Declining Employee Engagement Signals an Opportunity

May 16, 2024
Mike Stallard
Employee Engagement

By Michael Lee Stallard and Katharine P. Stallard

A sobering report was released by Gallup Research recently: At 30 percent, employee engagement has hit its lowest point in over a decade, dropping an additional three points in the first quarter of 2024 from the end of 2023. That drop equates to another 4.8 million U.S. workers who are now in the “I’ll just do the basics of what I need to do” or “Why should I bother?” camp. This revelation is not just a statistic; it's a wake-up call for organizations.

Seventy percent of workers are disengaged. Within that majority are men and women who account for the seventeen percent deemed “actively disengaged.” This last group may channel their disengagement in disruptive or destructive ways. Consider the impact on any number of measures — productivity, quality control, and innovation, to name a few — if on a team of ten people, five people are ho-hum, two people are checked-out or even angry, and only three people are committed and enthusiastic.

In Gallup’s reporting in 2023, several issues related to what was driving worker disengagement were noted, including “less role clarity, lower satisfaction with their organizations and less connection to their companies’ mission or purpose”  and “less likely to feel someone at work cares about them.”

When Gallup's research reveals a downward trend in engagement levels, it's a red flag for organizations to reassess their culture and leadership practices. If the goal is to foster a thriving work environment, is what they are doing working? Do they even have a thought-out approach to improving culture? Amidst this challenge of weak engagement levels lies an extraordinary opportunity for organizations that prioritize Connection Cultures.

Overcoming Employee Engagement Challenges Through Connection Culture Principles

What is a Connection Culture, you may ask? It's more than just a buzzword; it's adopting a leadership mindset that drives practices revolving around three key elements we’ve termed as Vision, Value, and Voice. When leaders embrace pursuing both task excellence and relationship excellence through the three Vs, they create an environment in which employees feel connected, engaged, and motivated to contribute their best work. This type of culture combats widespread employee engagement woes.

Let's break down the elements of a Connection Culture:

  1. Vision: A compelling vision serves as the North Star for an organization. It's not just about profits or market share; it's about a purpose that resonates with employees. When leaders communicate an inspiring vision that serves the greater good, employees feel a sense of purpose and alignment with something meaningful. This vision goes beyond mere words; it ignites passion and drives collective efforts toward a common goal.
  2. Value: People are not interchangeable cogs in a machine; they are individuals with unique strengths, perspectives, and aspirations. Treating them in a way that makes them feel invisible or dispensable opens the door for disengagement. A Connection Culture values people as individuals, recognizing their contributions and nurturing their growth. It's about creating a culture of respect, empathy, and appreciation in which every team member feels seen, heard, and valued for who they are. A culture of connection is a culture of belonging.
  3. Voice: An essential aspect of a Connection Culture is giving people a voice. Leaders may say employees have a voice, but when employees can tell that their feedback and input is not actually wanted or won’t be considered, disengagement grows. It's not enough for leaders to listen passively; leaders must actively seek out and incorporate employee input into decision-making processes. This means creating channels for feedback, encouraging open and psychologically-safe dialogue, and empowering employees to share their opinions and ideas on matters that are important to them. When employees feel their voices are heard and valued, they become more engaged, committed, and invested in the organization's success.

Connection’s Role in Attracting and Retaining Engaged Employees

Now, let's delve into why this formula matters, especially in light of the current decline in employee engagement. In a time when so many employees feel disengaged, disconnected, and demotivated, organizations with strong Connection Cultures have a competitive advantage. They attract top talent who are not just looking for a paycheck but also for a sense of purpose, belonging, and fulfillment in their work. These organizations are magnets for high-performing individuals who thrive in environments in which they are confident they will be able to contribute meaningfully, grow professionally, and make a difference.

Moreover, Connection Cultures excel at employee retention. When people feel valued, heard, and connected to something bigger than themselves, they are more likely to stay loyal to their organization. This reduces turnover costs, boosts morale, and creates a stable, cohesive workforce that drives long-term success.

Leaders play a pivotal role in cultivating Connection Cultures. They must embody the elements of Vision, Value, and Voice in their actions, decisions, and communication. Employees can tell when leaders are paying lip service to the three Vs and aren’t actually internalizing them. For a Connection Culture to take root, these three key elements must be integrated into the fabric of the organization's culture, policies, and practices.

In conclusion, the current decline in employee engagement is a wake-up call for organizations to prioritize Connection Cultures. Guided by the framework of Vision + Value + Voice, organizations can create environments in which employees feel inspired, valued, and empowered to reach their full potential. This isn't just about data points and improving engagement scores; it's about creating a healthy, life-giving workplace culture that promotes people thriving and organizations excelling. The opportunity is here; it's time to seize it.

About the Authors

Katharine P. Stallard is a partner of Connection Culture Group and a contributing author to Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work.

Michael Lee Stallard, MBA, JD, is a thought leader, speaker and leading expert on how human connection in workplace cultures affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. In addition to Fired Up or Burned Out, he is the primary author of Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work.

Photo by Vitaly Gariev on Unsplash

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