This month, Gallup reported the lowest employee engagement scores in 11 years. Highly engaged workers constitute only 30% of full—and part-time workers, down from 33% in the last quarter of 2023. This indicates lower overall satisfaction with their organizations and less connection to purpose and fellow employees. Engagement is crucial to productivity, retention, customer service, and profitability.  In short, this decline is important and needs to be reversed.

So, what is happening here?

Management practice is the most likely culprit.  I have addressed this in Creating High Performers, as well as blogs and videos on this website.  But, managers can only be successful in engagement if organizations have put what I call the preconditions for engagement in place.  Here are some that I believe are causal over disengagement:

  1. A Meaningful Purpose

Increasingly, younger workers want their work to be fulfilled in a larger sense.  That is, they want their work and the work of their organizations to be improving quality of life.  If the values and culture of the organization are simply about making money, they won’t connect, i.e. won’t be engaged.  If they don’t see a connection between the work that they do and the organization’s purpose, they won’t be engaged.

  1. Fairness of ExchangeIf workers feel taken advantage of, they won’t engage or work hard to be productive. What are they looking at in coming to that judgement?  How their compensation and benefits compares with peers in similar positions.  How they are rewarded for the results they produce.  Examining CEO and other salaries to their own and calculating whether that multiple is fair.
  2. Commitment to Career DevelopmentDo employees see a genuine interest and commitment to their development? Are meaningful investments in training and coaching made? Do they see an attractive path forward?
  3. Work-Life BalanceThere is a risk of placing an undue burden upon engaged, high-performing employees. At crunch time, are they called upon to close the gap to meet targets and customer needs?  How often does that occur and what is the impact upon quality of life?  Today’s employees simply have a different equation than prior generations when it comes to determining fairness.

These four factors and no doubt others, provide an environment in which managers work to achieve and maintain engagement.  If these preconditions are not met, it will be an uphill struggle. The preconditions define much of “what it feels like to work here” or organizational culture, which is the secret sauce of high-performing organizations.

So, what to do?  Use questions in your weekly 1 on 1 meetings with employees to gauge how they feel about these pre-conditions.  Questions like, “how fulfilled do you feel in your work here”, “what would make your work more fulfilling?”, “do you feel taken advantage of at times?”  If you find any of these pre-conditions are absent or deficient, raise the issue with management using data to make the case for more investment to yield higher retention and greater profitability.

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