Companies around the world have collectively spent billions of dollars on improving employee engagement. It hasn’t gotten us very far.
For the most part, the numbers simply haven’t improved. Less than one-third of employees are engaged, which is about the same level as a decade ago. And when the numbers do move, it’s in the wrong direction. More than a third of employees are unhappy at work, a record breaking figure that’s likely to continue growing.
We need to find a new approach. Solely focusing on employee engagement isn’t working, and with the recent changes to the world of work—with employees more distracted and disconnected than ever—we can’t afford to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. So let’s find a solution that works. One that improves our engagement metrics and retention rates (wouldn’t that be a nice slide at the next board meeting?). More importantly, let's find a way to bring joy and pride to every employee, every day.
Because the good news is that employees want to contribute. In a recent company-wide survey at Microsoft, employees identified "meaningful work" as the most important part of thriving at work. In our new world, people that know their contributions matter stick around and want to contribute more.
The challenge is figuring out how to move beyond engagement and start helping employees in tangible ways. Part of that requires us to realize that employees expect more from their employer. Gone are the days where a fair salary and supportive manager were enough. Today, people are choosing their employer with much higher criteria. How will they be able to grow their career? How will they find meaning in their work and help make the world a better place?
Engagement is definitely the first step. Employees need to feel they belong. They need to connect with their company’s value and believe in what their company is trying to accomplish. It’s engagement that gets people fired up, wanting to contribute.
The trouble starts when they actually try to contribute. When they can’t find the information they need, when they don’t know who to talk to, and when there’s too many notifications and other distractions around them. That causes employees to actively disengage.
There are few things more frustrating at work than wanting to contribute but feeling like you’re running into a wall—and it’s costly. According to Gallup, “Employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity.” Fortunately, you can knock down that “wall of frustration” by creating processes that make it easy for people to find the clarity and help they need. That’s the role of enablement.
The final piece to helping employees feel successful is to recognize each accomplishment along the way. That’s key for people to understand their contributions matter. Magic happens when you turn recognition into a social event, elevating it to a celebration. It creates a powerful sense of shared accomplishment and energizes everyone, which they carry forward in their work. This is what we call a culture of employee success.
In our quest to help employees, we got off to a great start with employee engagement. However, along the way we discovered that it’s necessary, but not sufficient. What we need to do next is take a step back and view the problem through the lens of employee success. We need to engage employees, but we also need to remove the roadblocks in their work and celebrate jobs well done.
When employees experience these three things—engagement, enablement, and celebration—they will feel successful and will be happy at work, every day. That’s going to make a meaningful difference in any organization.
Everyone loves success. To celebrate and be celebrated. To feel a sense of belonging and purpose. The joy of accomplishment. By evolving your processes and tools to focus on employee success, you'll find that employee retention soars, your culture thrives, and your organization becomes more connected.