Engagement. It’s such a widely used term in business today that we assume everyone knows what it means and why it is important. However, as we talk and work with organizations, it is clear there is great opportunity in helping leaders truly understand that employee engagement is not simply an “HR” initiative. It is a business imperative. 

Based on our recent discussions with organizations, it is evident that most employers are feeling the war for talent in ways they haven’t in the past. Not only are many challenged to find the right talent that are the right fit for their open positions, but they are also fighting a war within – the openness and willingness of current employees to seek employment elsewhere. 

Gallup’s research indicates that 51%1 of employees are actively searching for a role or are open to changing jobs. Another concerning statistic is that when employees were surveyed about the last time they changed jobs, 91% say they changed companies. Either they don’t see an opportunity to stay or don’t want to stay with their current workplace. Thus, the “quit rate” in the US is climbing and companies are finding themselves constantly in a defensive position, attempting to hold on to their most talented employees.

One of the best ways to fight the war for talent is to go on offense; to try to increase the overall level of engagement. Employee engagement is defined by Gallup as “being involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to the organization.” If you can create greater employee engagement, you create a stronger psychological commitment and ownership by the employee in the organization as a whole. This greater commitment and ownership manifests in discretionary effort being applied in a myriad of ways and in the employee staying longer, both of which pays dividends. 

Organizations that proactively measure and manage employee engagement see a direct impact on their financial results. According to research done by Gallup and others, companies investing in and increasing engagement see positive trends in employee retention (i.e., a decreasing quit rate), productivity, sales, customer loyalty, and profitability. In short, the more engaged employees they create, the more they see positive business results, including retention. 

To go on offense and build employee engagement, companies must do three things:

  1. Measure Employee Engagement. Every team and organization should benchmark where they are so they can target opportunity areas and monitor progress.
  2. Invest in Education and Training for Managers around Employee Engagement. Research published in “It’s the Manager” by Jim Clifton shows that 70% of the variance in employee engagement is directly attributable to the Manager. With this level of impact, Leaders and Managers must be provided with the knowledge of how they are influencing engagement and with the tools to take the best actions to positively improve engagement.
  3. Commit to Managing Engagement for Sustainable Results. Managing engagement certainly involves having Leaders and Managers attuned to engagement. However, it also involves establishing a process of having ongoing individual and team conversations, listening to what is impacting engagement, empowering managers and teams to take action to improve it, remeasuring, and keeping engagement constantly visible as an organizational priority.

Engagement is not a number. Engagement is not a survey. Engagement is not a program. To achieve the results described, leaders must recognize it is a practice and discipline that should be embedded in the culture and organizational DNA. By proactively taking these three steps, organizations can start to implement this practice and discipline and win the war for talent both outside and inside the company. 

1 Source: 2017 State of the American Workforce Report, Gallup, Inc.