Struggling to Keep Employees Engaged? Here Are 3 Things Your Organization May Be Lacking
In the wake of the pandemic, our nation has been gripped by economic turmoil, resulting in mass layoffs and a rapidly increasing cost of living crisis. It’s no surprise, therefore, that employees in every position and sector feel burnt out and dissatisfied with their current working conditions.
This dissatisfaction has manifested through trends such as quiet quitting and the mentality to “act your wage”, whereby no additional work is performed past the parameters of an existing position.
Many employees have resorted to these measures due to feeling exploited by their workplace, constantly being passed up for promotions, or receiving no recognition or thanks for their extra work.
Data published by Workforce in November 2022 found that that same year saw the biggest decline in labor productivity since 1948. This measurable impact on employee productivity is bad news for businesses and workers alike, so companies must do everything they can to target the issue at the source and increase employee engagement.
But how can businesses achieve this, given the current workplace trends? Research performed at Most Loved Workplace® has identified that employees who feel genuine love for their workplace are more engaged, loyal, and motivated to succeed.
So let’s look at 3 vital components your organization might be missing that can impact employee engagement and satisfaction. Additionally, we’ll look at the steps you can take to amend these issues, improve your work culture, and get your employees back in a productive and enthusiastic state of mind.
What is Employee Engagement?
Before we begin, it’s useful to clarify what we are discussing, as there is an important difference between employee engagement and employee satisfaction.
Engagement refers to the emotional and physical connection that an employee has with where they work. When an employee is suitably engaged, they will often adopt a more active role in helping propel the company forwards, often going the extra mile both in their own tasks and when it comes to helping others.
Conversely, employee satisfaction focuses more keenly on the emotional and mental side of the workplace experience. An employee can be satisfied without being engaged if they are happy to coast along doing very little.
Measuring Engagement: The SPARK Index
Conventional methods of measuring employee engagement (such as engagement surveys) don’t always provide the best results and can be time-consuming to both complete and analyze.
In order to assess the degree of love (or emotional connectedness) employees have for their organizations, Most Loved Workplace® designed the Love of Workplace Index™ (LOWI). This survey measures organizational performance across five functional areas, abbreviated to SPARK, that play a key role in employees forming an emotional connection with their workplace.
SPARK stands for:
Systemic Collaboration: Working with others shouldn’t just be something you do during team projects – it’s a principle that can be incorporated across the entirety of an organization. Systemic collaboration encourages exceptional communication, a shared understanding of goals, and a willingness to work with everyone.
Positive Vision: A clear and optimistic view of the future will help drive the company toward an innovative, successful conclusion. The idea of emotional connectedness between coworkers and their environment and creating a positive work culture all help towards this vision.
Alignment of Values: For employees to thrive in their workplace, they need to feel connected to the goals and values of where they work and who they work with. This makes it easier to strive for a common goal. It also encompasses personal accountability, integrity, and a strong sense of ethical practice.
Respect: Managing how respect is given and taken is a tricky thing; many managers will demand it without giving any in return, which can create a toxic work culture. Prioritizing mutual respect among all employees and managers helps ensure that everyone is treated as an equal and no one is belittled or disregarded.
Killer Achievement: When employees are given the tools and opportunities they need to succeed, they are far more engaged and proactive in their place of work. Killer Achievement happens when companies provide additional training opportunities, offer career development paths, and help their employees become the best they can possibly be.
When all these elements are added together and practiced consistently and professionally by a business, employees feel far more supported and appreciated. In turn, this fosters an incredible company culture that allows employees to develop a deep love of their workplace, thus driving satisfaction and higher performance.
Our Findings on SPARK Deficiencies
Since 2021, Most Loved Workplace® has issued the Love of Workplace Index™ Pulse Survey to over 156,000 employees across nearly 250 companies, collecting a huge amount of data that helps track changes year by year.
We have found that, while employees report that areas of Respect and Killer Achievement have remained relatively high since studies began, the level of satisfaction with Systemic Collaboration, Positive Vision, and Alignment of Values has declined.
This graph highlights the changing levels since 2021 and preliminary research from the first quarter of 2023:
The figures have been rounded to the nearest decimal point, but the bars still show the slight disparity between the scores overall and whether or not they reached or exceeded the average.
