More than half a dozen clients I’m consulting with currently tell me retention is a top priority for them. Indeed, they feel like they are constantly trading employees among their competitors, usually over a few dollars extra in pay. Yet, when an employee’s decision to stay or go comes down to a small difference in the amount of money in their paycheck, you know you’re in trouble as an organization.
A recent Dale Carnegie survey showed (unsurprisingly) that disengaged employees are more likely to leave the company for a pay raise than engaged employees are – 26% of engaged employees said they would be willing to leave their current position for just a 5% pay raise vs. 46% of partially engaged employees and 69% of disengaged employees.
Engagement matters. And not just to retention, but to employee ability and willingness to contribute to the success of the company. In an interview with Jim Harter, Gallup’s Chief Scientist, Fast Company summarized the state of employee engagement in the United States as below.
“Over the past year, Gallup researchers interviewed nearly 150,000 workers--people in all states and industries--and discovered that a stunning number are miserable in their jobs. More specifically, only 30% of the nation’s working population today admits to being fully engaged at work. While Gallup encouragingly notes that there’s been a slight improvement to engagement since the Great Recession, it’s hard to cheer when you realize 52% of Americans admit to being disengaged in their jobs, and another 18% to being actively disengaged.
“To fully comprehend these grim stats, imagine a crew team out on the Potomac River where three people are rowing their hearts out, five are taking in the scenery, and two are trying to sink the boat. It’s hard to conceive how businesses can thrive when so few people are working to move it forward.”
I particularly appreciated that illustration of what this level of disengagement looks like. Employee disengagement is not just a statistic in your company. It’s a measure of how many employees are actively working to sink the ship. But it’s not this group of actively disengaged employees I think we should be most concerned about. This group is easy to solve – help them exit from your organization.
The middle group – the ones just “taking in the scenery” – should be where our attention as HR pros must be focused. This group of employees can be more easily swayed either way – into engagement or active disengagement. While increased compensation may be a short-term solution to increase their engagement, it won’t last. As soon as they become accustomed to that level of pay, the majority will be seeking yet more again.
That’s why engagement must be driven from a deeper source of intrinsic motivation. There are many factors of intrinsic motivation, the greatest being making progress in meaningful work (according to extensive research published in The Progress Principle). Take a look at your employee value proposition. In the vast majority, I’m sure contributing to a bigger picture is a key component. Employees deeply need this understanding that their efforts are advancing a greater vision.
The good news, this is relatively easy to do. Proactively notice and appreciate, in a specific and detailed way, when your employees or colleagues demonstrate your values in their work. Let them know regularly and frequently how their individual, daily efforts are helping you, the team, clients or the organization achieve the greater vision.
Give them a reason, beyond compensation, to engage deeply in your organization…and stay.
As Globoforce’s Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. His articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.