Would you like your employees to be happy and productive? – Hundreds of studies have confirmed the link between employee engagement and performance.

According to The Economist, 84% of senior leaders say disengaged employees are considered one of the biggest threats facing their business. However, only 12% of them reported doing anything about this problem.

Though it may be difficult to attribute costs directly to under-performance, Gallup estimated employee disengagement costs the overall US economy as much as $350 billion every year!

I’d like to take a deeper look at the most recent Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study that studied 32,000 employees in 30 countries and “shed light on how employees’ views affect their engagement in their work and commitment to their employers, and ultimately, their behavior and performance on the job.”

Towers Watson concluded that traditionally defined engagement (“willingness and ability to go the extra mile”) is not sufficient to provide the sustained performance and presented a new and more robust definition – “sustainable engagement” – designed for the 21st century workplace. Sustainable engagement describes the intensity of employees’ connection to their organization, based on three core elements:

  • The extent of employees’ discretionary effort committed to achieving work goals (being engaged)
  • An environment that supports productivity in multiple ways (being enabled)
  • A work experience that promotes well-being (feeling energized)

Based on these three elements they categorized employees into four distinct segments:

  • Highly engaged: Those who score high on all three aspects of sustainable engagement
  • Unsupported: Those who are traditionally engaged, but lack enablement and/or energy
  • Detached: Those who feel enabled and/or energized, but lack a sense of traditional engagement
  • Disengaged: Those who score low on all three aspects of sustainable engagement

Fig.1 of left shows staggering results – 65% of the workforce is essentially disengaged! Fig.2 on right shows correlation of the engagement level and profitability.

“When engagement starts to decline, companies become vulnerable not only to a measurable drop in productivity, but also to poorer customer service and greater rates of absenteeism and turnover.”

The study also defined two gaps in the critical areas that are essential to the bottom line:

  • The first gap is effectively enabling workers with internal support, resources and tools, which can take a variety of forms.
  • The second gap is creating an environment that’s energizing to work in because it promotes physical, emotional and social well-being.

I would view these two gaps from a bit different angle, as external and internal conditions. Our goal is to create a workforce as a one cohesive body charged with the common goal. The first gap then would be fulfilling the external conditions for achieving the corporate objectives, providing the workforce with all needed support, resources, skills, tools, etc.

The second gap would be creating the optimal internal conditions for the workforce. Towers Watson introduces a notion of energizing a workplace. But what is energy? According to “simplified” physics, energy is a potential or a capacity of a system to do work. Probably contrary to popular belief, I would argue that our keyword is not capacity but system. A correctly built system will automatically possess an optimal capacity. According to Wikipedia, a system is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole. Going back to physics we will see that a system will perform at the maximum of its ability when all of its components are tightly interconnected, balanced and advance forward with a common purpose.

Hence, in order to effectively address the energy gap the leaders have to foster an integral organizational culture – the environment where the management and employees comprise a unified body inspired by a clearly defined organization’s mission thus creating a balanced and harmonious workplace.

I’d like to conclude with the last quote from the study:

“In contrast to many of the more reward-oriented elements that affect attraction and retention, the drivers of sustainable engagement focus almost entirely on the culture and the relational aspects of the work experience.”