The Employee Engagement Sky is Falling!

The Employee Engagement Sky is Falling

“70 percent of employees are looking for other jobs.

“2 out of 3 workers are looking for new jobs.”

“Seventy-one percent of all employees are disengaged.”

“70% of employees hate their jobs.”

“Survey: 63% of workers not engaged.”

Ouch.  Yes, these are actual headlines.  For those not receiving these regular alerts in your inboxes, a quick internet search will verify the proliferation of similar warnings.

It makes me want to throw in the towel.  Has two-thirds of my workforce (and yours) really checked out permanently? Quick! Hire additional security.  Change all of our passwords.  Change the locks on the building. Warn your customers!

Not so fast…
Let’s separate fact from predictions of total chaos, corporate anarchy, and Employee Armageddon… at the very least, misinterpretation or bad employee data collection.

The Employee Engagement Facts
Most of these headlines are based on surveys of a few hundred or a couple thousand employees, and most of them do not include more than a few companies.  Even if these results were truly accurate interpretations, we certainly can’t extrapolate these findings to represent all employees in the United States, let alone the world. Let’s take a more comprehensive look, using the DecisionWise 2012 employee engagement database of over 12 million responses (across 60 countries).

We have found that the numbers above are actually fairly accurate—to a certain point.  We have also found that, on a 5-point scale, only 30 percent of employees are “Fully Engaged” in their jobs.  This means, they scored an average of close to “5” (Strongly Agree) across ALL survey questions (we typically like surveys in the 35-40 question range).

However, another 46 percent score in the “4” or “Agree” range.  These are your “strong and steady” employees.  Just because they didn’t mark “5” on all questions, are they really disengaged?  Hardly.  Yet, statistics like the headlines above lead us to believe that those employees not currently interviewing elsewhere are building arsenal bunkers and making preparations for mutiny.

Now, the reality…
When we look at those employees who are truly disengaged—those that provide average favorable responses between “1” and “2” (Strongly Disagree and Disagree) on a 5-point scale across all survey questions—we find that less than 8 percent of employees fall into the category of being Actively Disengaged.  This leaves another 16 percent as our “undecided vote” (we call them the “opportunity group”).  Hardly the end-of-companies-as-we-know-them scenarios the headlines seem to indicate.

The Employee Migration

So, what about the employee exodus?  Are two-thirds of my employees looking for other jobs?  Probably.

I work very hard to ensure we hire “the best” (as your company probably does, as well).  At DecisionWise, we average over 80 applicants for each person we hire.  I work even harder to ensure we create an environment in which they can choose to be engaged.  They are, truly, the single biggest factor in making this company succeed, and I’ll do all I can to keep them on our team.

But, someday, they will leave.  And I hope to be able to help them do so.  Here’s why…
If my Chief Technology Officer, Dave (who is a rock star technologist and employee), were to get the call from Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, offering him the top technology spot, would he entertain the idea?  I would at least hope so.  If our project and client services head honcho, Kristin, were to be offered the lead position in solving the North/South Korea situation, would she jump ship?  Of anyone, Kristin could probably make a resolution happen.  So, she’d be feeling pressure from me.

People on the street

In fact, which of us wouldn’t leave if all conditions—including environment, pay, duties, location, team, title, family impact, schools, company, clients, etc.—were perfect elsewhere.  Who wouldn’t, if it became available, take the spot as the Zamboni machine driver at the local ice rink (okay, maybe that’s just my thing)?

It’s called “growth.”  It’s called “being responsible for my own career.”  Hopefully, my team (and yours) can find that internally.  But the fact is, someday, every employee will move on.

Engaged or disengaged?
Lest I be branded a heretic and booted out of the profession, I need to be clear.  Should we be concerned about employee engagement?  Absolutely!  Is it even more of a concern than in the past?  Without a doubt!  Do we need to focus on and measure it?  Clearly!

So, does this mean the headlines about employee engagement are lies?  Not quite.  It means they are misinterpreted and misapplied.  Apply some common sense to what you’re reading.  Walk out onto the shop floor or past the cubicles in your office.  Do you really think that 2 out of 3 of your employees are doing all they can to get out of there because they hate their jobs?  Not by a long shot.

Give your team the benefit of the doubt.  They “get it.”  They want to succeed, and want to be part of a successful organization.  You may be surprised at what happens.
Employee Engagement Survey
Related Post: Are Employees Really that Disengaged in Their Jobs?
Related Post: How Disengaged Employees Could be Sabotaging Your Company’s Success
Related Webinar: The Profile of a Disengaged Employee

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