Poor employee engagement costs us billions

Engagement means much more than convenient flex-time, great training courses, haute-cuisine cafeterias, free healthful vending-machine snacks, and on-site day care. It takes endless thought.

An engaged employee is an effective one. Productivity is higher; they are happier; they’re better advocates for your business. In short, better results for you.

A report published by Gallup has revealed the high price of low engagement: between $450 and $550 billion. That’s how much businesses lose now.

It’s an incredible figure, and some are taking notice. Employee engagement really matters.

The report centers on the US, but in the UK the problem is just as pervasive. A report by the research firm ORC International placed the UK 18th out of 20 countries in employee engagement.

The effect on your bottom line

Employee disengagement sounds bad—the dent in your bottom line looks worse—but what does disengagement actually mean? How does disengagement result in losses?

If employees aren’t engaged, they aren’t actively involved in your company and their work. This means poor productivity and bad work. If employees don’t care, they won’t care what they produce. And your customers won’t care about what you offer them. And a lack of customers means a lack of profits.

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So employee engagement is important, and you should get it right. Most business owners already know this. The Harvard Business Review found that 71 percent of people they polled ranked employee engagement as “very important to organizational success.”

So what are they doing wrong?

Stuck in place

For many the problem is that they know engagement’s important, but they’re stuck in the past—their employee engagement strategies haven’t changed.

Many companies rely on traditional employee engagement only. Training courses, open door policies, flex-time and employee assistance programs are the staples. Not to say these aren’t great initiatives and essential in engagement strategy. But they can’t be the only parts.

More alarming is the lack of progress in employee communication. The Mobile Trends in the Workplace survey found that 91 percent of companies believe the way they communicate with their employees affects engagement. However, over 90 percent of companies rely only on email and face-to-face communication with staff.

So what’s the problem with that?

The modern workforce

By 2025, millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce. They’re already a large part of it.

Capturing their attention and getting them to interact with you is a priority for many companies. But the battle shouldn’t just be fought in external marketing and communications. Businesses must remember that their workforce is increasingly dominated by millennials.

Tireless research has shown millennials don’t communicate like the generations before them. This doesn’t mean eradicating email and face to face contact—these are still primary for any company, and will be for some time. But the best businesses recognize that communication changes. If you want to engage millennials you must be part of the change.

What can you do to better employee engagement?

Create an intranet, review it and use it properly. It’s not enough to create one and expect it to work. Set goals that you can track with it, decide which employees you want to use it, and how you want them to use it. The internet is social—people voice their opinions in all corners of it. Your intranet should be the same. Make it a place where your employees communicate with one another, not just a place where you communicate to them.

Once you have a bedrock intranet in place you can look at a more modern techniques, e.g., gamification—adding game elements (point scoring and competition) to tasks to spur staff to complete them.

A 2014 report by Technology Advice found that 54 percent of employees would be much more likely to perform a task if it had game elements. Adding gamification to employee engagement could get great results—especially among millennials. Millennials want a say in their careers. If you add interactive tasks whose outcome differs based on their input, they get buy-in and a “choose your adventure” attitude about their work. If they feel they’re actively involved—that’s engagement, isn’t it?

Making your entire employee engagement strategy a game wouldn’t be wise, but it should form a part. What’s clear is that as the workforce and the communication we use change, employee engagement strategies must change too.

If you don’t change, your company could continue losing hundreds of millions.

David Drummond is the managing editor at Southerly. A version of this article first appeared on The Southerly blog.

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