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28 Mar. 2012 | Comments (0)

The financial crisis has brought forth new challenges in employment trends. The most recent issue of The Conference Board Labor Markets in Review highlights several themes: the global economy continues to struggle, resulting in unemployment remaining in the 8 to 9 percent range in the United States through 2012, and increasing pressure on companies to reduce labor costs to boost weak profits. Companies have been pushing employees to “do more with less.”  These economic trends frame the challenges for talent management professionals.

It’s not surprising that engagement is on everyone’s mind. The Conference Board introduced a new publication, Human Capital in Review: Focus on Employee Engagement. In this quarterly issue, the overall trends are not positive: employee engagement is down across the board.  According to a new study from Globoforce, more people were looking to leave their companies in September 2011 (38 percent) than in February 2011 (36 percent). Similarly, workers’ feelings of appreciation are also down from 39 percent in February to 32 percent in September.  A Mercer report cited, over the last five years, U.S. employees have become less committed to their employers, and are becoming less satisfied with their work experience. As a result, one in three U.S. workers is seriously considering leaving his or her organization.

Many companies are struggling to assess engagement in a meaningful way, and at the same time, the trend of using employee engagement as one measure of organizational “success” is increasing.  Executives are wondering about the moods, minds, and hearts of their employees. Companies are collecting more ‘data’, though executives are confused or uncertain as to what to do with employee engagement results and how to improve the levels of engagement.

There are several new reports that analyze, measure, and uncover what some companies are doing with their employee engagement scores. The Conference Board released a new report, Employee Engagement in a VUCA World: A Review of Current Research and Its Implications. This report summarizes possible drivers, global trends, impacts on business outcomes, strategies for raising engagement, and a road map for the future.  Another interesting study by the International Business and Economics Research Journal emphasized that wage is not an influencing factor on the motivation and satisfaction for “highly motivated” employees. Several summaries identify catalysts and drivers that can help improve employee engagement, such as: value employees for more than their work, secure senior leader buy-in, give managers the tools to deliver effective feedback, cultivate a culture of trust and respect, and create meaning in work—not mission statements. Other research identified factors that correlate strongest with increased engagement as individual supervisors, followed by the amount of employee communication.  The factors leading to decreases in engagement are poor morale, poor management/leadership, and individual supervisors.

While talent management executives appear to be paying more attention to issues of employee engagement, are companies really responding?  Given the tough economic climate, companies appear to be choosing to focus on profit margins and productivity, rather than employee engagement.  As an example, research does support that employees do not leave jobs, they leave managers.  If companies truly embraced the high impact that managers have on teams, then companies should consider improving their managers’ and leaders’ capabilities as a high priority effort to enhance employee engagement.  But, is that what we are seeing in the industry?

View our complete listing of Employee Engagement blogs. 

  • About the Author:Amy Lui Abel, PhD

    Amy Lui  Abel, PhD

    Amy Lui Abel is Vice President of Human Capital Research at The Conference Board. She leads research efforts focusing on human capital analytics, leadership development, labor markets, strategic …

    Full Bio | More from Amy Lui Abel, PhD


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