BUSTING THE ENGAGEMENT MYTH
Employee engagement isn’t really that low.
By Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP
“Yikes!” That’s what I say when I think about the number of employee engagement tools out there. We’re spending more on them every year, yet there’s growing confusion over
which assessments and interventions are making a difference.
To help separate fact from fiction and demystify the science
of engagement, I asked three questions of my colleague Paul M.
Mastrangelo, a managing consultant for CultureIQ, which helps
organizations improve their culture. Here they are, with his responses.
What is the most common misinformation about employee engagement?
The most egregious claim is that
more than two-thirds of workers
are not engaged. The headline of a
commonly cited 2014 Forbes contributed article is “70% of Workers Aren’t
Engaged—What About the Managers?” (That fgure comes from a
2013 Gallup report, which an earlier
contributed Forbes piece dismissed
as inaccurate.) The headline suggests
that something is inherently wrong
with workers, managers, companies,
HR practices or some combination of
them all. It grabs your attention, but
is it accurate? No. The text belies the
headline, suggesting that far more
than 30 percent of employees are engaged. The rest of the piece, however,
puts aside the topic of which numbers are more accurate and focuses
on other issues.
Perhaps the most powerful evidence
to bust the 70 percent disengagement
claim was presented earlier this year
at a conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, where specialists from separate
frms shared fve remarkably consistent engagement scores. They all
showed that between 61 percent and
72 percent of workers are engaged,
despite their diferent defnitions and
data collection methods.
What trends in the survey industry are afecting organizations’
The industry tends to overreport
fagging engagement and the resulting damage it causes—which creates
a bias toward inaction. Leaders who
see organizational scores of 60 percent engagement will not make many
changes if they believe the bogus
claim that the base line among U.S.
employees is 30 percent; they’ll think
they’re already way ahead.
This myth also focuses on what
organizations lack instead of leveraging what they have. You can’t harness
engagement if you think it’s not there.
Once you know that your fuel tank
is much more full, you can address
problems such as inefective change
management, poor cross-departmen-tal cooperation and misalignment of
culture to strategy.
What should HR leaders look for
when evaluating engagement data?
Are your vendors or survey profes-
sionals manipulating the
data? Ask how they report
the percentage of people
who “agree or strongly
agree” with statements such
as “I am proud to work for
my company” and “I would
recommend my organi-
zation as a great place to
work.” Do their criteria for being
engaged require strong agreement
with more than one statement? If so,
that would account for lower scores.
Using such concurrent agreement
measures is not exactly false, but it is
misleading—and self-serving, like a
boy crying wolf who just happens to
sell wolf repellent.
Navigating engagement can be one
of the trickiest aspects of leadership.
But the only way to truth is to separate myth from fact. Start getting
clarity on employee engagement by
examining your own eforts, then
learn more about key trends. Happy
Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge
officer for SHRM.