
      Despite your best efforts, one of your most exuberant Millennial employees (darn that generation) might have done something so well that it increased quarterly revenues. Don’t let him find out—and take credit for his actions. Telling him that he was responsible for increasing profitability would make him think that he is making a contribution to the success of the company. Don’t let your employees know that their actions create measurable impact. It’s not that we don’t want to share the credit—that’s bad form; it’s that some employees start thinking that we can’t operate without them. Yes, we appreciate your contributions, but isn’t that exactly what you’re being paid for—results?
    • Don’t let employees talk to each other
      Every company has a grapevine, each with key players who are able to spread news more quickly than any other communication resource at your disposal. Because these grapevines can be damaging, prohibit social interaction between your employees. You’ll effectively eliminate the grapevine and improve productivity, right? “More working, less socializing” sounds like a great mission statement to me. You know those conversations going on in the lunchroom? Do you really think they’re work-related? What a waste of time. Besides, much of the work today is being done remotely—you know, conference calls, email, et cetera.

If you’re looking to disengage your workforce, apply any—or all—of these tips and you’re sure to be successful. Maybe you’re in a company that already buys into some of these ideas; share your stories with us. Do you have any other employee engagement worst-practices to share?

Getting Executive Buy-in for Employee Engagement

Business Leaders Looking at Assessments on Tablet

Getting Executive Buy-in for Employee Engagement

A DecisionWise client recently told me, “I feel that this is the one big barrier I am facing – the senior management team finding the time to really understand the importance of their role in workforce engagement.”

Two issues stand out from this concern: executives finding the time to participate in engagement initiatives and understanding their role in improving the well-being of their employees.  These words imply that leaders view engagement as “something they have to do.”  Engagement is thought of as another metric or task, a strategic plan, or a line-item on a budget – but engagement is none of these.

Engagement is the discretionary effort given to a job; it comprises your heart, hands, and mind. Being engaged is something you are, something you feel,  a way of working, and a philosophy that guides how you act every day.

When leaders understand that engagement is not something you “do” or something you check off a list, then finding the time and understanding their role is easy. In fact, the DecisionWise benchmark database indicates that those in senior-leader positions are typically the most engaged of all job roles within an organization. Why?  Because senior leaders are known to embody the key elements of employee engagement:

  • Senior leaders find meaning in what they do;
  • They have the autonomy to make changes and improvements as they see fit;
  • They experience growth and are stretched in their job assignments;
  • They feel the impact of their decisions on the entire company; and,
  • They connect with other leaders and employees on a personal level.

Not only do the words meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection form a nice acronym (ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®), but also these words represent the five factors that are tantamount to employee engagement.  These factors are critical not only to someone on the management team, but also to the front-line employee. Bombardier CEO, Pierre Beaudoin, told his managers, “We need employees to understand we are flying people, not planes.” Managers of all levels need to understand that they are engaging people, not manipulating data.  Employee responses represent people: their voice, their story – not just data points on a nice graph.

Employee Engagement Contrast: James Bond vs. Federal Government Employees

After watching Skyfall over the weekend (for the fifth time, I might add), I was curious to understand more about the level of employee engagement among clandestine service agents, like those employed by James Bond’s MI6 and the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. After a quick search, I found the results from the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey which includes responses from most employees of the US government.  Unfortunately, the publicly available results do not include CIA employee data.  The response I was greeted with when I called the Agency’s Office of Public Affairs to request employee survey data was less than accommodating.

Instead of trying to extrapolate the data for CIA employees for my own selfish interests, I’ll control myself and focus on the data available.  To throw in a bit of clandestine operative engagement data, I’ll also include my analysis (read: speculations) of the most recognizable (shouldn’t that be a bad thing?) master of espionage: James Bond.

The Employee Engagement Contrast

Before looking at the employee survey results, I had hypothesized that public-sector employees—like James Bond—must be some of the most engaged employees out there.  After all, wouldn’t the patriotism of these employees make them willing to exert extra effort to support the great cause of Democracy?  I was wrong.  Let’s examine the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results using the DecisionWise ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® Employee Engagement framework.

Meaning—Questions like “The work I do is important,” should be answered with a resounding “YES!” from federal employees, right?  If not, then why in the world do I pay my taxes?  This survey item—though currently reported at 91.2 percent favorable—is experiencing a declining trend that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) deems significant.  One must question, however, whether employees responding to this question considered the fact that if an entire department responded negatively to this question, the department might be quickly done away with.  Just sayin’.

Bond, however, has plenty of meaning in his job.  Remember how quickly he responded when prompted with the “country” word association in Skyfall? He loves and honors his country; meaning comes naturally.

Autonomy—When faced with the statement, “[I] have a feeling of personal empowerment with respect to work processes,” federal employees responded with a dismal 45.2 percent favorable.  These scores are continuing to decline.

From the various Bond films, we can see that our favorite secret agent exercises a great deal of autonomy, often to the chagrin or disdain of his superiors.

Growth—Now here’s an interesting trend: from 2008 to 2010, most federal employees responded favorably to the statement, “I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization.”  From 2010 to 2011 ratings remained stagnant; in 2012, ratings were declining at about 2 percent annually.

Growth for Bond?  Check.  With his missions becoming increasingly complex—and his targets increasingly menacing—Bond has a very high-growth job.  His skills and abilities are constantly tried, tested, and augmented.

Impact—Despite the variety of important functions federal employees perform every day—many of which directly correlate with the United States’ national security (even when threatened by Dennis Rodman)—employees responded apathetically to the statement, “My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment,” with only about 70 percent responding favorably.  Remember, this means that nearly one-third feel little, if any, personal accomplishment in their work.

By pursuing global conflicts and eliminating key targets, Bond continues to serve and protect the citizens of England.  His impact is felt by all, as his work directly contributes to his nation’s security.  Impact?  Definitely.

Connection—I’ll have you know that it took quite an effort to even pinpoint a question on the survey that directly related to connection.  Some survey items focused on a connection between an employee’s duties and the organization’s mission, but no single question targeted the necessary social connection employees must have to be engaged in their jobs.  The closest we could come to was, “I have trust and confidence in my supervisor,” at just 65 percent favorability.  Scores for this question are currently experiencing a bearish trend.

Every Bond film has its scantily clad provocatrix who provides Bond with gratuitous levels of, well, social connection.  Bond loves the ladies; his love is even manifest in his bittersweet relationship with M.  High marks for connection.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the same federal employees who work to protect my health and safety are, on average, incredibly disengaged in their jobs.  I should also mention that the response rate to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey was only at about 46 percent (ouch). Where is James Bond when I need him?

What are we to make of these public-sector employee-survey findings?  If you were the working for the OPM (assuming you had some favorable degree of autonomy), what would be the first element of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® you would seek to improve, to bolster engagement?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Read more about our experience working with public-sector employees in the article Halting the Engagement Exodus.