Stop the Big Quit
More than 2/3s of US employees are not actively engaged at work. Boost your employees’ engagement by 30% with 7 powerful questions.
The Great Resignation is here. We might not agree on what to name it, but whether we call it The Great Contemplation , The Great Upgrade , The Great Reimagination (or many more ), there’s no question the workplace landscape has shifted, putting companies on the defensive.
Since the May 2021 prophecy of Texas A&M management professor Anthony Klotz started coming true, U.S. employers have had to take a good hard look at themselves to explain this dramatic shift in the balance of power. And figure out how to stop it.
There is no shortage of proposed solutions: Workplaces need to be more flexible. Salaries need to increase. Company culture needs to be more welcoming.
Yes, leaders need to look at these issues – and not just the leaders whose workers have already stampeded out the door. Statistics suggest 2022 holds more employee churn: In a 10,000-person survey of knowledge workers conducted by Harvard Business Review and Future Forum, 57% said that a new job is on the table.
However, this news might be flashy, but there’s nothing new about it. Companies lose employees all the time.
The point is, not all companies. It’s the companies who fail to engage their employees that face the highest rates of attrition.
Defined by Gallup as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace,” employee engagement is the ultimate litmus test for the health of a company. No company will reach its potential without engaged employees, yet stats produced by Gartner now show that only 13% of employees consider themselves fully satisfied.
That’s the number that should be keeping everyone up at night. Whether a disengaged employee puts both feet out the door is barely relevant. If they’re just warming their chairs, they aren’t delivering their best. A company full of half-in employees is hair’s width away from going under.
So here’s what can put your mind at ease. To increase employee engagement by 30% or more, all it takes is the three Rs : The Right Formula, the Right Tactics, and Repeatable Actions.
Let’s start with the first R: What is the Right Formula for employee engagement?
Ask your employees.
It’s that simple. But it’s not one-size-fits-all. You can only improve engagement by taking a deep look at what’s going on in the dynamic between your employees and your unique company culture.
That’s why we have developed a very successful diagnostic formula that involves asking seven highly targeted yes or no questions . If the majority of your employees answer, “yes,” to all seven, you’re golden.
If they answer, “no,” that’s when the Right Tactics come into play : Ask them, “What would have to be true to get to a yes?” When you listen to their answers, you’ll have a concrete, customized action plan of necessary changes to get the engagement you want.
All that’s left to do is rinse and Repeat , by surveying your workforce quarterly or yearly, and you’ll be the one at the helm of the company that bucks the trend.
To learn more about these questions, why they get at the heart of employee engagement, and common reasons you might get a “no,” read on.
#1 Am I accountable?
All humans want to be accountable, even employees. Don’t laugh – we’ve all seen employees who’d probably prefer to be napping under their desk, and that’s precisely the point: They’re usually the ones who have burned out from watching their slacker colleagues get promoted. No one wants to be micromanaged, but employees do want ownership of the work they complete – and have their compensation reflect it.
Typical reasons employees say they don’t feel accountable:
They’re not clear
Knowledge work can be ambiguous. However straightforward we think the position descriptions and KPIs are, accountability can be difficult to pinpoint. Add to that matrix structures and cross-functional work, and a vague concept gets even more murky.
They don’t feel they have the authority
Not everyone can lead without positional authority. It requires employees to influence without overstepping, such as the case of delivering an outcome through cross functional collaboration with peers. Those who lack this skill may feel their hands are tied unless they receive support from above.
In a stick-instead-of-carrot environment, studies have shown that people lack the psychological safety to be open, hold themselves accountable and learn from their mistakes.
They don’t realize how important they are
If an employee is disconnected from the purpose of what they do, they won’t realize how important they are in delivering an outcome. When they do, they may be more likely to do their part – and be accountable when they don’t.
They don’t see others (especially leaders) modeling accountability
Accountability is a sign of trust, and trust is part (or not) of a culture. When employees see leaders act defensively, point fingers, or take credit for other’s success, it’s not only demotivating but also discourages accountability. When leaders take difficult feedback on the chin, stand up and apologize for an issue–even if it wasn’t entirely in their control–people feel more inspired to do the same.
#2 Do I belong?
