Gallup: The holy grail of Employee Engagement in 2018

A couple of months ago Gallup released their 2017 edition of the State of the Global Workplace report and on February 22nd, the Gallup Country Manager, Pa Sinyan, will present the key report findings during the ISS Business Forum. In our recent interview, Pa Sinyan, provided a sneak peek to his presentation and the holy grail of employee engagement in 2018.

At Gallup, you recently released the 2017 edition of the “State of the Global Workplace” report which you will go more in detail with during the ISS Business Forum on the 22nd of February. What would you say is the most surprising finding in this year’s report?

The most positive and surprising finding in this year’s report is that the number of “actively disengaged” people (e.g. people that are frustrated and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers) has dropped between 2009 and 2017 from 26% to 17%.

On the negative side, if you go more in depth with this development; even though we now have a lower number of people that are actively disengaged, the number of truly engaged people has not gone up. So, we can’t draw the conclusion that we’ve become better at creating great workplace experiences. We’ve just reduced the portion of tragic and depressing workplace environments.

Although we all know that most people don’t go to work to improve wellbeing, it is still hard to see that the most of us don’t enjoy going to work. This just confirms us that there is a lot untapped potential.

Going into the European market specifically, the surprising trend is that even though the workforce is situated in one of the wealthiest parts of the world; it is also amongst the least engaged globally.

Why do you think that is the case?

In Europe, we are satisfied to the extent that our work gives us what we need: salary and job security. Yet, job satisfaction is not necessarily equal to engagement.

Leadership and management culture, make up the two factors, that often prevent us from being engaged. Europeans experience leadership and management as direct, distant and unpersonal. Those assumptions, however, need to be studied in more detail.

Reading both through the new and past reports, it is clear, that employee engagement is extremely low. What would you say is causing this low level of employee engagement worldwide?

I always feel sorry for managers because they get blamed for everything. If the company is doing very well; it must be because of the great CEO. If the company is doing bad; then it must be because managers are not implementing or executing the strategy well. So, it is a bit unfair.

But sadly, when it comes to the topic of employee engagement the data confronts that 70% of the variance in employee engagement is related to their perception of the manager, or their interactions and experiences with the manager.

Bill Clinton used to say, “It’s the economy, stupid”-  we say, “It’s the manager, stupid”. If we don’t get the manager right, nothing else works. I try to explain to CEOs and Executive Teams that even though they are very important they should not take themselves too seriously.

When it comes to creating an engaging workplace culture it all comes down to the managers. What those managers currently are struggling with is that employees don’t feel listened to. They don’t feel that their manager knows them or takes time to get to know them.

In addition, many employees feel that their manager is failing to give them a clear direction and a clear guidance to do what really matters. Only 50% know what is expected of them. Consequently, employees struggle to see the purpose in what they do.

Therefore, the low level of engagement has sadly to be attributed to the quality of the managers and supervisors we employ across the world.

How can employers turn this around and get more out of their employees?

When you look at how disengaged the vast majority of the workforce worldwide is, you see how much potential there is. You don’t need to do a lot to get a lot of quick wins. People are not necessarily asking for major pay increases. It is a lot of small things that make a big difference. What employers can do is:

  1. Create awareness: When studying managers, we found out that more than 95% of managers think they are doing a good job. 70% of their employees however think that their manager is doing a terrible job. So, we must create more transparency between the manager and the employee. Helping managers to understand where they might be failing is a great start.
  2. Make people a strategic priority: You should make your people a strategic priority and see your people as your key competitive advantage. A lot of organisations claim that they do that. Only a few live up to it.
  3. Build capabilities: We expect managers to do a lot. They need to act as coaches, provide guidance, challenge their employees and make them better. Not everyone can do that. Our research shows that many people just don’t possess the managerial talent. How to make managers better? We need to invest more energy, time and resources to build those capabilities.
  4. Measure managerial performance: Functions like sales and finance usually have clear KPI’s defining whether or not they are doing a good job. When it comes to evaluating the performance of managers, however, many still rely on instinct and their gut feeling. This does not give a clear picture. So, we need to find out how to measure managerial performance in a clearer way.

What are the top 5 things business leaders should focus on in the years to come to create a more engaging, happy and productive workforce?

  1. Identify managerial talents: Deciding who is the right candidate to become people manager must be the single most important decision moving forward. Managerial talent is rare. Most of us should never have become managers. So, let’s be more conscious of who has and who hasn’t managerial talent.
  2. Improve employee/manager communication: The greatest source of disengagement today is the employee/manager interaction. It is not because managers do not want to facilitate a good and healthy interaction, they just don’t how to. We need to provide them with tools, knowledge and guidance to get there.
  3. The use of data: This is where HR has an important role to play. All the other functions have realized the power of using data to make decisions, HR is lagging behind. Using data in hiring, recruiting, teaching and educating processes to create better HR policies is something that leaders should think about when striving towards creating happy, engaging and productive workplaces.
  4. Don’t engage people just for the sake of doing it: Employee Engagement needs to fulfill a bigger purpose or business objective, for example; creating better customer relationships or getting more innovative ideas. Otherwise it will never get the attention that it deserves. You need to give it a clear purpose.
  5. Role Modelling: Even though I have mentioned before that executives should not take themselves too serious they do set the tone. Our managers and CEOs need to be the role models of the behavior we want to stimulate. To create a truly engaging, happy and productive workforce - our leaders need to authentically represent and live our purpose.