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Found: the missing half of employee engagement

from  May 8, 2020 | 4 min read

Employees are only half-engaged with companies1 because companies are only half-heartedly engaging with employees.

Organizations want engaged people because they’re more productive. They put in more energy, go the extra mile and stay longer. But business leaders seem to have forgotten that employee engagement is a two-way street.

The message to leaders is this: if you want employees to engage with you, you have to engage with them.

New research explains the problem

We’re passionate about improving people’s experience at work and the positive impact it can have on them and the organizations they work for. So, we commissioned some research to find out what was missing from the engagement equation.

We asked 1,800 people in all kinds of organizations around the world why employees aren’t more engaged. The answer was shockingly simple:

  • CEOs aren’t visible enough
  • Companies don’t ask employees their view and even when they do, they don’t act on their feedback
  • Managers don’t trust employees to make the right decisions
  • Employees are in two minds about speaking up.

Managers claim they value employee input but don’t trust it or act on it. Employees would like to contribute but don’t think anyone will listen to them. As a result, people feel undervalued, unheard and disempowered. They don’t make the extra effort and productivity suffers.

CEOs are too remote

CEOs aren’t getting out there enough to get their message across. One in five employees in non-management posts have never had any contact with their CEO, and 58% have never met them one-to-one.

CEOs can’t expect employee engagement if they don’t make enough effort to engage with employees. If only they did, they would find that employees generally think very highly of them: two-thirds believe the CEO is good at their job (67%), they lead with integrity (65%) and they’re trustworthy (65%).

Companies don’t listen to their people

Most companies simply don’t ask the people who work for them what they think. Over a third (37%) rarely or never ask employees their views. Even when they were asked for input, 38% of employees said the company didn’t act on it.

There’s a gender bias operating here too, as men’s feedback is more likely to be acted on (28%) than women’s (13%). The lesson is this: if you want productive, engaged employees, ask them their opinion and act on it, regardless of their seniority or gender.

Managers don’t really trust employees

Organizations are saying one thing and doing another when it comes to empowering employees. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of managers say they value employee input, but less than half (47%) actually trust employees to make decisions for themselves.

Paradoxically, while the majority (56%) of managers believe employees understand the direction the organization is going in, they say they don’t know enough about its strategy to make decisions for themselves.

Employees are sitting on the fence

A third (35%) of employees thought they could influence the organization’s direction and another third (31%) thought they couldn’t. Less than half (44%) felt their views about the organization would be respected.

Employees want to be involved but they’re in two minds about contributing because they’re not sure managers would listen to them, respect their views or act on them. So they keep quiet and their potential for improving the business remains untapped.

Two simple ways to improve engagement

Fix your culture

The first thing you can do to improve employee engagement is make some simple tweaks to the organization’s culture.

CEOs should make themselves more visible and accessible, especially to employees lower down in the ranks. This will set the tone for more open dialogue and let people know they’re valued.

The organization should regularly ask employees what they think, inviting constructive criticism of the status quo. Crucially, you should listen to what they say and act on it – or if you can’t act on it, explain why.

The organization should encourage ideas and initiative. Managers should trust their people to make decisions. Beyond merely mouthing the words ‘empowerment’ and ‘autonomy’, managers should actually tell employees: you decide.

Encourage your people to experiment with new ideas. Give them permission to try and fail – as long as they learn and improve in the process. Foster an atmosphere of no fear and no blame.

Use the right technology

The second thing that can make a big difference is technology. Giving people access to technology, that provides data on what works and what doesn’t, will give them the evidence to back up their suggestions.

Software that’s not hard-coded but easy to change without relying on external consultants will make it easier to try out employee ideas for better ways of doing things.

Use technology which puts People Experience first, is intuitive to use and automates dreary tasks, freeing-up people to get on with the exciting aspects of the job.

This releases their enthusiasm. They feel more personally invested in what the organization is trying to do. They go the extra mile. They’re engaged.

Enjoy the extra effort effect

With the right culture and technology, you can overcome the barriers to engagement, make work more enjoyable and release the additional effort effect. As one of our customers, Sara Goris HR Transformation Manager at Keyrus, put it, “Our culture has moved from HR-driven to ‘me and my team’. It’s more about the manager and the employee now.”

If you’d like more detail on this research, download the executive summary.


1             52 percent of employees are ‘not engaged’, Gallup, January to August 2019

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Tim Clauwaert

Tim Clauwaert is the founder and CEO of Intuo. Passionate about people, business and technology, Tim founded Intuo late 2014. Since then he is on the path to enabling talent in organizations worldwide.

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