How to Keep Your Employees Engaged, According to Research

March 27, 2017

Research by Gallup on how to keep employees motivated and engaged.

Since 2000, Gallup has been the leading authority on employee engagement. Their findings on the subject are touted in high-profile outlets like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and cited by experts in Ted Talks.

Why is Gallup so trusted? How exactly do they determine what percentage of employees are engaged – i.e., are truly motivated in their jobs? And, most importantly, what can organizations do to improve the motivation of their employees, according to Gallup's findings?

Well, in their most recent report, Gallup detailed the 12 elements that determine employee engagement and gave best practices for mastering at each one. Let’s run through them all.

1. Employees need to know what’s expected of them at work.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 40% of American employees strongly agreed with this statement.
  • If that number increased to 80%, Gallup predicts organizations would realize a 14% reduction in turnover, a 20% reduction in safety incidents and a 7% increase in productivity.
  • Only 41% of employees agree that their job description aligns with the work they do. But employees who believe that their job description aligns with the work they do are 2.5 times more likely than other employees to be engaged.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Leadership clearly defines organizational goals.
  • From that, managers clearly define their team’s goals, as well as each employee’s goals.
  • Managers frequently provide feedback to help employees achieve those goals.

2. Employees need the materials and equipment to do their job.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 30% of American employees believe they have the materials and equipment to do their job.
  • If that number increased to 60%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize an 11% increase in profitability, a 32% reduction in safety incidents and a 27% improvement in quality.
  • Of the 12 elements, this one has the strongest correlation to workplace stress. People who don’t believe they have the resources needed to achieve their goals tend to quickly get frustrated.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • They ask employees what they need and do their best to accommodate that.
  • Managers advocate for employees when additional funding is required.
  • If a resource cannot be provided, the organization clearly communicates why not to the employee.

3. Employees want to feel like they can do their best work.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 40% of American employees believe they are put in a position to do their best work.
  • If that number increased to 80%, Gallup predicts organizations would see an 8% increase in customer engagement scores, a 14% increase in profitability and a 46% reduction in safety incidents.
  • Gallup has found this one stat correlates strongest with turnover. When organizations and managers focus on playing to employees’ strengths, they both increase retention and their ability to recruit going forward.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Managers work with employees to uncover their strengths and then build roles around those.
  • Managers acknowledge the unique value each employee brings to their team.
  • Organizations accommodate lateral moves for employees who have identified roles that better fit their strengths.

4. Employees want recognition for a job well done.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 30% of American employees said they received positive recognition in the past seven days.
  • If that number increased to 60%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize a 24% improvement in quality, a 27% reduction in absenteeism and a 10% reduction in stolen office supplies.
  • Employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely as those who do feel adequately recognized to say they'll quit in the next year.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Managers learn how their employees like to receive recognition and provide it in that manner.
  • Managers just don’t praise an employee’s good work, but also explain why the work helps the organization achieve its goals.
  • It isn’t just supervisors recognizing employees. Winning companies build positive cultures where colleagues, subordinates and cross-functional partner all recognize each other.

5. Employees want to know that their boss cares about them as a person.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 40% of American employees believe that their supervisor cares about them as a person.
  • If that number increased to 80%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize an 8% improvement in engaged customers, a 32% reduction in safety incidents and a 41% reduction in absenteeism.
  • The more an employee feels like their boss cares about them as a person, the more likely they are to experiment with new ideas, share information and support colleagues.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Leadership encourages managers to get to know their employees and be willing to talk to them about work and personal situations, when appropriate.
  • Respect and integrity to all employees are core values at these organizations and are enforced rigorously.

6. Employees want organizations that care about their development.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 30% of American employees believe someone at work cares about their career development.
  • If that number increased to 60%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize a 6% improvement in engaged customers, an 11% improvement in profitability and a 28% reduction in absenteeism.
  • This isn’t strictly about promotions. Gallup found employees want to be put in situations that best take advantage of their skills, which isn’t always a promotion.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Managers have career conversations with employees and work to achieve not just the team’s goals, but also individual goals.
  • Development goals are clearly defined and managers provide feedback to employees to help them achieve those goals.
  • Employees are given opportunities to learn new skills.

