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Employee Engagement Trends: How To Encourage Your Team

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Employ­ee engage­ment has nev­er been high­er than 40%. No, that’s not a typo.

Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, there have nev­er been more than 40% of employ­ees active­ly engaged in their work in the his­to­ry of track­ing employ­ee engage­ment. Since peo­ple spend one-third of their lives at their jobs, is that real­ly enough?

The answer, of course, is no. That’s not enough.

Engage­ment is linked to pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and morale. An engaged team is more will­ing to col­lab­o­rate and share ideas. When a team is active­ly engaged and excit­ed about their work, it pro­found­ly impacts cus­tomers, employ­ees and the busi­ness as a whole.

Orga­ni­za­tions should not be hap­py with the fact that more than half of their employ­ees aren’t engaged and excit­ed about their work. Some­thing needs to change.

Employee Engagement Trends

To under­stand employ­ee engage­ment and improve it, it’s best to define the dif­fer­ent types of engage­ment and exam­ine his­tor­i­cal trends. Engage­ment can be split into three sep­a­rate cat­e­gories: active­ly engaged, active­ly dis­en­gaged and not engaged.

These are impor­tant dis­tinc­tions. ​“Active­ly engaged” employ­ees are enthu­si­as­tic about their work. They are excit­ed to come to work every day. On the oth­er hand, employ­ees who are ​“active­ly dis­en­gaged” are mis­er­able at their jobs. They often spread neg­a­tive ener­gy and can be a pri­ma­ry source of tox­i­c­i­ty with­in a team.

The final group is for employ­ees who are sim­ply ​“not engaged.” They are detached from their work. They put in the time, they do their jobs, but they are com­mon­ly seek­ing oth­er employ­ment. In com­par­i­son, they lack the pas­sion or ener­gy that is found in active­ly engaged employ­ees. This is the group that employ­ers may be able to reach with the right tools.

A Brief History of Employee Engagement

In 2000, employ­ee engage­ment hov­ered at 26%. In 2001, it increased to 30%, then dropped down to 28% in 2002. This trend con­tin­ued for the next decade, hov­er­ing between 26% and 30% with­out much variation.

Some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pened with dis­en­gage­ment. In 2000, dis­en­gage­ment was at 18%, 16% in 2001, and 17% in 2003. It nev­er ven­tured too far from the 16 – 18% mark until 2015, when both num­bers start­ed to change in a sur­pris­ing way.

In 2015, there was a sud­den uptick in engage­ment, hit­ting 32% for the first time in his­to­ry. Active dis­en­gage­ment also dropped to 17%. Fast for­ward to 2020, and those num­bers that remained rel­a­tive­ly con­sis­tent from 2000 – 2016 have vast­ly improved.

In 2020, engage­ment climbed to 37% in March, 38% in April and May, and hit the his­toric high of 40% in June and July. Active dis­en­gage­ment dropped to 13% and stayed there for most of the year. That’s an unprece­dent­ed lev­el of engage­ment. Of course, it’s still less than half of employ­ees, but it’s a def­i­nite improvement.

Now, the nat­ur­al assump­tion is that employ­ee engage­ment and employ­ee well-being are intrin­si­cal­ly linked. If engage­ment is high, then employ­ee well-being should also be on the rise. If this was any­where between 2000 and 2019, that might be an accu­rate assessment.

How­ev­er, in 2020 it all changed.

The Engagement and Well-Being Paradox: Why Wellness Is Key

The ​“Engage­ment and Well-Being Para­dox” is a phe­nom­e­non that occurred dur­ing 2020 and con­tin­ues to this day. It has per­plexed lead­ers in the indus­try and changed how employ­ers are approach­ing employ­ee engagement.

Engage­ment was on the rise, but employ­ee well-being saw a sig­nif­i­cant drop. Through­out 2020, employ­ees report­ed record lev­els of wor­ry, burnout and stress. On top of that, men­tal health issues were steadi­ly increas­ing. Pushed into iso­la­tion and cop­ing with a ten­u­ous polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic state, it’s under­stand­able that peo­ple weren’t feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly well.

