What Causes Engagement to Go Down?

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Sep 6, 2016

When we talk about employee engagement trends, we tend to think of what’s going on with employees overall. It’s an average, a way of lumping every employee from every demographic together and deciding whether or not things are heading in the right direction.

For example, this year’s Employee Engagement Trends report from my company, Quantum Workplace, found that on average 65.3% of employees were engaged in 2015. But if you take a more detailed look, you see there are variations across demographics. Seventy-seven percent of employees over 66 are engaged, but just 67% of employees between 26 and 35 are. Over 90% of executives are engaged, while 69% of supervisors are.

If these numbers seem staggeringly high compared to other engagement surveys, don’t think the issue is resolving. The respondents of this survey all work for companies that compete in our Best Places to Work competition. These companies spend more time and energy on employee engagement in order to become such wonderful work environments, so overall engagement is higher among these respondents.

However that also makes these findings more telling. If these differences in engagement are a problem for even the best workplaces, they must be running rampant for everyone else.

These differences also imply that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to solving poor employee engagement. A more detailed approach is needed, which means being aware of certain situations and changes that affect employee engagement trends.

Here are three instances where engagement is in danger of declining:

1. After the first year of employment

During the first year of employment, engagement is incredibly high. Our survey found that 77.6% of employees who have been with a company for less than 12 months are engaged. However, the number of engaged employees declines drastically over the next few years, hitting a low of 63.2% of employees with a tenure of six to nine years. That means between years two and five, something is happening to disengage many employees.

Whether it’s because the newness of the company wears off or because employees are given less attention once they’re more self-sufficient, more and more employees disengage as time goes on. If you don’t want your seasoned employees to leave in search of a more satisfying job, it’s up to you to re-engage them.

One way to do this is to give employees who might have gotten bored with their position more variety in their day-to-day tasks. Of course there are some responsibilities that can’t be eliminated no matter how tedious they seem. But that doesn’t mean an employee can’t be given the opportunity to work on different types of projects or learn new skills by helping out with things outside of their job description.

It also helps to keep employees connected with the company’s mission and the part they play in achieving overall goals. Make sure that it’s clear why each person is asked to do certain things and how that contributes to the organization as a whole. That will revitalize tasks that have become tedious by reminding employees how important they are.

2. When the company grows

Another time there’s a clear drop in engagement is as the number of employees at an organization increases. While 72% of employees at a company with fewer than 250 workers are engaged, that steadily declines to 56.1% for companies with more than 5,000 employees..

The culprit in this case is probably that employees get less individual attention and support in regards to their performance at a bigger company. That leads them to a greater percentage of the workforce being disengaged. The key to fixing this situation is making sure managers aren’t overwhelmed by the number of employees they oversee.

To effectively support and engage their team, managers need to have time to give each member individual attention. If your managers have to rush through meetings with employees or can’t meet regularly with them on a one-on-one basis, it’s impossible for them to give thorough feedback. Without that guidance, it’s more likely that engagement will suffer.

3. In a multi-generation workplace

You wouldn’t buy someone turning 50 the same present you would have when they turned 16. That’s because a person’s interests, needs, and desires change over time. That’s also true about what employees need to be engaged as they grow older. What a young 22-year-old wants from a job is not going to be the same thing as a 60-year-old approaching retirement.

In today’s multi-generational workplace, that can make it difficult to devise a strategy to engage employees as different as millennials and Baby Boomers. The secret is knowing what influences engagement in different age ranges. For instance, our study found that while career development is the number one engagement driver for employees under 25 that factor drops to 16th most important for employees over 66. Given that, a great engagement strategy would focus on offering more extensive training to younger employees.

Being aware of these differences will help you cater your engagement strategy to different types of employees. But know, not every individual grows and changes the same way. What’s important to Mary at 30, might not matter to Tim until 45.

The only way to make sure you’re keeping up with the engagement trends within your company is to conduct regular engagement surveys. Those will give you valuable information about your actual employees and their needs over time. Without engagement surveys, you’ll never be able to stay on top of the unique employee engagement trends in your organization.

Employee engagement is not constant. Just because someone is happy and productive at one point in time, does not mean they always will be. Unless you’re aware of how changes to your organization and employees’ lives affects engagement, it’ll be near impossible to sustain, let alone improve overall engagement.

What are some other employee engagement trends that change over time? Share in the comments below!

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