When was the last time you were happy with your job? For the majority of American workers, it was in 2005 when 52.1% said things were okay. Culturally speaking, that was ages ago – YouTube hadn’t even been invented. Since then job satisfaction has declined steadily. In a 2010 Right Management study, nearly 85% of respondents expressed a desire to leave their jobs within the year and one in two reported feeling disengaged.
Many companies are turning to employee engagement programs to help reverse this tide of disaffection. It’s critical to get employee engagement right by choosing an approach that enables continuous, sustainable gains over time. Instead, we see many companies fall into a three-stage cycle that mirrors the flow – and ebb — of many personal relationships.
Stage One – The Honeymoon. The new program creates energy and reaps the low-hanging fruit of giving managers the basics for productive employee conversations, known as “bottom-up” engagement. In this stage, an organization becomes competitive on engagement and targets industry benchmarks. This stage tends to produce strong wave-over-wave gains of five to 15 basis points. The honeymoon typically last for two to three waves, with each wave being equivalent to about one year’s duration.
Stage Two – The Mature Relationship. The strong gains of the honeymoon are replaced by much smaller gains. The low-hanging fruit is picked clean. Now, the organization struggles to create the same level of energy around its strategic decisions on engagement. This is the reverse approach, known as “top-down engagement.” During this stage it is harder to prove strong linkage to positive business gains. Many times, the focus is on maintaining or protecting advances made during the honeymoon period. Stage two usually lasts for two to three waves.
Stage Three – The Seven-Year Itch. The organization is driven to break out of the mature relationship and look for a change, similar to the proverbial seven-year itch of a marriage. Lacking strategic advice, and weary of bottom-up engagement, the organization produces flat to potentially negative engagement results. Rumors surface that managers are gaming the system. At this point, organizations typically start searching for a new engagement partner.
The good news is that three stages don’t have to exist in your company. The best practice is to make employee engagement a continuous process, included in year-round business management and planning. Engagement should be integrated with and aligned to the workforce development strategies. The best way to ensure long-term progress and honeymoon-like engagement by focusing on some core pillars:
- Align your program to key business strategies
- Focus less on the process and more on targeted outcomes
- Design the program to optimize both strategic insight and tactical advice
- Maximize the role of senior leaders and avoid putting all engagement responsibilities on your managers
- Utilize dynamic technology to keep up with the real-time pace of business.
What has been your company’s experience with employee engagement programs? Let me hear from you.
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