Are you engaged in your work? If your answer is no, you’re not alone. Not by a long shot! 87% of workers report low employee engagement. Now, being disengaged doesn’t necessarily mean someone is a bad employee. Disengagement can stem from several issues, many of which don’t directly have to do with performance.

(If 87% of employees globally were just bad employees, we’d be in a world of hurt.) However, research has shown a strong correlation between highly engaged employees and high performing teams.

How is employee engagement measured?

The following are the 12 questions that Gallup has developed and utilized to gauge employee engagement. More “no” answers indicate lower levels of engagement.

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  9. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do you have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  12. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

Why is employee engagement so low?

Based on this survey engagement is low because the answer to most of these questions is “no.” When you read through them again, the questions aren’t really asking about your day-to-day work. The questions are about how our basic human needs are being met through our relationship with work.

To further explain this concept, I’ll use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This idea is depicted in the pyramid below. It shows the progression of needs that we have as humans, beginning with our basic physiological needs for food, water, warmth and rest, then progressing all the way to self-actualization.

Starting from the bottom of the pyramid, one can not move on to fulfilling the next level of needs until the lower needs are being met. If an employee does not feel comfortable or has no job security, they will not really be able to move forward to pursue friendships in the workplace, nor will they be able to work toward self-actualization and reaching their full potential.

 

It seems the survey assumes that since you’re employed and have a consistent wage or salary, your basic physiological needs are being met. But each of the 12 questions can be pretty well categorized into one of these other needs.

If these needs are not met within the work environment, then it’s no wonder your employees are disengaged from their work. The engaged employee – the ideal that employers want – is the one that has reached their full potential. Full potential is at the very top of the pyramid. Employee engagement is low because the needs lower on the pyramid are not being met.

What can employers do to increase engagement?

Employers need to identify where they’re getting stuck on the pyramid. When you survey your employees, take note of which questions they are answering “no” to more than others, then think about how you need to work on your culture or structure. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Physiological Needs:

Are you paying your employees enough to cover their cost of living? Are you expecting a schedule that jeopardizes their ability to get food or rest?

Safety Needs: 

Do your employees enjoy job security? Can they be confident that they won’t be laid off or fired without warning? Is there any harassment or other inappropriate behavior happening that needs to be addressed?

Belongingness Needs: 

Is there adequate opportunity for employees to create bonds and relationships with other employees? Does  your company culture encourage interaction or do employees get punished for it?

Esteem Needs: 

Do you recognize your employees when they do something awesome? Is there a set process for promotions, bonuses, raises and recognition? Do your middle managers take good care of and communicate with your employees? Are there enough tasks to be done that each employee has the opportunity to own and accomplish something meaningful?

Self-Actualization Needs: 

Is there adequate opportunity for your employees to move up in responsibility? Do their ideas matter and get put into action? Does your organization help them reach their goals and potential or do they get squashed somewhere along the line?

What can employees do about their own engagement?

Employees should do the same type of evaluation on their engagement. Answer the 12 questions from the survey above and then compare them to the pyramid.

Physiological Needs: 

Are you able to pay your bills on time? If not, is that because of your spending habits or because you’re being underpaid?

If you feel you’re not being paid fairly and this causes you financial stress, either communicate with HR or try to find a better paying job.

Safety Needs: 

Are you confident in your role? Do you have a good, communicative relationship with your supervisor so that you can stay informed on your progress and expectations? Are you getting inappropriate attention from a coworker?

Work to create an open channel of communication with your supervisor. If you have questions, ask them when appropriate. If you’re getting inappropriate attention, communicate with HR to get it resolved as quickly as possible.

Belongingness Needs: 

Do you have people to talk to that make it more interesting to go in to work? Are you involved in a team initiative or project that makes you feel a part of something important?

Try to form some friendships at work. Instead of emailing a colleague about an issue, take a few minutes to stand up and go ask them. Invite random coworkers to lunch.

Esteem Needs: 

Do you get recognition for the times you go above and beyond? Are you familiar with your path to promotion or a raise? What ways can you go above and beyond in your role?

Figure out what you’re trying to achieve and pursue that goal. If you want a promotion, figure out exactly what it will take to get there. Communicate with your manager to let them know the steps you’re taking.

Self-Actualization Needs: 

Does your opinion matter? Do you have opportunities to work on professional development? Are you getting any value out of the skills you already have and enjoy using? Are you given any creative freedom to try and innovate in your role?

If this is the level that you’re struggling on, you’ll need to communicate more with your supervisor. Look for or ask for opportunities to grow and learn more skills. Look for areas that could improve in the organization and talk about your ideas!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what we can do to make employee engagement better, but it’s a start! How do you promote employee engagement at your organization? Or what have you done to improve your personal engagement with your work?