The other night I was at an event with dozens of my former employees. As we chatted about what’s going on in our lives, I heard a recurring theme. One woman told me about her most recent job, “I was hired to replace two people who left.” She started out handling the workload of two people, and did it so well that she eventually got handed the workload of three.
Another friend told me how the more successful he is at his job, the more responsibility he gets. Of course, that’s normal, but what was happening to him seemed a little extreme. He started out overseeing 20 websites for his employer and now handles 96, “I’m just glad they hired some people under me.” But with his duties increasing exponentially, he’s struggling to keep up.
These employees are singing a familiar song, one I heard echoes of in the latest Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson, a global professional services firm. The study, which found almost two-thirds of U.S. workers are not fully engaged in their work, defined three types of engagement:
- Traditional engagement: Employees’ willingness to expend discretionary effort on their jobs.
- Enablement: Having the tools, resources and support to do their jobs effectively.
- Energy: Having a work environment that actively supports physical, emotional and interpersonal well-being.
Overall, just 37 percent of U.S. workers are highly engaged in what Towers Watson defines as a “sustainable way” (meaning they scored well on all three elements of engagement). Here’s a more specific breakdown:
- About one-fourth (27 percent) are unsupported, meaning they are willing to go the extra mile but don’t have the necessary enablement and/or energy.
- Thirteen percent are detached, meaning they feel enabled and/or energized but aren’t willing to go the extra mile.
- Nearly one-fourth (23 percent) are totally disengaged, meaning they score poorly on all three aspects of engagement.
Why the lack of engagement? Towers Watson says it’s:
“The result of almost a decade of pressure to do more with less and respond to the challenges of global competition, ever-evolving technology and the ongoing need for strict cost management.”
Sounds familiar, right? More specifically:
- Only 43 percent of disengaged employees say their supervisors have removed obstacles that prevent them from doing their jobs well.
- Just 26 percent say management involves employees in decisions affecting their lives.
- Less than half (48 percent) feel the amount of work they are required to do is reasonable.
- Only 40 percent say they have enough staff on their team to do a good job.
The employees who reported being highly engaged were far more likely to be positive about these areas. When you look at what sustainable engagement requires you to give employees, it’s really pretty simple:
- Enough support from their supervisors to do the job well.
- The tools and resources they need to do the job well.
- Enough staff to do a good job.
- Mental, emotional and physical downtime so they can come back and keep doing their jobs well.
What is at risk for your business if your employees aren’t engaged? This isn’t just a feel-good thing. In some related research, Towers Watson looked at sustainable engagement scores for 50 global companies and found that companies with high sustainable engagement had operating margins almost triple those of organizations with a largely disengaged work force.
There are other risks, too. Remember my friend who was doing the work of three people? When she found out her employer was about to take on another huge project that she’d be in charge of, that was the last straw. Not ready to do the work of four, she quit and is now her own boss for the first time in decades. “I’m so glad I did it,” she told me.
How engaged do you think your employees are – and what are you doing about it?
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