The Problem with Employee Engagement

  • Engaging employees at work is becoming more challenging for businesses.
  • Businesses need to humanize processes to improve performance.

Disruptive technologies like mobile and cloud are driving large-scale change that affects nearly every business function and process in organizations across a range of industries. With many factors affecting the future of business, where should leaders focus? What should they prioritize?

The employee engagement challenge

Employee engagement is a worldwide issue. As Gallup research revealed in late 2013, only 13% of employees around the world are actively engaged at work, and more than twice that number are completely disengaged, toxic, and at risk of spreading negativity to others.

Similarly, Deloitte released its Global Human Capital Trends report in 2014, which included insights from 2,500 businesses in 90 countries. Author Josh Bersin observed the sobering trend: “The message is clear; companies are struggling to engage our modern, 21st-century workforce.”

When technological disruption meets the workforce, it can be either transformative or confusing. Key findings from Deloitte’s report reflect this: A full 86% of business and HR leaders believe they lack an adequate leadership pipeline, and only 17% feel that they have a compelling and engaging employment brand.

Becoming proactive with technology

Between Gallup and Deloitte, there’s a screaming sense of urgency that should rattle executives into action. The data is overwhelming. The risk of not doing anything is too great. Engagement must be addressed – and done so proactively.

If you think the best way to solve morale and engagement issues is better employee management and development, you’d certainly be onto something. An often under-appreciated threat, though, exists in how people use technology in their personal lives, and how we expect them to use technology at work.

Social, mobile, wearables, the Internet of Things — with every new app, with each new device and every new network, behaviors change. Expectations, preferences, and the ways people communicate, connect, and discover all evolve with these advancements.

How people work and how they’re asked to work are not only different, but sometimes contrasting. Policies, standards, rewards and performance plans are all based on how work was or is done — and not how it should be done. We force employees through dated hoops and expect them to gleefully conform.

Morale and engagement meet culture

Cultivating an effective workforce is all about perspective and expecting people to comply with “what is” vs. “what should be.” With new technology a constant disruptor, and the next generation of employees (Generation Z) already exhibiting different behavior sets than the previous generation, we can assume this change isn’t a one-time affair. It’s continual. It must begin with people…by them and for them.

Changing the culture of the company to be more innovative, adaptive, and resilient is not easy. It takes leadership and cultural transformation. Culture starts with vision…a vision for where we are going and why. Leadership must also lead and not rely on processes and systems. People must believe that leadership is relentless in its pursuit for a living and inclusive culture that everyone can stand behind.

Complicated? Yes, and effective as well. Deloitte found that work teams with high levels of inclusion outperform others by 8:1.

Businesses must overhaul and humanize their performance management process. A new vision that requires new standards sets the bar higher for everyone, from management to trainees.

One thing you can bet on moving forward is that people, and how you lead and inspire them, will become one of your organization’s greatest assets. To succeed now and in the times ahead may require a reboot of today’s approach. This is a time for innovation. This is a time to re-write the employee handbook. And that job takes leadership, not management.


Brian Solis is the author of the book, What’s The Future of Business. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.


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