2020-10-21 HR Examiner article Jason Lauritsen Employee Engagement Is About To Get Much More Challenging stock photo img cc0 by AdobeStock 357592022 544x363px.jpg

“Gallups recent engagement trends data is such a head-scratcher. According to their most recent data, employee engagement is at an all-time high. You read that right. All-time high (at least for the 20-some years they’ve been measuring it). - Jason Lauritsen

 

Employee Engagement and 30 million unemployed in the U.S.


As we have done throughout most of history, when it comes to designing work, the focus is on what the organization finds most advantageous at the exclusion of any deep consideration of the humans who actually do the work. – Jason Lauritsen

 

Since early 2020, hardly anything about how we do work has escaped disruption. Where, when, and how we work has changed dramatically.

 

And the changes are going to keep coming.

 

Given all this change plus the economic disruption that has resulted in 30 million unemployed in the U.S., one would assume that employee engagement is on the decline.

 

That’s why Gallup’s recent engagement trends data is such a head-scratcher. According to their most recent data, employee engagement is at an all time high.

 

You read that right. All time high (at least for the 20-some years they’ve been measuring it).

 

Huh?

 

That’s precisely the reaction you should have to this data. There’s a lot of speculation about why the data is trending up, but we don’t really know.

 

But Why? Gratitude, Greater Job Flexibility?

 

Might it be that people who have jobs right now are feeling a bit more grateful than they were a year ago and thus are being a bit less critical in how they view their employer? Probably.

 

Could it be that the employees who have been clamoring for greater flexibility and the ability to work from home have finally gotten what they want? Maybe.

 

But what about all of the school-from-home parents who are literally exhausted and on the brink of burnout with no relief in sight? Or the front line employees whose working conditions are less safe today than ever before? Shouldn’t that be pulling down engagement? Most likely.

 

I should probably mention that the all-time high engagement level on Gallup’s measure is 40%. That means 60% of employees are still less than engaged. So, while the trend has moved in the right direction, nothing has been fixed or figured out.

Photo of Jason Lauritsen 2020-09-17 HR Examiner photo img Jason Lauritsen headshot corporate event horizontal leaning 300x403px hq.jpg

Jason Lauritsen, HR Examiner Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

 

All of this is causing us to ask some good questions about how work needs to change in the future. It’s forcing us to consider how we can apply what we’re learning as employers.

 

That said, most of the discussion and speculation I’ve seen about how work is changing has been focused on the issues I led with in this article: how, where, and when work happens. Each week, more employers are declaring that employees can work from home indefinitely, and this news is generally applauded.

 

Is that really what employees want?

 

As we have done throughout most of history, when it comes to designing work, the focus is on what the organization finds most advantageous at the exclusion of any deep consideration of the humans who actually do the work.

 

I’ve been trying to caution people not to jump to any conclusions at this point. We may not even be halfway through this pandemic. And while we’ve learned some things about how to enable remote work, there’s a lot more we don’t know yet.

 

Maybe the biggest thing we don’t know is how this experience is going to change us as people.

 

By the time this pandemic is passed and we’ve emerged into whatever comes next, we will have occupied a transitional reality period of 12-18 months. We will have been permanently changed in ways that we simply can’t predict at this point.

 

When An Experience Is Better Than You Expect, The Result Is Positive Emotions That Lead To Engagement

 

Here’s why this is particularly important to employee engagement—employee engagement is largely the result of how an employee’s experience of work compares with their expectations about work. When an experience is better than you expect, the result is positive emotions that lead to engagement. The opposite is also true.

 

Expectations shape our experience. Think back to the last time that someone raved about a movie they’d seen. By the time you have the experience for yourself, your expectations are so high that even a really good movie might seem average.

 

Contrast that with seeing a movie you know very little about that turns out to be quite good. The movie exceeds your expectations so much that it seems exceptionally good (and you’ll probably oversell it to your friends as a result).

 

The same happens with our experience of work. Our expectations of what work should be like have a huge influence on how we feel about it. The same manager can be engaging to one employee and disengaging to the other due to differing expectations.

 

As our expectations about work change, it will affect what feels engaging and disengaging to us going forward. We may emerge from this pandemic with completely different expectations about communication, safety, work location, well-being, fairness, racial equity, and so much more.

 

How You Measured And Managed Engagement In The Past Is Not Going To Cut It Going Forward

 

For employers, these shifts in employee expectations may feel like the rules of the game have changed without notice. The way you’ve measured and managed engagement in the past is likely not going to cut it going forward.

 

So, what should you do to ensure you don’t get caught off guard by this shift?

 

  1. Stay agile. Don’t make any permanent policy decisions right now about how, when, or where work will be done post-pandemic. Adjust and adapt as things change, but don’t jump to any conclusions.
  2.  

  3. Do your research. Be in constant communication with employees to understand what’s happening from their perspective and what they need. If you stay close to your employees, you’ll have a better sense of what’s changed when it comes time to create the “new normal” that everyone keeps talking about.
  4.  

  5. Prepare to experiment. Things are going to be different, but how? The only way to discover what’s going to work best for your employees is to try a bunch of things. Involve employees in the process of designing different types of working arrangements to test (once it’s safe to do so). Measure the impact both in terms of employee perception and performance.

 

The work of employee engagement is more important today than it’s ever been. And our current work environment is forcing us to return to the fundamentals. Talk to you people (all the time) and really listen. Then get them what they say they need to be successful. It’s really that simple.



 
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