A new Global Workforce Study by global professional services company Towers Watson reveals that almost two-thirds (63 percent) of U.S. workers are not fully engaged in their work and are struggling to cope with work situations that don’t provide sufficient support. This finding suggests employees are finding it difficult to sustain the kind of positive connection to their companies that yields consistent productivity — the result of almost a decade of pressure to do more with less and respond to the challenges of global competition, ever-evolving technology and the ongoing need for strict cost management.
“When workers are not fully engaged, it leads to greater performance risk for employers. It makes companies more vulnerable to lower productivity, higher inefficiency, weaker customer service and greater rates of absenteeism and turnover,” said Julie Gebauer, managing director of talent and rewards for Towers Watson. “Without attention and interventions aimed at improving on-the-job support for employees and creating a sense of attachment to the organization, this trend could worsen—and directly affect business outcomes. Companies have known for years that employee engagement is important to business performance. We’re now seeing—in part because of the tough business climate—that engagement is quite fragile and will not be sustained over time without careful attention to very specific elements in the work environment.”
The study breaks new ground in understanding and measuring what contributes to sustained employee engagement in the workplace today and demonstrates the strength of the relationship between “sustainable engagement” and specific financial outcomes for employers.
“Sustainable engagement is an important evolution in the science of workforce behavior—and it’s an approach well suited to the unique aspects of the current work environment,” said Laura Sejen, global practice leader of rewards for Towers Watson. “It recognizes that employees need support from their employer to continue to give discretionary effort on the job, and right now, employees are telling us they’re not getting that support in the way and at a level they need.
Sustainable engagement starts with basic engagement, defined as employees’ willingness to expend discretionary effort on their job. It also requires enablement—having the tools, resources and support to do their job effectively, as well as energy, through a work environment that actively supports employees’ well-being.
“Enablement and energy are critical factors in this equation,” Gebauer said. “In the last several years, when we’ve seen much more pressure in the system, their importance has risen to the fore. Engagement will only hold over time with these elements in place.”
The Towers Watson study used a specific set of questions to measure and classify respondents as to their level of sustainable engagement. Overall, the study showed that only 37 percent of U.S. workers are highly engaged in a sustainable way, meaning they scored high on all three elements of sustainable engagement. Just over one-quarter (27 percent) are classified as unsupported, meaning they display traditional engagement, but lack the enablement and/or energy required for sustainable engagement. Thirteen percent are detached, meaning they feel enabled and/or energized but are not willing to go the extra mile. And almost one-quarter (23 percent) are completely disengaged, with less favorable scores for all three aspects of sustainable engagement.
“There is a real imperative for change right now. The risks of continuing to manage with traditional practices are just too great from a performance perspective. And everyone in an organization has a role to play in helping close gaps in employees’ feelings of enablement and energy—from executives, to supervisors, to human resources, to employees themselves,” Gebauer said. “By taking actions to address identified gaps, organizations will be able to move some of the unsupported and detached to engaged—and likely experience a measurable and positive impact on financial performance.”