Spinning your wheels? 70% of employees not engaged!

Have you ever been in a car where the wheels just wouldn’t engage? You’ve got your foot on the gas but you’re not going anywhere…you’re just spinning your wheels. That’s the feeling you get when you have employees not engaged in in their work.

If that rings a bell, you’re not alone…most business owners are feeling this way. A recent survey from Gallup shows that 70% of employees are either not engaged in the workplace (52%) or actively disengaged (18%). Gallup has been studying employee engagement since the late ’90s and this data comes from their recently released 2013 State of the American Workplace study.

And this lack of engagement isn’t just a touchy feely kind of thing – Gallup shows real world significant performance differences between companies with high employee engagement and the 25% least engaged companies:

  • 25% to 65% lower employee turnover (depending on the industry)
  • 48% safer environments
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

Those outcomes fit with an experience I had with a client of mine – 18 months ago, this client primarily used expensive contractors who were just there for the money. By specifically focusing on building a great team around employees who really wanted the whole company to win, they were able to find the right people who didn’t cost as much and were very engaged. The result? The owners are making a lot more money this year…and working a lot less and everyone is enjoying it a lot more!

How do you get better employee engagement?

Employee engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction – engagement is all about actively working to move everyone in the company towards a shared goal. Satisfaction focuses on employee benefits (time off, flextime, healthcare, ping pong in the break room, etc.) and although all of that’s nice, it doesn’t really translate to performance the way engagement does. So how do you get better engagement?

Here are 5 ideas to get you started:

1. Play to Employee Strengths

It will take time and effort, but once you figure out what an employee is really good at, one of the best things you can do is have them exercise those strengths in their day to day role…and find ways to help them continue to improve. In his great book Drive, Daniel Pink identifies Mastery as one of 3 key motivators for people.

It turns out that we all literally feel better when we’re doing stuff we’re good at. We tend to do it better, care about it more and follow through on it. Help everyone on your team figure out what they’re really good at and then find a way to let them use that strength as often as possible.

2. Stand for something – have a clear difference

Gallup found that only 41% of employees felt like they knew what their company stood for and what made them different from the competition. That disconnect could be due to a lack of communication from the top…or it could mean a lot of companies just don’t have a discernible difference or purpose.

If your employees aren’t clear on what you do…or why you’re doing it, then it’s pretty unlikely they are going to give any extra effort. Would you?  And don’t assume they know…just because something is clear to you as the owner, that doesn’t mean it’s clear to everyone.

Try your own quick survey and ask all of your employees to tell you what your company stands for and how you’re different from your competitors – I suspect you’ll find the results interesting.

3. Find out what each of your employees really value

Sure money is important to everyone, and if you’re not compensating people at a competitive wage, it will be difficult to get them to engage. Everyone works because they need money. However once you hit a certain income level, more money doesn’t mean more engagement. That’s where other motivators come into play. For some it may be flexibility or autonomy, the ability to do things their own way.

For others it may be the opportunity to grow, learn and move ahead. Everyone is different and unless you’re talking to them on a regular basis, it’s unlikely that you know what they want or need.

4. Value their input – have productive conflicts

In his great book – Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni talks about the importance of enabling and encouraging productive conflicts among your team. You’ve hired great employees and if you want to keep them engaged, then you need to listen to them – especially if they disagree with you. That doesn’t mean you need to give in on everything, but it does mean you need to find a way to have tough discussions and truly hear all sides of the issue.

5. Clean house…

Finally – there’s a good chance that some of your employees are not a good fit for you. Maybe they are part of the 18% who are actively disengaged and they are looking for ways to hurt your company…or maybe they’re just part of the 52% who are coasting and not trying very hard. Bottom line, you can’t afford to carry dead weight and sometimes you just have to let people go.

It’s hard to do, but most companies I talk to need to get rid of at least a couple of employees if they want to turn things around.

Ask yourself this about each of your employees…knowing what you know now, would you hire them again today? If the answer is anything but an enthusiastic yes, then you need to seriously consider taking some action and letting them go.

How engaged are your employees? Do you know? For a small company even 1 disengaged employee can wreak a lot of havoc. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this – leave us a comment below.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach