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How to know if workers are engaged (don’t ask them)

Sarah K. White | Oct. 4, 2016
Employee engagement is vital for any successful business, but when one in four employees lies on engagement surveys -- and that's just the percentage who own up to it -- how can you uncover checked-out workers?

employee manager engagement
Credit: Thinkstock

A survey from Rapt Media (registration required for survey) of 400 full-time employees working at large organizations reports that 69 percent of employees are "open to other opportunities or already seeking their next jobs." And if that news has you scrambling to figure out engagement-levels within in your own office, know that one in four employees also admitted to "fibbing or outright lying" on employee engagement surveys. That means you'll need to get serious about engaging employees and fostering an environment where workers feel comfortable voicing their concerns.

Engagement isn't just in the hands of employees. Businesses are just as responsible for fostering engagement as employees are responsible for staying productive and on task. "Employee engagement comes down to companies showing employees they genuinely care about them and creating a culture that supports them, challenges them and empowers them," says Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of Lasalle Network, a recruiting and staffing agency in Chicago.

Engagement isn't just about productivity

Your worker's engagement doesn't just affect their productivity, it's dangerous when employees become "indifferent" about their work, says Erika Trautman, CEO of Rapt Media. Disengaged employees can influence those around them, creating a toxic work environment that poisons everyone. Your disengaged employees are also the ones who typically don't go above and beyond, or who might make a mistake and simply ignore reporting it, says Gimbel.

"Disengaged employees can affect an organization like a virus, poisoning the culture and wreaking disastrous results. Many of them are actively seeking new jobs and will quickly depart for a better offer. But the real damage occurs while they're still employed," says Trautman.

That toxic attitude can also seep into and affect customer and client relations, as well, says Gimbel. If your workers are so checked out they don't particularly care about customer service or getting to know clients, that could force potential business over to a competitor.

Ditch the engagement survey

But figuring out just how engaged your workforce is won't be easy. Trautman says the first step is to ditch the employee engagement survey all together. It won't give you a clear understanding of engagement in your office. Instead, she suggests holding focus groups with employees for in-person feedback.

"Rather than relying on an online survey or assessment, invest the time and resources to hold a series of employee focus groups and one-on-one interviews, preferably led by a third-party expert. If employees have the opportunity to give anonymous feedback in a conversational setting, many will provide their candid and honest input," she says.


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