There has been a string of headlines about employee engagement recently that should make every manager take notice. We’ve all heard about ‘quiet quitting’ and the “Great Resignation”.
But now we’re starting to see more and more attention on one of the factors underlying these events: employee engagement.
More specifically, employee disengagement.
Yahoo! Finance warns of “Productivity paranoia”, claiming “60% of employees are checked out at work, with nearly 1-in-5 saying they’re ‘miserable’.”
CNN Business puts it more concisely: “Workers are historically stressed out and disengaged”. Forbes calls employee disengagement “a leadership issue” and says that despite historic disengagement levels, employers aren’t doing enough.
These headlines (and many more similar articles) reference research from Gallup which found just 23% of employees globally, less than one in four, were engaged at work in 2022.
The costs of employee disengagement
Gallup estimates that low engagement is costing the international economy $8.8 trillion every year, equivalent to 9% of global GDP.
Scaled down to the company level, and the preventable losses attributed to disengaged employees are still worrying.
The data reveals stark differences between business units that rank in the lowest and highest engagement quartiles.
- 81% higher absenteeism
- 64% more accidents
- 10% lower customer loyalty
- 28% more theft and preventable loss
- 41% more defects
The bottom line? Unproductive employees cost your business big time, reducing profitability by nearly one-quarter. By Gallup’s estimation, disengaged employees cost their company 18% of their annual salary.
But those losses are preventable. It’s within your capabilities as a manager to motivate and re-engage the people in your organization who you worry could be on the cusp of checking out.
Are your employees engaged or just clocking in?
Let’s do some quick sums. If 18% of employees reported being “actively disengaged” and 23% are “actively engaged”, that leaves 59% on the fence. This is the cohort that Yahoo Finance is paranoid about.
We’re a little more optimistic.
Managers should be proactive about energizing the 59% of employees who are detached but not yet actively disengaged. Because here’s the thing about engaging workplaces: they’re good for everyone. Engaged employees experience better well-being, they’re more productive and loyal, and profits tend to rise.
- Engaged employees are 14% more productive
- Absenteeism is up to 81% lower in engaged business units
- Highly engaged teams see 18-43% less turnover
- Customers rate engaged employees 10% higher
- Sales can increase by 18% when employees are engaged
Gallup said, “when taken together, the behaviors of highly engaged business units result in a 23% difference in profitability”.
Granted, these are just Gallup’s figures. Still, our experience echoes the findings, especially when Time Doctor clients report:
- 35% time savings (SmartSites)
- 30% higher profits (Positive Business Online)
- 15% productivity gains per employee (BokDoc)
So, how do leaders tell the ‘quiet quitters’ from the ‘quiet achievers’? And how can organizations cultivate a great culture that outlasts the Great Resignation?
Turning the tides on employee engagement is possible, but first you need to find the source of the problem.
How growing companies create an engaged culture
As organizations grow, cultural cracks widen so disengaged employees can fall in without anyone noticing.
McKinsey reckons “companies are facing an exodus of employees who are exhausted and overwhelmed, questioning what work means, and thinking through their options.”
The top 3 challenges in scaling a culture of productivity:
- Understanding: Good managers are empathetic to their team’s struggles but lack the data or direct contact to notice when engagement starts to wane
- Recognition: As the historically transactional view of employment falls away, employees are asking for greater recognition, more open conversations and more autonomy to flex creative skills
- Transparency: Complexity in growing organizations can obscure a manager’s view of their team and create siloes between departments, leading to isolation and obfuscation both in daily tasks and overall strategy
It’s crucial to prioritize communication, clarity, collaboration and transparency to keep employees motivated. That could be as simple as checking in with your team.
Are you taking the time for check-ins?
It’s not too late to re-engage employees before they start sliding towards quiet quitting. If you do see signs of disengagement, remember these workers haven’t made up their minds to exit yet. Many, if not most, can be tilted towards engagement if they see action on the company’s behalf.
Among best-practice organizations, engagement leaps from 23% of the workforce to an impressive 72%.
Regular check-ins enable managers to keep their finger on the pulse and address disengagement issues before they escalate. These check-ins involve actively seeking employee feedback, assessing satisfaction levels and looking at productivity data to identify any hidden opportunities for improvement.
Step 1: Make contact
Don’t leave engagement to HR; employee engagement is a manager’s responsibility. The simple act of reaching out shows employees that their manager is invested in their success and well-being.
“Checking in” doesn’t always need to be an in-person meeting; regular virtual calls can be enough for employees to feel the organization has their back, provided there’s action arising from the conversation.
The frequency and format will vary depending on your team’s needs and preferences. Aim for regularity and adjust the cadence as necessary.
Managers also need to be transparent about the purpose of these sessions. For example, if you’re implementing productivity initiatives or engagement initiatives, share the details with your employees so they don’t feel like they’re being punished.
Step 2: Listen
Only three in 10 US employees feel their opinions count at work. The number of people who feel encouraged isn’t much higher, with 34% of employees feeling someone at work cares about their development.
Your role is to actively listen to your team members. Create a non-judgmental environment where they feel comfortable approaching you with their concerns, questions, challenges and suggestions. Keeping communication lines open after the catch-up is also a good idea.
Listening to employees goes beyond hearing what they have to say. Productivity tracking software provides data for the things they aren’t telling you, such as:
- Bottlenecks in back-end processes
- App and website usage
- Overtime hours and work-life balance
- Breaks, both scheduled and not
- Time-wasting tasks
In today’s technology-dependent business landscape, workday analytics is pretty much essential. A combination of data analysis and active listening takes managers much further than water-cooler conversations could ever hope to.
The key is to balance data with observation, and then use those insights to design engagement strategies.
Step 3: Make changes
Taking action based on employees’ feedback demonstrates that their input is valid and valuable, and you are committed to improving workplace culture.
Identify the common themes arising from the check-ins and engineer strategies to address them. This might involve:
- Implementing new policies
- Providing additional resources or support
- Adjusting workflows
- Instating recognition systems
- Revisiting and clarifying expectations in both directions
Keep in mind that not all changes may be immediate. Communicate your plans and timelines transparently so your employees know you’re bringing them along on the journey.
As Gallup says, “Employees need more than a fleeting warm-fuzzy feeling and a good paycheck…to invest in their work and achieve more for your company.”
They need purpose. Meaning. Recognition. Relationships.
They want to be appreciated for their contributions by their immediate colleagues.
Step 4: Measure results
Employee engagement might seem like a tricky metric to measure, but with the right data any insight becomes accessible to managers and employees.
Top-performing businesses have found a balance in meaningful, measurable and manageable KPIs. They’re investing in tools to measure engagement at every level, to create a holistic picture of employee productivity and foster a culture of continuous improvement.
How exactly are they tracking engagement?
- Asking employees: Using regular short surveys with targeted questions that allow for a spectrum of results, not binary answers
- Monitoring data: Productivity, timesheets, turnover, client satisfaction and profits are all directly linked to employee engagement and relatively easy to track with the right tools
- Measuring outcomes: Before implementing engagement programs, managers should define the goalposts for success and assign relevant KPIs
- Collaborating with employees: Giving employees a seat at the table and keeping them in the loop are clear signs that their contributions and ideas are valued
Improving employee engagement is an ongoing and cyclical process. There’s no real endpoint unless your workforce scores 100% in all fields.
Look for steady and sustained improvements. Keep up with checking in. And maybe most importantly, maintain the balance of data and feedback to inform your every next move.
Productivity Audits are a not-so-secret weapon in employee engagement
In today’s tech-driven business landscape, managers use data to support just about every important decision. It’s no different for employee engagement. After all, people are a company’s most valuable asset.
Analyzing organizational data enables managers and team leads to leverage deep insights and create actionable engagement strategies. High-quality data gives businesses the insight to:
- Confirm suspicions about employee disengagement
- Identify employees at risk of burning out
- Monitor trends and spot outliers among the team
- Eliminate time-wasting activities
- Streamline operations and cut costs
The first step to getting value from the enormous amount of data at your disposal is conducting what we call a Productivity Audit.
What is a Productivity Audit?
Productivity Audits gather data on working hours, website and app usage, activity levels, breaks, timesheets and project management. The result is a detailed picture of how employees spend their time.
Uncovering hidden productivity gaps
Conversations alone aren’t enough to fully understand employee engagement and productivity. Productivity Audits eliminates bias from the equation, giving managers clear and actionable insight into their team’s behavior at work.
Most of the time, the results surface issues that managers weren’t even peripherally aware of.
Take Personiv, for example; the award-winning BPO spent exorbitant amounts on graphic design software licenses. After monitoring app usage, Personiv cut the number of licenses by 70%, a cost-saving they said would never have happened without data.
On the other hand, Vulpine Interactive discovered through a Productivity Audit that they were wasting 1.5 hours for every client report they compiled. The team also uses Time Doctor to track how long each task requires so they can adjust the pricing of service packages or scale back services to avoid burning out.
Productivity Audits provide the essential data underpinning employee engagement check-ins. Without access to organizational data, managers are essentially trying to grow a business with one arm tied behind their back.
Future-proofing your workforce’s potential
Let’s revisit the statistics on employee engagement for a moment.
The 23%-actively-engaged figure is the highest since Gallup began measuring in 2009. Disengagement is also on the decline.
Overall, morale hasn’t slipped so far that it’s impossible to right the ship. Among best-practice employers, engagement even reached record highs of 72% in 2022.
Maybe employers aren’t getting swept up by paranoia but instead taking accountability for their stressed-out workforce. That makes sense, given the strategic and financial importance of maintaining an engaged team.
Industry-leading CEOs and executives understand that keeping employees engaged is important for long-term growth, customer retention, value creation and company reputation. As a result, those leaders are fostering a culture of trust and transparency, providing growth opportunities for employees and promoting work-life balance.
And they’re turning to technology to measure success.
Time Doctor represents the future of employee engagement
Workplace productivity analytics software like Time Doctor facilitates deeper employee engagement by providing valuable data and actionable insights. Managers use the software to undertake Productivity Audits and generate performance reports that help identify trends, track progress, and implement targeted interventions to address disengagement.
By leveraging technology effectively – combined with experience and empathy – you can future-proof employee engagement initiatives and create an environment that promotes productivity and job satisfaction. Remember, engaged employees are the driving force behind a thriving business. Request a free Productivity Audit to get a clearer understanding of how your people are performing.
Carlo Borja is the Content Marketing Manager of Time Doctor, a workforce analytics software for distributed teams. He is a remote work advocate, a father and a coffee junkie.