Employees all over the world are undergoing an engagement crisis. They're finding themselves increasingly detached from their work and apathetic about their employers. Gallup's 2021 State of the Global Workplace report found that only 15 percent of employees are engaged in the workplace, meaning the overwhelming majority of workers are not connected with their environment or their responsibilities.
Engagement is not a negligible problem. It's tempting to write it off as employees simply having bad attitudes toward work, but the practical impact is impossible to ignore. One study, as reported by HR University, found that disengaged employees could cost U.S. employers $450 to 500 billion every year in the form of absenteeism, employee turnover, and lost productivity.
But where did this phenomenon come from? And what can we do about it?
Low engagement in a single workplace can easily be analyzed and attributed to factors like organizational culture, industry woes, poor management, and other isolated variables. But for such a widespread and encroaching phenomenon, we need to look at factors that have affected nearly all businesses.
Consider the peak of remote work. There are some undeniable benefits of remote work environments, but we also need to be honest about the detrimental impact they have on employee engagement-- at least, by default. Employee engagement is partially dependent on our interactions with coworkers and with our environment. When we go to a centralized, stimulating environment each day and we form close relationships with the people around us, we have a tendency to feel a connection to our work.
When all that is stripped away in favor of remote work, it's understandable for employees to feel disconnected. That doesn't mean remote work is permanently or irreparably responsible for a lack of employee engagement; it just means in remote work culture, you have to work harder and adjust your environment to keep employees engaged. The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to adopt a remote work environment unexpectedly and with little prep time, making such adjustments difficult.
Then, there's increasing specialization. Studies suggest that an important factor for happiness and satisfaction is novelty. Doing the same thing every day eventually becomes tedious and depressing, even if you start out liking that thing. That's one reason why travel and vacations are so important. One central feature of the modern workplace is increasing specialization; roles are becoming more and more specialized, with niche sets of responsibilities. The people working in those roles are subjected to the same tasks and responsibilities repeatedly, ad infinitum, giving them no opportunities for novel stimulation.
We're also at a crossroads when it comes to work culture. Old work culture dictated that to be productive, or full-time, you had to work 40 hours per week. But in an era with digital connectedness, the power of automation, and increasingly abstract responsibilities, we can often complete the work expected of a full-time employee in 25 hours or less. What's an employee to do for the remaining hours other than stretch out their existing tasks and twiddle their thumbs? Boredom and apathy are natural byproducts of this type of environment.
Just because there's an employee engagement crisis affecting most institutions around the world doesn't mean your organization has to be one of them. These are some of the best strategies for improving employee engagement:
Conduct surveys to evaluate the state of employee engagement.
The best way to understand employee engagement is to understand it through the perspectives of employees. Interviews and surveys are excellent tools for this, helping you objectively analyze the state of employee engagement in your workplace and the main factors holding your engagement back.
Host teambuilding events.
Stimulate more bonding and engagement with the help of teambuilding events, preferably in person. This is especially important in a remote workplace environment, where your employees may feel especially isolated or detached.
Introduce more novelty.
Try introducing more novelty to every role. Mix up scheduling and responsibilities, and use cross-training to give people the chance to work in new areas. Don't let your employees feel like their job is just "doing the same thing every day."
Provide growth opportunities.
Give employees more chances to learn and grow, through training, education, or stimulating experiences.
Get honest feedback.
Finally, get honest feedback for how your workplace can improve. Anonymity is crucial here, as some employees may be reluctant to share their true opinions.
Employee engagement is a complex topic, and these tips and strategies are only meant as an introduction to guide your new direction. If you want to keep employees engaged and capitalize on productivity benefits of ongoing engagement, you'll need to make it a priority in your management approach.