Business leaders find typical staff engagement activities fall flat in a remote environment. How does your firm measure up?
I recently witnessed a succinct summation of 2020 encapsulated on a t-shirt. Over the chest, “2020” appears in bold, prominent letters. Underneath, a “1-star review” on the ubiquitous 5-star scale follows with a terse “Very bad. Would not recommend”.
2020 took a lot out of us! Unless you hunkered in an off-grid cabin in the Alaskan bush, you probably didn’t make it out unscathed. From a runaway infection rate, to social unrest in response to police brutality, to feelings of despair and helplessness. 2020 tested us all.
Even for those who avoided the mental and physical impacts of infection, millions of workers can attest that the impacts are particularly pronounced in the virtual workplace.
As we turn the corner into 2021, how engaged would you consider your employees and colleagues? If the question elicits scenes from the classic movie “Office Space” you’re not alone!
One COO for a chemical manufacturer I recently spoke with noted alarming staff engagement concerns. They estimated “50% of our employees seem to be handling things well, but the other 50% seem tapped-out. It’s a real problem. Virtual happy hours can only go so far.”
How Engaged Are Your Employees?
I challenge you to take ten seconds and estimate the current level of staff engagement in your organization. Would you agree it’s lower than you prefer? If you answered yes, you’re also not alone
The percentage of engaged workers dropped from 38% to 31% in 2020 according to a recent Gallup poll of over 2,600 employees. Nope, that’s not a typo!
Employee engagement dropped to 31% in 2020!
Yes, disengaged employees are bad for the company, but how big of a deal is it? I’m so glad you asked!
Consider that “actively disengaged” employees comprise 14% of the workforce. But another 54% of workers are “not engaged”, meaning they are psychologically unattached to their work and company. That’s not good!
According to Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity, and 15% lower profitability. They also cost their companies 34% of their total salary. That means a company will lose $20,400 annually for a disengaged employee earning $60,000 a year.
For example, how would you feel as a passenger if only 31% of cruise ship captains were engaged? Perhaps some of you remember “cruise ships”? Well, they were enormous sea-faring vessels built to convey large masses of people, often thousands at a time, on leisurely vacations boasting enticing itineraries to tropical locales or remote landscapes. If that doesn’t ring a bell, you can read more about the before times here.
The difference between engaged and disengaged employees is the difference between a pie chart and a pie. Consider the alternative. Research links the benefits of engaged, thriving employees to positive business performance.
Aside from a mysteriously obscure band name, thriving employees (dibs) have 53% fewer missed days due to health issues and substantially lower disease burden attributed to depression and anxiety diagnosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and chronic pain. Most of us would likely prefer to work around thriving employees if given the choice.
Opportunities for Improvement
Many business leaders find themselves scratching their heads asking what they can do to address the mounting issue of staff engagement. The attempts of yesteryear clearly aren’t working. If they were we wouldn’t find ourselves in this current pickle.
Much like a mutating virus the days of staff surveys and periodic, sugar-rush attempts to boost employee morale may not carry the same effectiveness in a mandated work from home environment. Could your organization use a shot in the arm (figure of speech) of employee morale and engagement?
I know the feeling. I’ve worked for organizations suffering from chronic low-morale and disengagement. Most leaders don’t think of sustainability as a potential remedy. But as we’re learning, creative, out-of-the-box thinking can be the difference between an engaged employee and a former employee.
So why should business leaders consider such a crazy, irrelevant topic as sustainability amidst a global pandemic?
Research tells us that employees crave a workplace culture that is open and transparent — one that promotes collaboration and trust. They also seek purpose but most importantly, they want to feel heard. We know the most effective engagements create cultural movements designed to bolster employee engagement levels and productivity.
Progress for the People
Imagine your employees working in an environment that celebrates the great work they are already doing. Leadership sees and hears them. Sustainability offers a unique opportunity to showcase the “small victories” made by engaged employees, demonstrating that anyone can practice the art of “doing better”. It also provides a medium for anyone to suggest process improvements and empowers those employees to take action.
For example, consider Paul in procurement who recently started a recycling program in his department. His efforts reduced an entire garbage truck’s worth of landfill space and tipping fees each year. Or how about Maya in accounting who developed a new reporting process that saves 20,000 sheets of paper each month as a consequence. These are invitations for leadership to message “I see you!” while espousing the benefits of “doing more with less”.
Sustainability offers a redirection of our collective consciousness, a refreshing change in narrative toward a positive outcome. A vehicle for employees to guide, control, and create positive change.
Celebrating proactive initiators amidst the entire company encourages peers to engage while promoting a culture of excellence. Most leaders underestimate the impact that a small incentive or two can make on employee engagement, particularly during this unique time. Other benefits include increased productivity, operational savings, and occasional laughter.
Many employees may not particularly care about corporate sustainability or environmental impacts (and that’s OK). But everyone appreciates acknowledgment.
Chances are, your staff does care about sustainability! Did you know a 2020 Fast Company survey found 70% of young professionals would stay with a company if it had a strong sustainability plan?
The Opportunity Awaits
Solutions in Sustainability offers novel approaches that:
- Empower employees in the engagement process
- Celebrate staff who go above and beyond with positive reinforcement
- Assists in building a culture of accountability and transparency
- Offers an opportunity for staff to practice agency
The upsides are undeniable, the timing is right, and effective solutions are crucial. Based on recent staff engagement statistics, organizations have little to lose while the stakes for success couldn’t be higher.
I’d like to speak with you to learn how sustainability can help your organization work towards that coveted 5-star employee review.
About the Author
Alex Kaufman is a science communicator, professional engineer, clean energy specialist, travel enthusiast, and resident of San Diego, California. When he’s not helping clients, you can usually find him cycling, hiking, reading, spending time with loved ones, or planning the next big adventure. He is open to speaking engagements and can be contacted at email@example.com.