2021 saw a huge shift in how workplaces operated. A much larger focus was on strengthening company culture as organizations struggled to hire and retain workers throughout the pandemic. This total change-up of business practices allowed for a lot of experimentation and reevaluation of the crucial aspects of work-life balance.
However, in the past 2 years, we have seen yet another shift as companies try to “return to normal”. It’s no wonder 2022 saw some of the poorest yearly SPARK rates: many employees were isolated and disillusioned with the work-from-home lifestyle.
For the first few months of the pandemic, it was an enjoyable break. But the inability to properly separate your workspace from your living and resting space can seriously impact an employee’s mental health, such as causing severe burnout.
Let’s take a look at the 3 lowest-scoring factors in more detail.
1. Positive Vision
Maintaining a positive vision gives employees hope for what is to come and encourages the workforce to strive for a common goal. Without it, productivity can slow as people become uncertain about their futures. If a company isn’t confident in its ability, this resonates with its employees, leading to department-wide feelings of doubt and stress.
Unfortunately, Positive Vision saw the biggest drop in score, from a 4.4 in 2021 to a 4.2 in 2022. It was hard to craft a positive vision of the future when everything seemed so bleak, which contributes to why this level remains one of the lowest figures in 2023.
In a time of great uncertainty, organizations were less positive about the future and less open to new ideas and perspectives on accomplishing goals. It didn’t help that businesses were going bankrupt and being bought out left, right, and center. Huge names such as J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers, and Debenhams all filed for bankruptcy or had to close many stores across the country.
During this time, companies had to come up with innovative solutions for how to keep their workplaces running and provide the best possible care for their employees. But since the end of the pandemic, many places are falling back on old practices, leading to diminished employee satisfaction and involvement.
Now, once again, economic uncertainty has led to more concerns about how companies will fare in the face of a recession, putting thousands of jobs at risk.
2. Alignment of Values
When the values of employees and the company they work for are aligned, it’s easier for goals to be realized in an ethically responsible and efficient way. These values are adopted wholeheartedly, so each employee becomes a paragon of the company itself. This is then seen by and make clear to customers and other businesses.
Recently, employees have become more skeptical of whether companies are truly committed to the values they promote.
From 2021 to 2022, scores of both Honesty and Accountability (which are assessed under the umbrella of Alignment of Values) dropped by 0.2 (4.5 to 4.3 and 4.2 to 4.0, respectively), indicating a decline in ethics and moral values across the board.
The ability to hold oneself and others accountable for their actions is necessary as it prevents bad or shady business practices. When companies are open about their wrongdoings and show significant efforts to improve themselves and acknowledge previous mistakes, this helps build trust with their employees and consumers. People like to know what business they’re getting into, so a certain level of transparency is always required to form strong connections.
3. Systemic Collaboration
It can be a lot harder to build Systemic Collaboration when not working face-to-face. A physical environment where you can talk freely to people builds much better interpersonal relations than simply conversing with someone on a screen, which can be interrupted by internet delays, a lack of body language, and a pervasive sense of isolation.
A drop in the score of Systematic Collaboration can be caused by many things, such as:
A reduced focus on teamwork
Lack of opportunities for employees to come together and work on specific projects/goals
A rise in asynchronous communication
The use of generative artificial intelligence (AI)
Whilst AI is a significant tool when it comes to automating mundane areas of business practice, it also has the potential to raise barriers between human communication. One person can complete larger tasks with the help of AI rather than a team of people. While this is good for business, it’s not good for the mental workload employees have to bear and can increase feelings of loneliness.
Identifying these issues is only one part of the process. Now we need to look at how to solve them and put measures in place to ensure that companies don’t slip back into previous poor practices.
There are certain barriers that are universal in preventing the development of SPARK practices. These include:
Lack of communication: Without a clear line of communication, productivity can grind to a halt. Communication is key to building good relationships with others and ensuring a smooth workflow. Whilst it is up to employees to communicate their needs with others, it’s the responsibility of managers to delegate and make sure that everyone knows what they need to do, as well as provide the necessary tools to make this happen.
Lack of feedback: When employees go above and beyond in terms of effort and receive no praise or recognition, they are less incentivized to do so again. This leads to an overall trend of doing the bare minimum because it becomes apparent that doing anything extra isn’t worth it.
