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Written by Gillion Vaughn
on January 18, 2018

 31 Million People Tell You How to Fuel Enthusiasm at Work

This blog is based off of an ongoing Gallup meta study, “The State of the American Workplace”. The study has spanned seven years with three editions since 2010, and has had a total of 31 million respondents. This is important, because there are very few studies that have such a deep well of data and insightful information to explore.


“Dive in — don’t put your toe in. You can afford a lot of mistakes and even failures because the system you currently use doesn’t work anyway.”

--Jim Clifton, Gallup CEO on taking steps to improve workplace engagement

Because of its reach, it has been able to identify a lot of meaningful and statistically valid trends in the modern workforce. The fact is, that people want and expect different things from their jobs than they did 50 or even 15 years ago. This surely doesn’t surprise you, but it’s interesting to discover what those changes really mean. The study focuses on all generations who are currently working, with an emphasis on the needs of millennials since this generation is currently taking over the modern workforce. The fact is that they already make up over a third of the workforce, and they’ll make up 75% of it by 2025. So what millennials want is extremely important for companies to understand and start implementing NOW.

While the data is based off of American employees, don’t think it can’t apply to your country. A lack of employee engagement is an international problem. According to the poll, only a third of American employees are engaged at work, and a measly 13% of employees are engaged worldwide. So, if you are sitting at a desk in another country, you can imagine that your situation is either similar or worse in comparison to the one we discuss here. The meta study currently concludes that the entire world is in the middle of “an employee engagement crisis” and states,

“The majority of employees (51%) are not engaged and haven't been for quite some time.”

Unfortunately, engagement numbers have stagnated over the last 15 years. Since the study has 31 million respondents and has spanned 7 years, it has been able to make a lot of insightful, data-based conclusions about what companies can do to improve engagement, and why they need to improve it, stating that,

“Organizations have nowhere to hide. They have to adapt to the needs of the modern workforce, or they will find themselves struggling to attract and keep great employees and therefore customers.”

The ultimate goal of the Gallup workplace poll is to help managers and directors to “cut through the clutter” and understand what they can realistically do to engage a modern workforce.

In this blog post, we will highlight some of their main findings and discuss the data as we offer some explanations of what a modern workforce expects, and what companies can do to increase engagement.

31 million people have spoken, and the results are in. Here’s a list of 7 things a company can do or offer to increase engagement.

  1. Flexible working hours

The idea that people need to be in an office from 9-5 Monday through Friday is becoming increasingly outdated. Hopefully, you have created a culture and an environment where employees enjoy showing up to the office, but it can be exhausting and cut into work life balance when employees are supposed to be on premise 40 hours a week. The fact is that with modern communication technologies we can easily get work done remotely and still be in full contact with our colleagues. Giving people the option to work from home or to chose their own hours every day can also contribute to a greater feeling of well being and reduced stress. A job that enables good work life balance is more important to millenials than is is to previous generations. According to the study,

“Increasingly, people want to be able to adjust their hours and schedules as needed and work remotely when they can without compromising work quality or productivity...51% of employees say they would switch to a job that allows them flextime, and 37% would switch to a job that allows them to work off-site at least part of the time.”

The study also concludes that flexible scheduling and work-from home opportunities can play a major role in the decision to work for your company or not.

2. Clarify your values

Interestingly, the study found that, in comparison to baby boomers, it is increasingly important for millennials to find real satisfaction and meaning from their work. A part of this means that your company needs to have clear and relatable values that employees can actually stand behind. With an increased awareness of how companies impact the environment and society around them, millennials aren’t as willing to work for companies that conduct themselves on capitalistic principles alone.

“The modern workforce knows what's important to them and isn't going to settle. Employees are willing to look and keep looking for a company that's mission and culture reflect and reinforce their values.”

It’s define what your company believes in, and to make it something worthwhile.

3. Give compelling reasons to stay

15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future. That isn’t an impressive figure. It reflects the fact that most of your employees probably feel indifferent about working for you. Afterall, are you really giving them compelling reasons to stay? Is a future with you really all that exciting? The meta study states that,

“91% of people say the last time they changed jobs, they left their company to do so.”

