Finding the cure for employee disengagement

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Employee disengagement is a concerning trend that is growing amongst many businesses globally. It has been a major challenge to organisations for more than a decade, after several research studies found a correlation between the level of employee engagement and company profit in the late 1990s. More recently, research from Gallup, through its engagement index, revealed that disengagement in the workplace is steadily growing. 

Gallup data indicates 87 per cent of employees worldwide are disengaged or actively hostile toward their employers. In the UK, the phenomenon is taking a devastating financial toll, costing the economy £340 billion in lost productivity per year according to the Hay Group.   

So, what is creating such a high level of disengagement?   

There are many factors which contribute to employee disengagement. In the past, businesses considered the manager-employee relationship as the key to employee engagement (or disengagement). Many organisations have invested heavily to combat this challenge, offering training and support for managers to help set performance expectations, promote regular feedback from employees and ensure all staff have what they need to do their jobs.   

Today, businesses must assess a new factor at play: the disconnect between employees who desire to move to contemporary work styles and the slow-to-adapt employers who are stuck in the past. This becomes even more relevant as the millennial generation is set to make up 50 per cent of the global workforce by 2025, according to research from PwC

The challenge millennials present is that their perception of how the workplace should be is often very different from their co-workers’. Having grown up around technology, many prefer to use it as their main medium of communication and expect the workplace to be fully equipped to facilitate their technology needs. According to PwC, millennials also prefer to be able to work flexible hours and from anywhere with an internet connection, not just in the office. Difficulty can come when employees live in 2017 but their workplace is stuck in 1990. The unfortunate result can be a tidal wave of discontent that affects everything from engagement to productivity. 

Who’s responsibility is it to ensure that employees are engaged?

Traditionally, this has been the responsibility of the Human Resources department – guiding workplace policies on compensation, training, culture, transparency and more. The path to improving engagement was all about fulfilling the basic needs of employees and helping managers forge connections with their teams. However, the equation of employee engagement is now much more complex, with many more factors. Teams are more distributed, and an increasing number of employees are now working remotely. This shift has changed expectations regarding connectivity and teamwork, as well as the technology required to achieve those objectives. So not only is it HR’s responsibility, but also all the business leaders in each department must understand the mechanics of creating a productive and engaging environment.   

These culture changes place an increased importance on collaboration within the workplace, which in turn translates to more meetings, more messages and less time for employees to complete essential tasks. Business leaders need to be able to streamline collaboration and reward effective contributions throughout the collaborative process to make it more effective and efficient, meaning less time sitting in irrelevant meetings and more time producing great work.      

The key to streamlining collaboration is through technology. When provided with the tools to effectively collaborate, employees will not only work more efficiently, but they are also more likely to be engaged with their work. A 2016 study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Prysm states that 71 per cent of information workers say they would be somewhat or much more likely to remain at their company if investments were made in modern, digital collaboration solutions. It makes sense, then, that organisations who fail to effectively incorporate collaboration technologies will begin to lose the battle for talent and struggle with disengaged employees.   

Today’s work environment is faster paced and more complex than ever before, and the trend is showing no signs of slowing. Increasing globalisation, mixed with the rising numbers of millennials and the emergence of mobile connectivity, has created an expectation of constant connectivity. ‘Work’ is no longer a place we go; it’s something we do. Technology has forever changed the character and essence of the workplace. 

A government-funded skill and employment survey conducted by Cardiff University has shown that almost three quarters of home workers put in more effort than was actually required to complete their tasks. In addition, 39 per cent of home workers stated they put in extra hours, compared to 24% of their office-bound counterparts. Despite this research, company policies and processes have been slow to adapt. There are still many business leaders that resist new technologies, creating a great strain in the workplace, as, ultimately, disconnected workers are frustrated workers.   

Visual workplace solutions 

New technologies that are enabling businesses to promote collaboration and connect teams include the use of visual workplace solutions. These cloud based meeting places where teams can collaborate from across the globe in real-time offer organisations the ability to save, store and organise meeting content and results, conduct more productive meetings and have the potential to not only improve engagement but also impact broader business goals.   

A recent survey by Powwownow on ‘Flexible Working in 2017’ states that an astounding 70 per cent of workers strongly believe that flexible working would make a job more attractive to them; consequently, if employers plan on hiring top talent, flexible working is an imperative. Modern technology solutions that enhance collaboration and improve an employee’s ability to work remotely have the potential to make organisations seem more attractive to prospective new hires, so it can be leveraged to secure top talent in a competitive market. 

Employee disengagement is a major challenge facing many organisations. Combating it requires creativity and flexibility, two things the modern enterprise must also drive through technology decisions. Only then will they find a cure.   

Paige O’Neill, Chief Marketing Officer at Prysm Inc. 

Image Credit: Alex Kotliarskyi / Unsplash