Lack of planning: It’s impossible to achieve your goal for the future if you don’t have a plan to get there. Plans don’t have to be rigid – you should allow some flexibility in case of disturbances and bumps in the road – but they should exist nonetheless. Communicate this plan to your employees to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Lack of leadership: Without a strong, competent leader, organizations can crumble. Poor leadership can have a very negative impact on employee morale and commitment. The inability to delegate tasks can lead to work piling up, causing stress. And, if employees don’t see their bosses putting in the same (if not more) effort than they are doing, they will feel exploited and undervalued.
When organizations demonstrate weaknesses in these areas, they are opening themselves up for failure. Without a minimum level of competency and confidence, employees are liable to feel disillusioned and uncertain about the future, leaving them disengaged with their work as a result.
Fortunately, there are ways to counteract these issues and carve a path for increased engagement and motivation.
Improving Positive Vision
Create a roadmap: You need to know what you’re going to do moving forward, and the best way to do that is by creating a roadmap which you then communicate with your employees. This puts everyone on the same page and makes life going forward a lot easier.
Grow your people: Positive Vision shouldn’t just be extended to your company – it should also apply to the personal and professional growth of those around you. Offering opportunities for career development and skill acquisition will help increase employee engagement and retention, as they will have a sense of direction outside of propelling the company forward.
Celebrate and recognize achievements: It’s true that the journey is just as important as the end result. As you strive to achieve your goals, recognize and celebrate your employees’ achievements along the way. You can do this through physical rewards such as bonuses or vouchers, time off work, or public recognition on your social media platforms and website.
Improving Alignment of Values
Communicate your values regularly: Ensure that your company’s values are consistently communicated, particularly when onboarding employees. You can do this through employee handbooks, orientation materials, company meetings, and internal communications.
Lead by example: You can’t operate under a system of “one rule for us, one rule for them.” If you want the best from your employees, you must demonstrate the best in yourself.
Incorporate CSR: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will provide you with a checklist of things to be mindful of when it comes to managing your values. Take a look at your environmental, philanthropic, economic, and social responsibility to see where you could improve. Doing so will demonstrate to your employees that you care about significant issues and are striving to make the world a better place. Team members will rally behind you and be proud to help carry forward this message.
Improving Systemic Collaboration
Incorporate design thinking: Everyone should have their chance to be heard, and one great way to do this is through design thinking. This is where you look at all possible solutions to a problem and slowly whittle down your options until you find the ones which are most achievable and realistic. It gives people a chance to present new and interesting ideas in a safe and supportive environment.
Embrace technology strategically: Gone are the days of rifling through cabinets for mislaid files. Now you can keep all of your information in one place electronically, on cloud devices that all your employees can access. This helps to encourage a free flow of information and allows your team members to always have access to the materials they need.
Encourage and reward teamwork: It can be difficult to break free of the mindset of rugged individualism, but a burden shared is a burden halved. Smart delegation of tasks helps spread the workload so no one person feels overburdened and overstressed. Find ways to reward excellent teamwork, such as when it comes to great project management or a supportive and healthy workplace atmosphere. Also, make sure there are plenty of spaces for colleagues to relax and interact with one another away from work. Break rooms, activity rooms, and lunch spaces encourage a positive work-life balance.
Employee engagement isn’t a mystery, so it shouldn’t be treated like one. There’s a clear list of things that workplaces can do to make sure that their employees stay productive, engaged, and confident. This gives them the opportunity to develop loving relationships with their place of work that are vital to both personal and professional success.
Each area of the SPARK model must be demonstrated effectively for this to occur, as it is only then that employers can truly give their workers the best support and opportunities possible.
Unfortunately, this has become more difficult, given workplace trends and an overwhelming feeling of economic burnout. Now, more than ever, it is especially important for organizations to focus on the 3 key problem areas discussed today: encouraging systematic collaboration, building a positive vision for the future, and ensuring the correct alignment of values.
With these concepts firmly rooted in your work environment, you can be sure that your employees will be engaged and producing at top efficiency in no time.
Louis Carter is the founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute, Most Loved Workplace, and Results-Based Culture. Author of In Great Company, Change Champions Field Guide, and Best Practices in Talent Management, as well as a series of Leadership Development books. He is a trusted strategic advisor and coach to CEOs, CHROs, and leaders of mid-sized to F500 companies – enabling change and steering employer brand development together with highly effective teams, leaders, and organizations as a whole.