To put it bluntly, they just aren’t that into you. There is nothing more expensive than losing and replacing your best talent. As a matter of fact, talent is what literally keeps your company running. So ask yourself, are you giving them good reason to stick around? The data would indicate that there is a good chance you aren’t.

Let employees see a profitable, scalable and fulfilling future with you, and your best talent will be inspired to stick around.

4. Leadership needs to communicate clearly

13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. Again, this is a rather grim figure. Leadership needs to find ways to communicate the vision, values and mission of a company. They also need to know how to communicate clearly on the every day tasks so that people really understand what their job is, what is expected and how to work efficiently. Maybe that sounds like a no brainer, but if only 13% of those 31 million respondents are really feeling the vibe, then there is obviously a massive disconnect somewhere.

How does leadership communicate in your company? Have you done an employee survey lately to discover if everyone feels that it’s really working? Maybe it’s a good time to find out.

5. Survey to create cultural pillars

“Leaders must determine how they can take employee engagement from a survey to a cultural pillar that improves performance.”

It’s well known that employee surveys ‘should be done’, but the emphasis should be on what you do with the results and what you hope to obtain. Shift the lens from thinking about small essential improvements to thinking about creating new ”cultural pillars” that define who you are as a company.

The attitude that we should simply survey for employee satisfaction needs to be replaced with the goal of surveying to actively improve our company cultures in meaningful ways that actually help our employees to be more engaged and do a better job in the long run.

6. Provide job stability and security

If your employees feel like they may not have their jobs in a year due to the unpredictability of your company, then you can only imagine that this seriously dampens their level of commitment to your mission. Employees today want to work in companies with solid footing; companies that have real potential to grow. We mentioned earlier that only 13% of employees actually feel optimistic about their future with their company, and this relates to the fact that the more stable they think the organization is, the more likely they are to see a future with it. You need to be able to show that your organization has the potential for real growth and that you have been able to survive and thrive in hard times. They need to know the story, not just that you have survived for X years, but solid examples of how you have grown and faced challenges.

Today’s millennials have seen a series of difficult economic times growing up, they know what those hard times can do to families, individuals and economies. You need to be able to show, with concrete evidence, that your workplace is a safe and stable environment that is worth investing time and effort into. Employees demand stability.

“Employees need to hear a story that resonates with them -- one that is unique, genuine and compelling.”

7. Create clear opportunities for raises

Studies show that the people who make the most money in their careers are the ones who switch jobs every two to three years. If you are in management and investing a lot of time and money into acquiring and keeping talent, that isn’t great news. According to Forbes, staying in the same organization for more than two years adds up to making 50% less over the course of your career. The meagre 3% raise that employees can expect on average often translates to 1% when adjusted with average inflation rates. Sure, you can always rationalize that you can “just find someone else” but if you’ve done a cost analysis recently on what it costs you to onboard, train, maintain, lose a valuable employee, keep a position empty and then repeat- then you know that one of the most expensive moments a company faces is when it loses talent. Do you see how being more generous with raises can actually save you money and increase productivity and quality in the long run?

The fact is that, even when people love their jobs, money is important. “Roughly four in 10 employees (41%) say a significant increase in income is "very important" to them when considering a new job.” Also, more millennials and Gen Xers rate clear raise opportunities as "very important" in a job search in comparison to baby boomers.

What if you offered more competitive raises and clearer structures for getting them? When you hire a new person, you should discuss a clear structure for how your company deals with raises, and it is important that they are available to everyone. Keep in mind that not everyone is going to be a manager eventually, no matter how good they are at their jobs. Old structures would say that promotions are tied to raises, but the fact is that you need to have ways of compensating employees for their skill and hard work even if they aren’t in a position to be shooting up the ladder.

Organizations should highlight compensation for candidates and ensure they have real conversations about pay structure and potential during interviews. 

31 million agree

The take home message that we can get from over a decade worth of data and tens of thousands of respondents, is that the modern workforce is changing, and employers need to be able to evolve with modern expectations. If employers are unable to keep up with these changes now, they will find it harder and harder to find and maintain the quality talent that they need to drive business forward in the future.

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