Study: 70 Percent of Workers Not Engaged, Consultants Not the Answer

Engagement in the workplace is one of the hottest topics in management today – some experts claim it is necessary for higher levels of firm performance.

San Francisco — March 1
Engagement in the workplace is one of the hottest topics in management today — some experts claim it is necessary for higher levels of firm performance.

Studies estimate only 14 percent to 30 percent of employees are engaged at work, while employers seek to squeeze more productivity out of fewer resources.

Executives who rely on consultants to engage their employees, however, are unlikely to see results according to an article published in the quarterly journal, Leader to Leader, from the Leader to Leader Institute (formally the Drucker Foundation).

“In today’s environment, where the employee contract has evolved considerably, the process by which we expect engagement to happen needs to be fully understood so that managers can change contract terms or other context issues to enable full employee engagement,” said the article’s author, Theresa M. Welbourne, Ph.D., president and CEO of eePulse Inc. and adjunct professor of executive education at the University of Michigan.

According to Welbourne’s role-based performance model, which helps identify the types of employee behaviors needed to drive performance, there are five key roles that employees occupy at work:

  • Core job-holder role, or what’s in the job description
  • Entrepreneur role that involves coming up with innovative ideas
  • Team member role, which includes working with others
  • Career role to improve skills and knowledge
  • Organizational member role to undertake tasks that benefit the company

The idea behind the model is for firms to develop human resources that cannot be easily replicated by their competition.

For employees to be successful in all five roles, leaders need to succeed in these roles themselves, clearly articulate how each role helps support the business strategy and create an environment in which all the roles are valued, removing barriers to employees working in noncore job roles.

It is not easy, however, for managers to meet these conditions, as workloads increase and employees are unable to even do their core jobs in 60-hour work weeks.

A study Welbourne conducted over the past three years that surveyed the energy levels of more 4,000 executives shows leaders are reporting low personal energy levels and are struggling to keep pace with their workloads, as they feel overworked, distracted and confused.

This research is merely the tip of the iceberg, Welbourne said — when managers are feeling overwhelmed, their employees are doing much worse.

Research she has conducted since 1996 shows that a decline in leader energy predicts reduced employee energy.

Welbourne suggests employers can increase employee engagement by maintaining an atmosphere in which people who are engaged are rewarded.

Instead of wasting millions of dollars on employee engagement programs that often begin by surveying employee attitudes, efforts should focus on the leadership team.

“They need to know what it ‘looks like’ to engage people at work, and they must be role models for this behavior with their direct reports, who then do the same for their employees,” she said.

Instead of hoping for a magic formula to make engagement happen, companies need to anticipate a long journey that starts at the top of the organization and moves its way throughout the business.