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Employee Engagement: What it is, why you should care and what you can do about it.

During tough economic times, a drop in employee engagement can have a devastating bottom-line impact. Yet even during good times, less than one-third of American workers say they’re engaged.

You know how engaged employees look and act: they go the extra mile, arrive early and stay late. They have a personal connection to your business. They understand how the work they do every day makes a difference to your company’s success and that gives them personal and professional satisfaction. When they make choices about how to do their work, they choose the best for the business. When a recruiter calls, the engaged employee will politely end the phone call.

Yet, during normal economic times, less than one-third (29%) of all North American employees are fully engaged with their companies. Nearly one in five (19%) are actively disengaged. About one-half (54%) trust their organization’s senior leaders. The good news: more than three-quarters (76%) of your employees are up for grabs.

Engaging employees and keeping them engaged matters to your business — and not in some Pollyanna-ish way. A study by Towers Perrin, for example, showed that firms with a high-level of employee engagement experience Earnings Per Share (EPS) growth of 28% compared with an 11.2% decline for low-engagement firms. A Hay Group study demonstrated that offices with engaged employees were up to 43% more productive. Engaged employees average 27% less absenteeism than those who are actively disengaged. Disengagement has a real cost: in a 10,000 person company, disengagement costs about 5,000 lost days per year. A Gallup study estimated that employee disengagement costs $243 - $270 billion worldwide due to the low productivity of this group.

Eight different studies agree that there are eight drivers of employee engagement:

  • Trust and integrity: How well do managers communicate and walk the talk?

  • Nature of the job: Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?

  • Line of sight between employee performance and company performance:Do employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s performance?

  • Career-growth opportunities: Are there future opportunities for growth?

  • Pride about the company: How much self-esteem does the employee feel by being associated with the company?

  • Coworkers/team members: Are these relationships good? (They significantly influence engagement levels.)

  • Employee development: Is the company making an effort to develop an employee’s skills?

  • Relationship with manager: Does the employee value this relationship?

Trust is the key to engagement. And trust has a circulation relationship with communication: open communication builds trust and when trust is present, improved communication results, leading to more trust and so forth. Communication, especially in hard economic times when employees are worried about their jobs, is crucial to employee engagement.

In fact, effective communication is critical to the four most effective levers of employee engagement:

  • Seeing a connection between personal work and the organization’s strategy;

  • The importance of a person’s job to the organization’s success;

  • Understanding how to complete projects; and

  • Internal communication.

A study by the Communications Executive Council cites a company’s ability to lay out a vision of its strategy and direction that is clearly understood by employees and linked to their day-to-day lives as the most important driver of their commitment to the company.

Since the top drivers of engagement demand organizational competence in communication, the Communication pros in your organization must be catalysts and coaches, not just managers of messages.

How well do you communicate at your organization?

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