So, why are employ­ees stressed and unwell but more engaged than ever? Because there is no intrin­sic link between engage­ment and wellness.

Engage­ment does not equal health. Peo­ple were engaged with their jobs because they enjoyed their work, appre­ci­at­ed the tran­si­tion to remote work­ing envi­ron­ments, or just need­ed the dis­trac­tion. But that’s about to change.

As the pan­dem­ic comes to a close and employ­ees begin enter­ing phys­i­cal loca­tions again, com­pa­nies are report­ing unprece­dent­ed lev­els of burnout. Ded­i­cat­ed employ­ees have spent over a year work­ing tire­less­ly to keep busi­ness­es alive dur­ing one of the most try­ing eco­nom­ic crises any­one has ever faced, and they are reel­ing from it.

40% is already not enough engage­ment. Those fig­ures should be much high­er. But employ­ees are over­worked, stressed and exhaust­ed, and if busi­ness­es allow that to con­tin­ue, those num­bers will plummet.

To com­bat burnout and an ever-present fear of an uncer­tain world, com­pa­nies must focus on improv­ing the lives of their employ­ees. To cre­ate a hap­py and engaged team, they must focus on cul­ti­vat­ing and pro­mot­ing employ­ee well-being.

How To Encourage Teams

Orga­ni­za­tions should val­ue and care for their peo­ple. With­out them, they might not have sur­vived the last year. On top of that, employ­ees who ded­i­cate their lives to jobs deserve to know that their invest­ment isn’t tak­en for granted.

Here are a few effec­tive ways to improve employ­ee engage­ment and well-being simultaneously.

Take an Engagement Survey

An anony­mous engage­ment sur­vey allows team mem­bers to be hon­est about the issues they face at their jobs. It enables them to com­mu­ni­cate open­ly with­out fear of pun­ish­ment. This can be an invalu­able tool for super­vi­sors and exec­u­tives because it gives them the abil­i­ty to address the spe­cif­ic issues that threat­en their orga­ni­za­tion and their employ­ees’ engage­ment and well-being.

Encourage Creativity and Innovation

Employ­ees crave the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be cre­ative with their work. Being cre­ative can make employ­ees excit­ed about their jobs. Plus, cre­ativ­i­ty paves the way to inno­va­tion and fresh ideas, which are vital to a suc­cess­ful and thriv­ing business.

Recognize Achievements and Milestones

Employ­ee recog­ni­tion and appre­ci­a­tion are essen­tial to improv­ing engage­ment and employ­ee well-being. Team mem­bers want to know that the work they’re doing isn’t going unno­ticed. Whether they’ve hit a sales goal or they’re cel­e­brat­ing a work anniver­sary, com­pa­nies should take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize and reward their employ­ees any chance they can get.

Create a Fun Environment

Orga­ni­za­tions should orches­trate friend­ly com­pe­ti­tions and throw par­ties to cel­e­brate mile­stones. They should plan and orga­nize com­pa­ny out­ings and hol­i­day get-togeth­ers. Events like these enable employ­ees to engage with one anoth­er, social­ize, cel­e­brate and have fun, all of which can have a pos­i­tive impact on their engage­ment and well-being.

Customized Lifestyle Benefits

Ben­e­fits pro­grams have changed. It’s no longer enough to just offer health­care and 401K pack­ages to employ­ees. In fact, those ben­e­fits are now expect­ed. They’re often a pre­req­ui­site for some­one to even con­sid­er apply­ing for a job. The mod­ern employ­ee prefers ben­e­fits that cater to their life and improves their phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al, men­tal and finan­cial well-being.

Com­pa­nies can take that a step fur­ther and by using a cus­tom ben­e­fits plat­form like Fringe, which enables employ­ees to choose from over a hun­dred dif­fer­ent lifestyle ben­e­fit options. The Fringe plat­form takes cus­tomiza­tion and per­son­al­iza­tion to a whole new lev­el and helps to ensure employ­ees feel val­ued and engaged.

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