Employee Engagement at 25: The Work Continues

The key to driving business results is getting employees excited about coming to work.

By Henry G. Jackson
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0708CEO-Page.jpg0516cover.jpgWhat keeps the people at your organization coming to work each day? Is it a paycheck? The opportunity to advance? A challenging assignment or worthy mission? All of the above? Find the answer to this critical question, and you will have a key to unlocking your company’s full human capital potential.

This year, it turns out that employees are placing the highest value on something that is at a more basic level: respect. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report, “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” was the top contributor to overall employee job satisfaction for the second year in a row. Next came pay, benefits, job security, opportunities to use skills and abilities, and trust between employees and senior management.

The takeaway is that U.S. employees are more satisfied with their current jobs than they have been at any point in the last 10 years. Still, workers are only moderately engaged (3.8 on a scale of 1 to 5), and nearly half of them—45 percent—said they would look for jobs outside their organizations in the next year. Better pay, benefits or career advancement opportunities were the leading reasons employees would change jobs.

But imagine the boost our businesses could realize if we could move our colleagues even a few notches higher on the engagement scale—and had more-enthusiastic and more-committed workforces overall. It would pay dividends for our organizations.

The concept of “employee engagement” first emerged 25 years ago when Boston University professor William Kahn published an academic paper, “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work.” In 1996, the SHRM Foundation gave the concept legs when it published a guide to increasing employee engagement, making SHRM the first professional society to consider it a best practice. Since that time, there has been much research and work around getting the best efforts out of people on the job.

The employee engagement conversation is likely to get even more interesting as Millennials grow into the largest share of the workforce. At a recent SHRM conference, Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton described how workers’ perspectives are shifting—from “my paycheck” to “my purpose,” from “my satisfaction” to “my development,” from “my boss” to “my coach” and in other ways. Moreover, there are four additional generations showing up to our companies each day with different expectations of work. And, depending on their life stage, workers may be motivated by anything from student loan repayment to workplace flexibility to retirement savings plans.

The bottom line is that there is no more one-size-fits-all approach to managing workforces. Organizations need a new kind of creativity and flexibility and a new approach to keeping employees motivated and satisfied. This is why, in HR, the employee engagement work continues.

Let’s start with ourselves. What is your reason for coming to work each day? At SHRM, providing the resources you need to succeed is ours.

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