Worker Engagement

You may have heard that ISO 9001:2015 will include a new requirement for top management to “engage” everyone that contributes to the effectiveness of the quality management system. To understand that requirement, we need to first understand what is meant by engagement.

The Quality Management Principle on Leadership states that leaders at all levels establish unity of purpose and direction, and create conditions in which people are engaged in achieving the quality objectives of the organization.

The rationale for this principle is that the creation of unity of purpose, direction, and engagement enable an organization to align its strategies, policies, processes, and resources to achieve its objectives.

In ISO/FDIS 9000:2015, 3.1.4, engagement is defined as the involvement in, and contribution to, activities to achieve shared objectives.

In ISO/FDIS 9001:2015, clause 5.1.1, top management is required to demonstrate leadership and commitment by engaging, directing and supporting persons to contribute to the effectiveness of the quality management system.

Gallup Poll
According to a Gallup poll, less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014. A majority of employees, 51%, were “not engaged” and 17.5% were “actively disengaged” in 2014.

Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Gallup categorizes workers as engaged based on their responses to key workplace elements it has found to predict important organizational performance outcomes.

Among job categories, managers, executives, and officers had the highest levels of engagement in 2014 at 38.4%. At the other end of the spectrum, employees in manufacturing or production jobs recorded the lowest levels of engagement with an average of 23%. Employees in transportation (25.5%) and service (28.2%) roles also had engagement levels that fell well below the national average.

Among the generations, traditionalists are the most engaged group, at 42.2%, possibly because the few who work do so by choice and enjoy their jobs. Millennials are the least engaged group, at 28.9%. Although the economy is improving, workers in this generation may not be getting the jobs they had hoped for coming out of college.

Gallup’s employee engagement data reveal that millennials are particularly less likely than other generations to say they “have the opportunity to do what they do best” at work. This suggests that millennials may not be working in jobs that allow them to use their talents and strengths, thus creating disengagement.

For more information on this engagement study, go to this Gallup web page.

How to Engage
According to Gallup, paid work is unsettling and energy-sapping for most people. Despite employee engagement racing up the management priority list (and even becoming an ISO 9001:2015 requirement), Gallup reports that workers who are actively disengaged outnumber their engaged colleagues by an overwhelming factor of 2:1.

However, Gallup studied 32 exemplary companies across seven industries where the engaged workers outnumbered actively disengaged workers by a 9:1 ratio.

The study identified seven elements in place at the companies with spirited employees that are notably lacking in the others. Gallup recommends these ingredients as a recipe for an engaged workforce.

1. Have involved and curious leaders who want to improve. Leaders’ own attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors have powerful trickle-down effects on their organizations’ cultures.

2. Have cracking Human Resource functions. The best HR people have a gift for influencing, teaching, and holding executives accountable. HR experts teach leaders and managers to stretch and develop employees in accordance with their natural capabilities.

3. Ensure the basic engagement requirements are met before expecting an inspiring mission to matter. When employees know what is expected of them, have what they need to do their jobs, are good fits for their roles, and feel their managers have their backs, they will commit to almost anything the company is trying to accomplish.

4. Never use a downturn as an excuse. The excuse we hear the most to explain away a lousy workplace is the state of the economy; in periods of belt-tightening, engagement inevitably takes a hit.

The exemplary companies that Gallup studied also had to respond to the poor economy with structural changes, redundancies, and declining real pay and benefits – and yet they not only maintained their strong cultures, they improved them.

They have achieved this by being open, making changes swiftly, communicating constantly, and providing hope. The truth is that employee engagement is one of the few things managers and leaders can influence in times when so much else is out of their control.

5. Trust, hold accountable, and relentlessly support managers and teams. The experiences that inspire and encourage employees are local. Strong teams are built when the teams themselves size up the problems facing them and take a hands-on approach to solving them.

6. Have a straightforward and decisive approach to performance management. The companies in the Gallup study with the highest engagement levels know how to use recognition as a powerful incentive currency. They see recognition as a powerful means to develop and stretch employees to new levels of capability.

Meanwhile, they see tolerance of mediocrity as the enemy. Any action or inaction that doesn’t produce appropriate consequences adds to workplace disillusionment and corrodes commitment.

7. Do not pursue engagement for its own sake. As it becomes increasingly possible to measure and track engagement accurately, some companies start “managing to the metric.” Great employers keep their eyes on the outcomes they need the greater engagement to achieve.

To read more about these engagement tactics, go to this Gallup web page.