Employee Engagement Is Not The Problem

employee engagement problem

Virtually every article about employee engagement I’ve read recently includes the same or similar stats. 87% of today’s business leaders cite culture and engagement as one of their top concerns (Deloitte). Only 13% of the global workforce is engaged (Gallup). And while these should still be alarming for any business leader, these stats alone don’t tell the whole story.

Engagement is often looked at as a stand-alone problem. It’s assumed that by ‘solving’ employee engagement in your company, you will suddenly have a more productive, higher performing, workforce.

But real employee engagement is woven into many other aspects of the organization, including leadership, culture, communication, and development. When you begin to change one of these, it creates a ripple that affects many others.

Employee engagement is not the problem; it’s a symptom. The real issues that are causing disengagement are likely buried deeper than you can readily see. So before you decide to address the symptoms of employee engagement with a survey, an app, or a few new workplace perks, think about what the root cause of the engagement issues might be.

Three Misconceptions About Employee Engagement

Here are a few of the more popular misconceptions about employee engagement.

1. It’s not a leadership problem. Leaders in any organization today must be accountable for engagement by being engaged with their team. In small companies, this may not be an issue. But for larger organizations, it’s easy for leadership to get lost behind the boardroom’s closed doors.

Managers and leaders at all levels play a big part in the engagement and retention of their team. Open communication about the organization’s strategy, welcoming feedback, and developing their team members are all critical to building a culture of active, engaged employees. In fact, according to a recent report from TINYhr, employees with managers who respect their work ideas are 32% less likely to look for a new job. Another report from Interaction Associates found that the number one thing employees want from their leaders is to ask for their input before making decisions that affect them.

Employees want to feel some ownership over the outcome of their work. It’s up to senior leaders and management to both lead the way and role-model the type of engagement they want to see in their team.

2. It’s not a culture problem. For some reason, the misconception that you can address employee engagement without addressing your organizational culture is still prevalent for many leaders today. But without a culture that supports your employees, how can you expect them to stay actively engaged?

Organizational culture is often described by the metaphor of an iceberg. Visible indicators, like engagement, high turnover, or performance woes are only the visible tip of the iceberg. And because it’s what they see, business leaders often attempt to address these symptoms without diving down to find the root of the problem. Many times, engagement ends up representing much deeper issues around the understanding and alignment of an organization’s culture, leadership, and/or strategy.

3. A survey or suggestion box will solve the problem. Doing nothing more than hanging a suggestion box outside of HR’s office may be tempting for any organization feeling desperate about their employee engagement levels, but it isn’t enough to change things long-term. While some of your more vocal employees might be happy to participate by giving you anonymous feedback, it ultimately becomes a passive way to collect peoples’ heat-of-the-moment frustrations about their work or their coworkers.

Employee engagement surveys are slightly more effective, as they actively require a greater number of employees to participate in giving feedback. The problem is, an annual survey cannot keep up with the ever-changing culture of an organization, especially in times of change. Pulse surveys or engagement apps might help, but even those don’t address the potential deeper issues that may exist.

So, What’s Really the Problem?

If engagement isn’t the real issue, what is?

Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet answer that will be true for everyone. Every organization is different, and has its own unique set of challenges that must be overcome.

Before you can accurately diagnose what the real problem may be, take some time to assess your organization from an objective, holistic view. You may be surprised to find that the popular remedies may not be the right ones to address what’s really happening below the surface of your organization.

An assessment like this can take time and resources away from what might seem like higher priority tasks. When performance is suffering, it may feel uncomfortable to face these issues head on. But, if you truly want to drive meaningful, sustainable change, the payoff will be well worth the effort.