John Lodder: How Employee engagement grows with Shared Ownership and Authentic Leadership

My February column is a red thread: From recent Gallup research about Employee (dis)engagement and Organization Culture, via ‘Shared Ownership’ to Four Paradigm Shifts leading to Authentic Leadership and ending with Conscious Quitting. I hope it inspires you to think a bit further toward an even brighter future.

Global Employee (Dis) Engagement

Employee engagement is the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work, workplace and their leader. Gallup’s global survey of last January showed that global engagement stayed low at 21% and dis-engagement high at 19% as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Global Employee (dis)engagement.

 

At the same time we see in Figure 2 that of American employees only 21% have trust in their Leaders.

How much trust in leadership do you think there is in your company?

Figure 2: Trust in American Leadership.

6 Trends Leaders Need to Navigate This Year                          

For leaders, 2022 was defined by a war for talent and the office. Declining employee engagement and wellbeing painted a grim picture of disrupted workplaces across the world.

Some workers reevaluated their work lives, and others rethought their careers entirely. Some even took to social media and voiced their frustrations through testimonials about “quiet quitting,” and “quiet firing.”

Many workers transitioned into “hybrid work,” splitting time between working from home and the office. There were many debates about how often employees should be in the office and who should make those decisions; underneath was a lack of trust from management. Employee-employer relations cooled down. In some cases leaders demanded all workers to return on-site full time, and some employees simply ignored the rules.

Leading teams and organizations to calmer waters has never felt quite like this.

Continues economic headwinds on the horizon and low consumer confidence brought a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the workplace. One thing is certain: 

How we work and live has changed … and we must adapt!

So, what’s next for 2023 and on what should leaders focus their efforts?

Gallup offers 6 most important findings of 2022 to follow in the new year:

1. The employee engagement decline continues.

 Figure 3: Employee engagement and Best Practices.

Employee engagement is critical to the productivity, morale, development and retention of every organization’s workforce. Engaged employees are investing in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace, they consistently outperform and stay longer than less-engaged employees.

Employee engagement in the U.S. had been steadily increasing for a decade when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Amazingly, engagement continued to reach record highs in 2020 amid efforts to save businesses and support employees. But as the pandemic wore on and leadership efforts waned, engagement began to decline in mid-2021.

By early 2022, U.S. employee engagement slumped to a seven-year low with 32% of employees engaged and 17% actively disengaged at work. The decline continued throughout 2022 as engagement levels remained relatively unchanged.

Looking forward, the stagnation of employee engagement is one of the biggest threats to organizations and entire economies as we transition to 2023 and beyond. Gallup research has long tied engagement to important organizational outcomes, such as profitability, productivity, customer service, retention, safety and wellbeing.

In fact, employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity (11% of global GDP) last year, according to Gallup’s ‘State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report’: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.aspx

The good news?

Organizations dedicated to improving employee engagement have long weathered these storms and outperformed their less-engaged competitors in the process as you can see in Figure 3.

Not only can progress be made on engagement in 2023, but our Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award winning organizations currently cultivate more than twice as many engaged employees as the national average.

2. Hybrid work is here to stay -- the office will never be the same.

 Figure 4: Work locations of US employees.

In 2023, the “Great Global Work-From-Home Experiment” will likely find its equilibrium. Approximately 56% of U.S. full-time employees are remote-capable, and about half of those employees are now working as hybrid workers. Only two in 10 are fully on-site, and a mere 6% of remote-capable workers want to be fully on-site going forward. Long term, organizations are planning for their remote-capable workforce to include:

  • 55% hybrid workers
  • 22% fully remote workers
  • 23% fully on-site workers

Despite some leaders’ wishes, remote work flexibility is here to stay.

Nearly one-third of hybrid workers and six in 10 fully remote workers say they would be “extremely likely” to look for opportunities with other organizations if their employer decides not to offer remote work flexibility in the future.

Going forward, asking employees where they work best will be an important piece to the “making hybrid working work” puzzle. When their preferred work location does not match their actual location, employees are substantially less engaged, more likely to burn out and more likely to leave their employer.

Hybrid teams must also learn to coordinate their schedules in a way that optimizes team collaboration and ensures customer needs are met. Gallup recently discovered that hybrid workers are most engaged when their team (vs. the company or individuals) collaboratively sets work schedules and policies.

This follows the growing trend in organizations that work with self-managing and/or autonomous teams.

3. Don’t confuse being in the office with culture.  Figure 5: Connection to organization culture.

One of Gallup’s most striking findings from 2022 was that hybrid workers feel closer to their organization’s culture than do fully on-site workers. This challenges the idea that “the office” is synonymous with “culture.” In-person interactions are powerful, but hybrid workers are likely getting something else, more intentional in-person experiences and online experiences.

They may also feel that, when they are given greater flexibility, their organization cares about and trusts them more, which strengthens the bond with their employer.

Hybrid work can help move organizations out of a “default mode” and clarify employer and employee expectations.

Today’s new hybrid workplace will challenge many leaders to reinvent the meaning, purpose and experience of their workplace culture. They will have to redefine the “why” and “how” behind their work strategies, practices and norms. Above all, leaders should involve employees more to make them feel more included in what that new culture will be. After all, a workplace culture is ultimately defined by “how we work together.”

4. The hybrid workplace will challenge managers in new ways.

 Figure 6: About Hybrid managers.