Last Updated Oct 29, 2011 4:04 PM EDT
That was a question that came to mind as I reviewed the 2011 Employee Engagement Trends Report published by People Metrics, a consulting firm. Employee engagement has long been cited as a key driver of workplace productivity and so its study is something of a cottage industry.
The new People Metrics study contains a section that offers three theories on current trends in employee engagement. Each reflects the impact of the recession on employees and therefore is worthy of exploration.
Theory One: Relativity. In 2007 the last time People Metrics conducted this study "most employees had a friend, neighbor, family member or colleague who had job-hopped for more pay, better benefits or a promotion." Today that same colleague may know folks who have been laid off and are out of work. Hence, the grass is not greener so I am happy staying where I am now.
Theory No. 2: Employee coping. Hard times have enabled people to develop new forms of motivation. "In the face of change and uncertainty, many employees may have chosen to self-motivate by finding emotional fulfillment rather than depending upon physical rewards." Also, research into post-decision making cited in this survey shows that employees weighing a new job want to weigh many factors but once they have committed to staying fewer options compel the employee to "come to terms with their present environment."
Theory No. 3: Improvement in company performance. The number of "actively disengaged employees" has remained steady for four years but the study postulates that the corporate environment is improvement because underperforming companies have gone well, under. Therefore the pool of companies surveyed is more robust and as a result 8 in 10 employees surveyed today say "their organization has a great reputation." Such feelings for the organization are bound to make employees feel more positive about their workplace.
So are employees hanging around because they have to or do they like where they are? I think it's fair to conclude, based on this survey that it's a bit of both. Yes employees are remaining in place because of limited options but they have learned to like it more as well as the organizations that employ them.
Studies such as this show that employees are a resilient lot. They have been through tough times and downsizing and have persevered. Employees in the workplace today are survivors. But they have done more than survive; they are productive. Economic studies show that a key reason why unemployment rates remain high is because employees can do more - much more - with less.
The one thing companies cannot do with less, however, is grow. They will need to add employees and when they do how employees feel about their employer will matter more. Engagement becomes a critical factor in whether an employee stays or leaves if there is a viable alternative.
People Metrics' research cites a key driver of employee engagement: purpose. Quite simply when employees know their jobs and know that they are making a positive difference they feel more motivated and more committed to their work.
Few companies can over look such a factor, in good times or in bad. Organizations today need everyone to pull together in the same direction and with the same intention.
Disclaimer: It is largely an urban legend that frogs will stay put when placed in pans of rapidly rising water temperatures. They will soon enough hop out. [Hope enough for HR manager seeking to persuade their bosses to commit time and resources to improving employee engagement scores.]
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