The most recent State of the Global Workplace report by Gallup returned some seriously concerning numbers. In Australia and New Zealand, only 14% of workers were found to be engaged. That is to say, they demonstrate motivation, act as advocates for the company, and intend to stay in their jobs. The vast majority – 71% – were not engaged, and 15% were actively disengaged. That’s 86% who do not experience the low bar of being motivated at the activity they spend the majority of their waking lives doing. Despite a huge global spend annually on organisational development initiatives the engagement numbers haven’t significantly increased in 20 years. Which begs an obvious question: Are we thinking about employee engagement in the wrong way?
Employee engagement is a huge determining factor in company success, with highly engaged workplaces outperforming those with low engagement by 202%. Profits are higher, absenteeism is lower, and staff retention increases. In addition, factors such as workplace health and safety and customer satisfaction are positively affected by an engaged workforce. These impacts are the reasons companies care about managing engagement levels and spend billions each year trying to increase them. These efforts are not working effectively.
We know that traditional levers such as money and benefits aren’t enough to create lasting motivation or engagement. It’s now common for many companies to offer flexible working hours and remote work options, social opportunities, and benefits such as counselling services, fitness programs, and other perks in efforts to improve workplace morale. However, today’s new is tomorrow’s normal, and as working conditions have trended upwards, employee engagement has stayed flat. Rather, these benefits become the standard of expectations for work culture, signifying that employee engagement is swayed less by perks and more by a greater meaning.
Our research has found that a huge 66% of Australians value meaning over money at work. We also find that meaning and happiness are synonymous with a motivated workforce. Only by focusing on meaning at work can we make a step-change on engagement levels.
So how do we make work more meaningful? Yes, connecting to purpose and a higher goal are powerful creators of greater meaning, and it is an important element in our bubbles of meaning framework, but ongoing research confirms that 75% of people who voluntarily left their workplace didn’t quit the job – they quit their bosses. Management, and their relationships with employees, are the most critical factors involved in finding meaning at work. We believe that meaning and happiness at work is a leadership capability. Communication counts for a lot, with regular feedback from managers a constant theme among those who are highly engaged and happy at work and this is a good place to start. It can seem like a daunting subject but employers need to be opening conversations with their employees about what drives them to come to work, and what work means to them.
We understand the levers that leaders can pull to create meaningful work, but what is important to employees will differ between organisations and teams. By opening up the topic of work meaning you can learn what your staff really want out of work and shape your organisational development programs accordingly. The best way to achieving higher engagement and the long-term happiness of everyone in your organisation is by making work more meaningful.
Author: Ross Reekie, Founder of Rise