Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Why can't organisations engage their employees?

An engaged employee is a difference maker, yet the number of actively disengaged employees far exceeds the number of engaged ones, notes James Heskett. What do you think is key to firing up the workforce?

Published: Aug 24, 2017 05:12:33 AM IST
Updated: Aug 24, 2017 03:44:57 PM IST

Why can't organisations engage their employees?

Engaged employees are ore than twice as likely to remain on the job
Image: Shutterstock

Organizations around the globe are doing a poor job developing employees who are engaged—“emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organizations every day,” as the Gallup organization defines it. Worse yet, even though ample research suggests how to do it, the numbers of actively disengaged employees far exceed those who are engaged. And the numbers aren’t improving.

This is puzzling, because employee engagement may be the single most effective competitive strategy available to many organizations.

The positives of energized workers have been well documented. According to Gallup, those who are engaged are:

  • More than twice as likely to remain on the job as those characterized as disengaged, and more likely to refer friends and family members for employment. These factors lead to lower costs of recruitment, hiring, training, and lost productivity.
  • Up to 2.5 times more productive than the disengaged.
  • Less likely to be absent, work more safely on the job, produce fewer quality defects, and are less likely to steal.
  • Foster higher levels of customer engagement that lead to higher customer loyalty, greater growth, and more profit.

Those are the potential gains, but how does management engender that kind of excitement about work? Too often, here’s what happens: An annual employee engagement survey is taken, trends analyzed and reported back, opportunities for improvement discussed ... and management returns to handling other primary responsibilities.

As a result, it should be no surprise that Gallup reports that its multinational studies of employee engagement regularly show that only about one in seven of employees is engaged. The figure varies from one country to the next. For example, in 2012, it ranged from 6 percent in China to 37 percent in Panama. But here’s the downside: Globally, this figure is usually a little more than half as large as the number of employees characterized as actively disengaged.

Reasons for a disengaged workforce
One problem may be that responsibility for employee engagement is too often diffused among several functions and levels in the organization. Why isn’t the human resource function dealing with it? Is HR too buried in operating details, recruiting, and training to be concerned about engagement? Are frontline managers—who researchers tell us have the greatest impact on employee engagement—too rarely judged or rewarded on the engagement levels of their charges?

The challenge begins with hiring the right people. When Amazon announces, as it did last month, that it plans to hire 50,000 people in one day into an organization with about 350,000 employees, what is the likelihood that a high proportion of those new hires will end up engaged?

If employee engagement can spell the difference between profit and loss in a business, why can’t organizations engage their employees? What do you think?

[This article was published with permission from <a href="" target="_blank">Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.</a>]