Despite rising employee engagement in the United States, more than half of American employees still aren’t engaged at work.
These workers probably seem fine externally, but internally, they’re emotionally disconnected from their peers, managers and daily responsibilities. And the rapid shift to a remote workforce — combined with the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on employees — is only exacerbating these feelings.
Given that depression and anxiety cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion dollars in lost productivity every year (which will likely increase as a result of the pandemic), now is the time to lean into the challenge of cultivating an engaged workforce and strong employee experience.
The Problems with EX
Employee experience (EX) is defined as the level of emotional connection an employee feels with their company. Interactions with coworkers and managers, company policies and processes, and the types of technologies in place at their organization all shape the quality of an employee’s emotional connection.
Before the pandemic, we heard from many of our customers who experienced high turnover rates. In their exit interviews, employees often said no one helped them understand why their work mattered. They also cited feeling underappreciated for their efforts, or that they didn’t see a path for career growth at the company.
While most workers aren’t considering voluntarily leaving their organization amid today’s economic uncertainty, the feelings associated with a negative employee experience don’t disappear during a pandemic. And the impact on productivity can cost you. According to a survey conducted the first of week April, 62% of workers reported losing at least one hour a day in productivity due to COVID-19-related stress, with 32% losing more than two hours per day. Add in EX-related stress, like employees not understanding the point of their jobs, and you’re looking at major productivity losses. The pandemic may be largely out of employers’ control, but the employee experience is an issue they can and should be tackling, especially when dealing with a remote workforce.
Employees who feel engaged with their work and peers are driven to perform better, while disconnected employees are more likely to do the bare minimum. A Gallup study found that companies with highly engaged employees experience a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity. On the other hand, disengaged employees can cost companies up to $550 billion per year.
Understanding the Inspiration and Alignment Relationship
In the old days, most people got a job after college — and stayed there. They spent decades working their way up the ladder, then retired. Employers didn’t have to do much to keep people happy and prevent turnover because employees didn’t really expect much more from them than a paycheck and the promise of long-term employment. But things have changed.
Younger generations, especially Millennials, are no longer satisfied with the status quo. Gallup data reveals how millennials, often criticized as job hoppers, are actually just as likely to be loyal to their employers as any other generation — they simply want more out of the workplace experience. They’re looking for opportunities to learn and grow, a sense of purpose in their work, supportive managers and clear paths for advancement. Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, many employers still haven’t gotten it quite right. Organizations typically fall into one of four EX categories:
- Inspired and aligned: The employees at these companies feel connected to one another, appreciated for their efforts, and inspired to do their best work. They’re also given opportunities for meaningful growth and impact, making them closely aligned with their company’s vision and goals.
- Inspired, but unaligned: Employees at these organizations are often inspired by their company’s strong, supportive culture, but their daily work isn’t aligned with their company’s vision. There’s little room for them to make an impact or advance in their careers.
- Aligned, but uninspired: In contrast, employees at these companies regularly perform work that’s aligned with their company’s goals, but they’re not excited about their company’s vision, nor do they feel connected to their peers and managers. They often do the bare minimum required to get by.
- Unaligned and uninspired: These flailing organizations’ employees are unmotivated and off track. They lack the feelings of connection, growth, appreciation and impact fundamental to a healthy employee experience. They already have one foot out the door and are highly likely to quit within the year.
We’ve found that most companies are operating in one of the bottom three categories. Don’t get me wrong — they’re often the ones sincerely working to improve the employee experience. They offer perks they think their employees want and experiences they believe set them apart from competitors. But, no matter how well-intentioned, these benefits don’t drive positive EX.
Instead, employers should focus on promoting connection, growth, appreciation and meaningful impact to spur inspiration and alignment among their employees. These drivers are especially important as companies grapple with stay-at-home orders that magnify feelings of disconnection and detachment.
Keep your employees connected beyond simply providing the collaboration tools that enable remote work. Events previously hosted in the office, like book clubs or trivia nights, can still be organized virtually. Check in regularly with direct reports to ensure they’re feeling appreciated and supported remotely. And while opportunities for growth may be at a standstill right now, let employees know that their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Offering resources like LinkedIn Learning to encourage upskilling and training tells employees you’re dedicated to their career advancement.
The future of work is being redefined before our eyes. An engaged workforce and strong employee experience are critical for supporting thriving employees — and thriving businesses — no matter their location.