Feb 22, 2020

What Really Engages Your Employees? Not What You Think

If you Google “how to engage employees,” you’ll get back approximately 376 million responses. If you Google “how to engage millennial employees,” you’ll get back approximately 970,000 results. Trusted publications like Forbes, Inc.com, CNN Money, and the Harvard Business Review have all written pieces on what you can do to lure employees to your business and how to keep them there.

Cultivating a positive team culture, allowing for flexible hours, offering creative benefits, and promoting work/life balance are all excellent pieces of advice. These are all things your employees want and will keep them engaged and productive at work. In fact, according to the Wrike Employee Engagement survey, 91% of employees feel engaged at work. Current strategies for keeping employees engaged and productive appear to be working well for the majority of those surveyed.

But what about the 9% who report feeling disengaged? Breaking the numbers down differently, 13% of workers who are individual contributors (those who do not manage any other employees) report feeling disengaged at work. Do these same strategies work to keep employees engaged when they have already checked out?

The Disconnect

The Wrike survey asked managers and executives, “Which of the following do you believe has the largest impact on your direct reports?” (Appendix 5). Out of a possible 10 reasons, 36% believed that effective team collaboration had the largest impact. 35% chose good work/life balance, 29% picked a positive work culture that promotes trust and respect between colleagues, and another 29% chose recognition for their accomplishments.

When individual contributors were asked, “What is the primary reason you’re disengaged at work?” (Appendix 7), a very different picture comes to light. According to the total responses, 45% of respondents said “I feel like my work is undervalued or unrecognized,” 36% chose “I’m not making enough money,” and 29% picked “I don’t have the tools, resources, or support I need to execute my job effectively.” 

Wrike breaks down these responses by age group as well. Interestingly, feeling unrecognized or undervalued remains the top response for every age group at 42% (Gen Z), 40% (millennial), 45% (Gen X), and 59% (baby boomers) respectively, but looking at the second and third highest response for each age group is where differences start to become apparent. 

26% of Gen Z (ages 18–22) reported feeling like they don’t have the tools, resources, or support needed, while not being paid enough came in third for this age group at 21%. Millennial-aged employees (ages 23–38) tied being undervalued or unrecognized with not being paid enough at 40% each. Put differently, that’s 80% of millennial employees feeling underpaid, undervalued, or unrecognized at work.

30% of Gen X employees (ages 39–54) report not having the tools or support they need, and 28% picked not being paid enough. This ranking matches them to Gen Z, but all 3 age groups have the same reasons listed in their top 3—just in slightly different orders. 

Baby boomers (ages 55–73) also reported not having the tools and support needed as their second-highest ranked reason for feeling disengaged (34%) but are the only group to have their third-highest ranking reason be “a poor work culture where I feel untrusted and/or disrespected by my colleagues” (29%).

If we change tactics and compare similar questions asked of managers and executives versus independent contributors, the disconnect between the groups is hard to ignore. While 36% of those in leadership believe that effective team collaboration is the key to engaging employees, only 6% of workers ranked “I struggle to collaborate effectively with others” as their primary reason for feeling disengaged. 32% of independent contributors ranked not being paid enough as their top reason for feeling disengaged, while only 19% of managers and executives believed that compensation and title were the primary reason.

How Can We Reconnect?

For starters, don’t Google “how to be a good manager”—the 4.16 billion results may be a touch overwhelming! It’s also probably not realistic to give every one of your employees an immediate raise. There is no perfect solution to being a great employee, an effective manager, or an inspiring executive. Every workplace is unique, and every business has its challenges. 

However, when was the last time you sat down and cataloged the strengths and weaknesses of your business—not in terms of your market share or your bottom line but as a workplace? If you were an employee at your business, would you be happy working there? Or would you feel underpaid, undervalued, and unrecognized?

If you want to know exactly why your employees feel engaged or disengaged, the most straightforward way to find out is simply to ask. When was the last time you surveyed your employees to find out how you can help them contribute and feel excited about the part they play in making your business a success? If you’ve surveyed them recently, how many of their suggestions have you put into place?

No matter how many articles you read on ways to increase your employee engagement, it can be distilled to a few truths: everyone wants to be treated with dignity, wants to be heard, and wants to be valued. Employees who feel valued are more likely to be engaged, productive, and contributing to your bottom line.

About the author

Robynne Edwards
Robynne Edwards
A native of sunny Southern California, Robynne now lives in the Pacific Northwest, writing and learning how to drive in the rain. She has been writing and editing since her college days at Oklahoma City University’s The Campus newspaper. When not at work, you can find her exploring her new home, experimenting in the kitchen, or curled up with a good book.

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