Engaging the workforce

Getting past once-and-done measurement surveys to achieve always-on listening and meaningful response

Engaging the workforce
Posted by Alyson Daichendt on September 15, 2016.

More than 8 in 10 (85 percent) of the executives responding to our Global Human Capital Trends 2016 survey rated engagement as an important (38 percent) or very important (48 percent) priority for their companies. But company actions regarding engagement don’t always support that level of importance. Just over half of the respondents (64 percent) say they are measuring employee engagement once a year, and a surprising number—nearly one in five (18 percent)—said their companies don’t formally measure employee engagement at all. As the workforce and its expectations about work evolve rapidly, employers should start treating engagement as the business-critical issue it is.

What is employee engagement?
Organizations are increasingly talking about engagement, but not everyone is defining and measuring it in the same way. Engagement typically refers to an employee’s job satisfaction, loyalty, and inclination to expend discretionary effort toward organizational goals.1 It predicts individual performance and operates at the most fundamental levels of the organization—individual and line—where the most meaningful impact can be made. Workplace culture is related, though operates on a different level. Culture is a system of values, beliefs, and behaviors that shapes how real work gets done within an organization. It predicts company performance, and is shaped and cultivated at the most senior levels of the organization.

Why does employee engagement matter?
Engagement is critical because it is directly linked to business outcomes. Consider research on how engagement affects:

  • Productivity: American businesses lose productivity worth $300 billion annually due to disengaged workers.2
  • Revenue growth: Organizations with highly engaged employees experienced a 3-year revenue growth rate 2.3 times greater than average (20.1 percent growth vs. 8.9 percent growth).3
  • Performance and retention: Organizations with engaged workers may have employees who are 57 percent more effective and 87 percent less likely to leave than organizations with low engagement.4

This retention aspect is particularly pertinent. The ease of exploring job opportunities online and a new acceptance (sometimes even an expectation) that employees will change jobs more frequently than in the past means employers need to think about ways to motivate employees to stay. An organization’s ability to keep employees engaged is a valuable retention tool and a hedge against voluntary turnover.

Changing workforce demographics and increased diversity also highlight the challenge and criticality of employee engagement. Today’s organizations should try to attract, embed, and retain a workforce encompassing workers from a variety of demographics and a blend of full-time, part-time, contract, and contingent employees.

Despite this reality, research finds that only 11 percent of companies have a highly inclusive work environment5—it’s hard to feel engaged if you don’t feel included. And while about one in four surveyed millennials (26 percent) rated employee satisfaction/loyalty/fair treatment as the most important value supporting a business’s long-term success,6 only 4% of survey respondents believe they are very good at engaging Millennials and other generations in the work environment.7

The problem with once-and-done: too infrequent, too slow
Annual employee engagement surveys have long been the norm in many organizations. While yearly touchpoints are better than not measuring engagement at all, they may leave a lot to be desired. The process can actually build distrust in the workforce if employees see engagement surveys as a compliance-motivated exercise instead of a genuine desire to respond and improve. The cycle time, particularly in large organizations, can also be quite long. By the time you disseminate the survey, gather the results, interpret the results, and plan interventions, the problems may have passed, the damage from the issues identified is done, or new issues have surfaced that have not been captured.

Instead, measure frequently and tie results to action
To be effective, measuring and managing engagement should be an ongoing, always-listening process that enables organizations to actively hear and respond to their employees in timely and focused ways. This might include not only using a comprehensive baseline survey but also taking more frequent pulses at least quarterly to dig into the issues. These pulses can be targeted to measure aspects of the job directly tied to engagement, organizational priorities, or hot-button issues.

What drives engagement?
Deloitte’s years of research and experience with hundreds of organizations suggests that five main indices and underlying attributes work together to drive engagement and make organizations “simply irresistible” to the workforce—both prospective and current employees.

The Simply Irresistible Organization®

Source: Bersin by Deloitte

The Simply Irresistible Organization:8 What these dimensions measure:

Meaningful Work that aligns employees to their strengths, gives them a sense of purpose and empowerment, and enables them with the tools and autonomy they need to develop and succeed.

Supportive Management that guides and empowers its employees by setting clear goals, coaching for high performance, developing future leaders, and providing continuous feedback.

A Positive Work Environment that is flexible, collaborative, humane, and inclusive, with benefits and programs that allow work to fit into employees’ lifestyles and an emphasis on maintaining a culture of recognition.

Growth Opportunity for continuous learning, professional development, and career progression, including a focus on supporting and facilitating internal mobility.

Trust in Leadership due to inspirational leaders who invest in their people, communicate honestly, and fulfill the organization’s mission, vision, and purpose.

Underlying all of these are collaboration and communications that provide and promote simple and logical processes alongside the resources that employees need to do their jobs.

From reactive once-and-done to proactive always-listening
Building and sustaining an engaging environment is ongoing, proactive process. If companies commit to simplify and streamline their processes, and leaders from the most senior levels to frontline managers demonstrate the desire to listen, respond, and improve, the workforce is more likely to be receptive and supportive, too (which are themselves forms of engagement!).

To work toward that goal, companies should consider the following:

  • Review legacy employee engagement providers to confirm they meet the needs of the organization’s changing workforce demographics and can measure the current employee population.
  • Measure engagement for a baseline understanding of where engagement is broadly, and also further measure themes via pulse surveys to move the organization from a “once and done” approach to “always listening.” Pulsing can help organizations quickly gather insight and feedback to determine interventions designed to support higher engagement.
  • Address engagement issues quickly, at the business unit or team lead level, where engagement really matters and managers can make a meaningful impact on their staff’s level of attachment toward their job, coworkers, and organization.
  • Link engagement measures to business outcomes (for example, performance management results or sales data) to identify problem themes at the most fundamental level and to help sustain engagement over time.

Employee engagement extends beyond employee satisfaction—and an active and inclusive approach can capture the distinction that will move the needle where it matters most. Frequent and agile outreach will gather the objective insights and feedback required to understand strengths and gaps. This understanding can then be used to drive the behaviors needed to improve employee engagement in a timely and meaningful way.


Alyson Daichendt is a managing director with Deloitte Consulting LLP, leading the engagement and culture offerings for the US Human Capital practice.

1 See Bersin by Deloitte, http://www.bersin.com/Lexicon/Details.aspx?id=14388.
2 Ologbo, A.C., and Sofian, S (2012). Individual factors and work outcomes of employee engagement. Procedia Social and Behavioral Science.
3 Schaufenbuel, K. (2013). Powering your bottom line through employee engagement. UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
4 ADP Staff in Schaufenbuel, K. (2013). Powering your bottom line through employee engagement. UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
5 Sherman Gar, Stacia, The diversity and inclusion benchmarking report: An analysis of the current landscape, Bersin by Deloitte, 2014, http://bersinone.bersin.com/resources/research/?docid=17320.
6 The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Winning Over the Next Generation of Leaders, http://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennialsurvey.html.
7 Sherman Garr, Stacia, The diversity and inclusion benchmarking report: An analysis of the current landscape.
8 Bersin, Josh, Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement, Deloitte Review, Issue 16, 2015. http://dupress.com/articles/employee-engagement-strategies/.

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