Employee Disengagement at All Time Low. What now?

Originally published in Internal Comms Pro.

Employee active disengagement levels are the lowest ever recorded. Martyn Perks celebrates the success and talks about what smart communicators should do next in this Internal Comms Pro exclusive. 

Every year comes with it another statement of how little employees are engaged in their work. Late last year, pollsters Gallup said in their latest workforce studythat 34 percent are focused at work, equaling their highest ever score (since the study began in 2000). 

What is more welcome about their latest figures is that those who are ‘actively disengaged’ at work is now at an all time new low of 13 percent. Encouraging news. 

This will give a boost to those responsible for figuring out how to get employees to be more engaged with their work. The consequences can be lower output, or that staff want to work elsewhere — both costly to any business. 

So what could be responsible for this slight upturn in workplace engagement? Across so many varied industries and sectors, there are some general trends at play here. 

One is how work is becoming more flexible: home working, flexible hours, and of actively making employees feel more part of the company they work for. 

If you happen to work in a factory (with limited connectivity), or always on the move, these benefits may seem far off, especially if you seldom have contact with your company’s senior management.

Thankfully help is at hand and could partly explain the upturn in engagement: the growing use of digital workplace technology platforms. 

More businesses are starting wake up to the potential of what these company-wide platforms can bring. They open up many possibilities of how to communicate, not just as a top-down broadcasting tool, but also so that employees themselves can establish their own communities; ways to keep in touch with one another; collaborate and work closely with their colleagues, through access to readily accessible tools.

These are all positive improvements, surely influencing overall work engagement. What digital workplace technologies can bring about from an internal communications perspective is in how to target discreet groups of employees with relevant content and messaging. 

It’s more possible now to bring all employees together into a common platform, unifying and making everyone more easily searchable and categorized too. 

Of course, synchronizing employee profile data is never an easy task: just speak to IT or HR who often struggle due to working with historically inaccurate data, or due to broken legacy tools.

But, finding ways round those obstacles can bring about far easier ways to standardize how how every employee is described: such as their role, skills, locations they work from, to the languages they speak. 

And for communicators, having put down such standards, means these tools can be used to find and pinpoint those employees most disengaged by creating specific campaigns just for them. 

For example, employees who might work in retail outlets and struggle to connect with the wider business goals, or direction, can now (thanks to a business-wide digital workplace platform) be targeted with appropriate communications that feels more appropriate to them.

However, we can if we’re not too careful, we can risk over-targeting employee groups too — especially those who complain of being disengaged.

It might appear counter-intuitive, but tightly tailored content to groups of employees can paradoxically have the opposite effect and mean they end up missing out on the ‘bigger picture’ — the very thing they complain they want to feel part of.

The risk is that by targeting staff too closely, they will miss out on broader, interesting content too, including ideas and issues that might lie on the periphery of what they might normally be interested in. 

Certainly as communicators, we need to better understand what staff want and do everything we can to keep them engaged in their work. 

That invariably means working even harder to help them feel part of the wider culture of each and every business we work for. That way, we can raise the bar for everyone.