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CIPD Study: Employees Neutrally Engaged
Submitted by Leslie Allan on August 31st, 2012
On-the-job coaching, conducting personal development discussions and regularly providing constructive performance feedback are consistently spoken about as powerful instruments of engagement and of performance improvement. Yet, they persist as a sort of managerial Achilles’ heel: Even when employees get along well with their immediate managers and even when employees are well informed about the organization’s purpose, the poor execution or total absence of this troika of people-management actions continue to block the way to the golden fleece of employee engagement.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently (June 2012) completed an online survey into the question of employee engagement, polling a sample of 285,000+ respondents from private, public and voluntary organizations that would be generally representative of the UK workforce. This study is a follow-up on earlier studies and provides useful comparative data to the studies undertaken in the spring of 2012 and the winter of 2011.
The concept of “engagement” in this study goes beyond the conventional job satisfaction indices, in recognition of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational and commitment factors. These factors include good work-life balance; knowledge of, and identification with, the core purpose of the employer organization; positive work-based relationships; enjoyment of the job to the extent of willingly putting in extra hours; a general positive outlook on life; and, indeed, of happiness.
Although the study found that employee engagement has risen in small incremental steps over three consecutive quarters (from 36% to 38% to 39% since last winter), those who were disengaged remained at a steady 3%. A troubling number is 58%, representing the majority of respondents who were found to be “neutrally engaged”. It is a slight improvement over the findings of last winter (then at 60%), but it is hardly an indicator of good organizational health.
The “neutrally engaged” employees are neither engaged nor disengaged. They are likely to do nothing exceptional for their employer, and although less likely to be job hunting than the disengaged employees, 22% of them are looking for jobs elsewhere. Two interesting elements of the finding were that the “neutrally engaged” respondents were reasonably satisfied with their current jobs and with their immediate managers, which presses for a deeper exploration of the causes of their neutrality. If the causes for their fence-sitting attitude were to be better understood, there would surely be scope for shifting them up toward the “engaged” class.
Typically, the first place to look for a deeper explanation would be the relationship with the respondent’s immediate manager. The findings in this report differentiate between the general working relationship with the immediate manager and the manager’s support of the employee’s personal development. Generally, the “neutrals” are positive about their immediate managers and the fairness of treatment they receive (72%). If liking and trusting one’s manager tips the scales towards engagement, then those managerial activities that actively support the individual’s development, such as coaching (30%), personal development discussions (39%) and giving regular performance feedback (46%) drags it back to hovering in neutral territory.
The authors of the report point out that the responsibility for making the employment experience meaningful goes both ways. It is true that management cannot be expected to have all the resources at the ready with the employee being only a passive recipient of the wonderful services on offer. An employee who consciously maintains a neutral stance may well be contributing to management’s failure to encourage their personal development and performance improvement.
Does it not happen that some employees will do what they can to avoid receiving performance feedback? Or that they prefer muddling through to seeking on-the-job coaching? Are there not employees on payroll around the world whose work ethic is to avoid attracting attention – good or bad; who survive in the no-man’s land of “neutral engagement”?
Looking at the other side of the equation, what can we say about current management practices? Whether in mining, manufacturing or in the provision of public services, upper management does not typically shy away from setting and prescribing procedures and measurable standards in their core business. Why is it then that our people management systems, such as on-the-job coaching, conducting personal development discussions and regularly giving (and receiving) constructive performance feedback, regularly fail to deliver engaged employees?
Are these practices mandated by upper-management or optional? Do managers have the requisite skills to be confident in using them? Are managers really attuned to the benefits of spending time on the softer side of employee relations? Do we measure managers’ performance in these areas? Are we setting targets for managers to encourage employee engagement?
What are the practices and success stories you have on these issues? If you have a story or a lesson you’d be willing to contribute, please share it with our readers below.
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