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Jul 12, 2022

Without fail, every company will say they care instinctively about employee engagement and that their people are their greatest assets.

And yet despite all of this (including the billions they spend on maintaining employee morale), we all know that actual employee engagement scores are pretty low (and have been that way for decades).

So why is this?

Part of the reason for companies’ ineffectual attempts to engage their people is that most organizations are better at talking than acting.

I know this for a fact. More than 10,000 HR executives have taken the online test “How Good Is Your Employee Engagement Survey?”, and one of its questions specifically asks: “How willing is your organization to take action to improve employee engagement based on your survey results?” The results aren’t good.

Only around 43% say that their company is willing to take action on every single question on their survey. But the remaining 57% are split between not really doing anything, avoiding tougher issues, or being unwilling to act on their survey data.

But beyond a lack of action on employee surveys, there are two other big warning signs that a company doesn’t really care about engaging employees:

Warning Sign #1: Insufficient or ineffective mentoring conversations

How often do your leaders conduct mentoring and coaching conversations with their direct reports? Whatever your answer, it’s likely these conversations aren’t happening often enough. And even if they are taking place with sufficient frequency, it’s likely that those meetings aren’t quite effective enough.

In the study, The State Of Leadership Development, we discovered a majority of leaders are not taking an active role helping employees grow and develop to their full potential. Only 20% of employees say their leader always takes an active role in helping them to grow and develop their full potential. By contrast, 29% of employees say that their leader never or rarely takes an active role in helping them grow.

If a manager decided not to submit their budget, or expenses, or some other mandatory report for an entire quarter, what would happen to that manager? The chances are that manager would be searching for a new job. But what happens to a manager who skips coaching conversations with their employees for a quarter? In most companies, the most serious consequence is getting a gentle nudge from human resources.

Warning sign #2: Unwillingness to fix frustrations

There’s no shortage of frustrations, roadblocks, and timewasters in a typical job. We’ve all felt the annoyance of rushing to write a report that no one reads, the vexation that comes from sitting through a meeting that should have been an email, and the agitation resulting from micromanagement. But while we grasp the ubiquity of these hassles, far too many leaders miss the extent to which these frustrations corrode employees’ engagement.

In the Leadership IQ study, Frustration At Work, we learned that the frustrations employees endure are so severe that around 60% say they want to look for other jobs completely. Meanwhile, 83% of people say that if those frustrations were fixed, they would be significantly happier at work.

So ask yourself this: How many leaders at your company regularly sit down with their employees to, first, discover their frustrations and, second, work to alleviate them? The tragedy is that many frustrations are easy to fix if only leaders had the courage to surface them. Unclear directions, not prioritizing assignments, too many meetings, lack of feedback, and micromanaging are all common employee frustrations, and every one of them can be corrected immediately.

Employee engagement is like a marathon

The Employee engagement is not that dissimilar to training for a marathon. You can read books about running, join a running group, buy the best sneakers, and hire a coach. But none of those things matter if you don’t get outside and consistently log some mileage.

The kinds of simple actions noted above matter far more to improving employees’ engagement than all the HR software, task forces, and fancy recognition programs combined.