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Stop Worrying About Employee Engagement

05 Mar 2021 12:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Author: Christopher W. Jones

Let me guess, you or your organization decided that you needed to know how engaged your employees are. Well I have news for you, if you have to wonder if they are engaged or not, they probably aren’t. And don’t worry you are not alone. Based on 50 years of employee engagement research, American consulting company, Gallup, found that "only 15% of employees worldwide and 35% in the U.S. fall in the "engaged" category.”

But let’s just say for argument sake that you wanted to find out anyway. In 2019, my company chose to implement an organization-wide employee engagement survey. We decided on the Gallup Q12 for these reasons; it wasn’t 100 questions long and Gallup seems to know what they are doing in this space as they have been doing it for over 50 years.

For those of you not familiar with the Gallup Q12 survey here it is:

The Gallup Q12 Index
Gallup's employee engagement work is based on more than 30 years of in-depth behavioral economic

research involving more than 17 million employees. Through rigorous research, Gallup has identified 12

core elements -- the Q12 -- that link powerfully to key business outcomes. These 12 statements

emerged as those that best predict employee and workgroup performance.

The Twelve Questions are:

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  9. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do you have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  12. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

So we administered the Q12 survey and the results were bad. We immediately ran workshops in order to address this and in turn had each department run their own workshop and address their teams top three engagement priorities. We also went to work on building programs like an employee recognition and appreciation program. We very quickly realized that in our efforts to correct things, we threw too much at it too quickly and overwhelmed everyone, so we decided to slow down some and focus on making a few of the key programs stick. At this point we decided that we would love to know how we were doing and did not feel like waiting another year when we were going to administer the Q12 again so we developed a monthly pulse survey to track and measure our engagement efforts.

About six months in we looked at the results and noticed something. Only about 2/3 of our managers were completing the survey each month and only about 50% of the employees. I felt that it was probably only the “engaged” ones that were even bothering with the survey so I concluded the results were most likely not accurate and skewed more toward the positive side since we were most likely not hearing from the “disengaged” employees. I then started looking into alternatives when I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “It’s Time to Get Rid of Employee Surveys” by Peter Cappelli. In the article he states that the annual employee survey needs to be retired and that workers were tired of surveys. Of course the term “survey fatigue” had already come up with our team so I thought there might be some merit to this. I also realized that if our organization did not have the complete trust of our employees that the survey was subject to response bias in the first place. So I started looking at alternatives and other KPIs and metrics.

“What I realized very quickly was that it was manager behavior that accounted for employee engagement. I had long ago heard the phrase that “employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers” so this seemed congruent to me.”

Now only just last week I came across one of the latest books published by Gallup titled It’s The Manager and it turns out that Gallup had come to the same conclusion. In the book, they state that “70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager. It’s the manager”

If we break down the Q12 questions you can see how each one is directly affected by manager behavior:

1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
This one I never really understood because it would seem to be the most fundamental thing for any company to do which is to simply let their employees know what is expected of them. Of course it is directly on the manager or front line supervisor to set and manage expectations.

2. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
Again, this one seems to be fundamental to any company. The manager needs to ensure that the employees have the tools and resources to do their job. If you don’t know ask.

3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
This one is a little trickier however it is really about the manager making sure they have the right butts in the right seats.

4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
This one is also really simple. Does the employee’s manager recognize them for doing a good job or not. Maybe managers overthink this one however even just a thank you every now and then goes a long way.

5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
This is just about the manager treating employees as human beings and recognizing that the entire person shows up to work.

6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
This speaks to the shift in what workers value more now (see the chart below) and even without any type of formal development plan or program it is easy enough for a manager to talk to their employees about career advancement and/or development.

7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
Everyone has a need to feel heard and employees are no different (see number 4 – treat them as human beings). This is about the manager listening and giving feedback. Not every idea or opinion is going to be executed on or implemented however listening and then giving feedback on why or why not is again a simple thing to do.

8. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
This one is a little bit trickier since this is really a higher level emotional need and while the manager can not create meaning for the employee, they can certainly help the employee understand how they fit into the bigger picture and how their job advances the overall mission and vision of the organization.

9. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
This is all about the manager establishing performance standards and holding every team member accountable.

10. Do you have a best friend at work?
This is not about managers trying to make everyone play nice together and be besties however it is about the managers understanding human nature and creating opportunities for connection such as team events and social activities.

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
This again seems like management 101 in that it is on the manager to let the employee know where they stand. This is all about one on ones and feedback.

12. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?
This is about the managers challenging their employees and giving them opportunities to learn and grow.

If you are looking at the above and think that what an employee needs from their manager has changed over the years, you are absolutely right. Let’s take a look:

An Observation


According to Gallup, growth in engagement has remained flat – and we’ve seen little more than a two-point increase over the past four years.

There is a quote that is often misattributed to Einstein that says,

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

So if engagement hasn't improved and all the surveys in the world haven’t changed anything stop and do something different. What your employees expect from not just your organization but from work overall has changed however has our management training changed in time to keep up?

Stop worrying about engagement surveys and start focusing on manager behaviors.

So now that we have come to the conclusion that getting managers to follow the right behaviors is the real key to employee engagement how in the world do you hold them accountable for the right behaviors? That sounds like a great topic for the next article… See you there.

Connect with Christopher Jones
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherwalkerjones/


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