7. Employees need to know their voices are heard.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 30% of American employees believe their opinion matters.
  • If that number increased to 60%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity.
  • Not only does this lead to more engaged employees, Gallup found teams that make decisions collaboratively vastly outperform managers that make decisions unilaterally.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Managers reject the “know-it-all” mindset and promote open, creative dialogue.
  • If an employee proposes an idea, the idea is either tested or, if it is rejected, employees are given a clear explanation of why.
  • Managers proactively ask employees their ideas or opinions on decisions and strategies and hold brainstorming sessions that encourage employees to give ideas.

8. Employees want to work for a organization that has a higher purpose, beyond making money.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 40% of American employees said the mission or purpose of their organization makes their job feel important.
  • If that number increased to 80%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism, a 50% drop in patient safety incidents and a 33% improvement in quality.
  • For millennials, this is among the strongest drivers of retention.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Leadership sets the vision and purpose of the organization and discusses how all their efforts fit within that.
  • Each manager understands and explains how their team fits within that greater purpose and the role the team plays.
  • Leadership creates opportunities for employees to share stories and mission moments that reemphasize that mission.

9. Employees need to know their colleagues are committed to the organization.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 30% of American employees believe their colleagues are committed to doing quality work.
  • If that number increased to 60%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize a 29% reduction in turnover and absenteeism, an 11% improvement in profit and a 6% increase in engaged customers.
  • Employees were most frustrated when they saw high-potential colleagues doing just enough to get by, as opposed to giving their best.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Managers establish clear performance standards for all members of the team and hold all members accountable to those.
  • Managers provide feedback to employees when work isn’t their best.
  • If an employee is working with someone in another department who is doing subpar work, their manager lets that person’s manager know so, the problem can be rectified.

10. Employees want to have friends at work.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 20% of American employees said they have a best friend at work.
  • If that number increased to 60%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize 36% fewer safety incidents, 7% more engaged customers and 12% higher profit.
  • While often criticized, Gallup found strong friendships at work directly relates to significantly increased employee performance and decreased turnover.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Organizations should provide occasional team-building events, where colleagues can interact socially.
  • Employees should be encouraged to share personal stories about themselves, when appropriate.

11. Employees want to know where they stand with their employer.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 30% of American employees said they someone at work has talked to them about their progress in the past six months.
  • If that number increased to 60%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize 34% fewer safety incidents, 26% less absenteeism and 11% higher profit.
  • This isn’t just about reviews – success in this metric comes down to what happens between performance reviews.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • The best managers don’t wait for performance reviews to give feedback. They give feedback throughout the year so employees know where they stand.
  • Goals are clear so employees can easily track their progress. Managers should check in with their employees regularly and see how they are measuring against that progress.

12. Employees want a place where they can learn and grow.

Key findings from Gallup:

  • 40% of American employees said they have opportunities to learn and grow at work.
  • If that number increased to 80%, Gallup predicts organizations could realize 44% less absenteeism, 41% fewer safety incidents and 16% higher productivity.
  • Gallup found among the least engaged employees are people who do the same tasks day after day. The most engaged employees experiment and are given opportunities outside their regular job to improve their skills.

What the best do, according to Gallup:

  • Managers positively challenge employees to be better and achieve more.
  • Employees are given short-term goals that help foster their long-term development. An example would be an employee improving their project management skills so they can take on project management responsibilities moving forward.
  • The organization provides both learning resources to employees and time to take advantage of those resources.

Tying it all together

Getting all 12 of these factors right can feel overwhelming. Although, chances are there are areas you are strong in, meaning that only a few areas need work.

Rather than trying to fix all those weaknesses at once, take a couple of them at a time, as research shows it’s better to focus. Doing that, you’ll be able to improve your employees’ engagement level, and have a more motivated, higher performing workforce.

Want to see how much the cost of disengagement is costing your company? Download our interactive calculator today to find out.

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