Humans need other humans. It’s in our DNA. A sense of community is what keeps families, tribes, communities and companies together. Research shows that employees who feel a sense of belonging are more productive, motivated and engaged . Employees who don’t feel a larger sense of connection will work to disrupt it–and try to build a subculture in opposition.
Typical reasons someone says they don’t belong:
They don’t align to your company culture
If this is the reason, you’ve got two possible issues: your hiring process or and your culture. Your hiring process should be honed to vet people who align to your culture; if it doesn’t, you need a new process. However, if your employees don’t feel a sense of belonging because your culture has shifted, make sure that shift is purposeful – or you may have a rash of people feeling out of place and unengaged.
They feel under- or over-utilized; the job doesn’t bring out their best – maybe it brings out their worst
If you get this answer, you may want to look at whether you’ve underinvested in an area – or overhired. Maybe you’ve automated the business to a point where it is no longer challenging for your employee. This is an opportunity to consider how to realign the employees’ skills and the company’s needs, by adjusting hiring, management or investment.
#3 Am I measured fairly?
Everyone wants to play a game with a known set of rules and goalposts that don’t keep moving, but above all, they want to play on a level field. Yet 70% of workers feel they aren’t being evaluated fairly by their managers. The place ‘fairness’ tends to crop up is in the all-important performance review, a highly debated topic that deserves plenty of scrutiny – especially if you’re getting a “no” on this one.
Typical reasons someone says they aren’t measured fairly:
The process isn’t transparent
You can have the most elaborate process in the world, but if parts of it take place in the dark, it won’t feel fair. Air it out and make sure all the stakeholders are aware of what’s going on.
The metrics don’t match the implicit values
You want to make sure you incentivize employees to do the things you say you want them to – and that those rewards are clearly built into the review structure. There’s nothing worse than being told to do X and then being dinged for not doing Y.
The criteria change too often – or without clear justification
Once you implement a method of assessment, think good and hard before you scrap it and set up another. Sometimes needs change, and it’s fine to adapt your measurements accordingly, but if you’ve got a flavor of the month, employees will feel like they’re being pushed through a revolving door of metrics. When you do have to change criteria, put extra effort into communicating why – and make sure they line up with your company values.
#4 Is my opinion heard?
You know what’s worse than not asking for employee feedback? Asking and ignoring the answer. Or, more to the point, not communicating what you learned from it–and what actions you plan to take as a result. If you hold a town hall, plan a follow up where you let people know you are evaluating their input and acting on it, if appropriate.
Typical reasons someone says they aren’t heard:
No one asks
Employee feedback should be embedded in your workplace culture at every level. It’s not enough to conduct high-level, yearly surveys; you need to make sure to integrate micro opportunities for feedback regularly, so that your management catches smaller–but recurrent– issues before they snowball.
Nothing ever changes
If you conduct regular surveys but don’t follow up, or don’t communicate the (intended) follow up, your employees will resent it. Make a communication strategy around any survey you set up, let employees know when they can expect to hear back from you, and honor your commitment.
They’re saying something between the lines
Sometimes employees don’t feel comfortable saying things directly – commonplace fears, according to research , with only 42% of junior level employees expressing confidence in sharing their ideas. This suggests that your employees’ best ideas are locked away somewhere, but before you can figure out exactly what they aren’t saying, you must assess why their lips are sealed. This means taking a look at your management and how their personalities and procedures are impacting the climate.
#5 Am I being developed?
If you are not growing, you are dying. Everyone wants a chance to learn more skills. Stagnant employees go on auto-pilot. When an employee doesn’t see a future for themselves in your organization, they’re just counting down the minutes to their next coffee break, their next vacation, or their going-away party. When they see work as an opportunity for personal and professional growth, the gears of engagement start to turn.
Typical reasons someone says they aren’t being developed:
Your developmental program is weak
It’s easy to slap together “professional workshops.” It takes more effort to build a cohesive, coherent program that addresses what your employees want – and gives them what they need. It’s even more challenging to build that program and execute it consistently.
Career pathways at your company are ambiguous
Do your employees know how to get from A to B to C or are promotion policies a deeply guarded secret. When employees feel like they have to play politics to get ahead, their loyalties start to shift. Instead of doing the best work for everyone, they want to do the right work for themselves – and if their efforts fail, they’ll end up demoralized and resentful. A clear, level playing field will allow employees to feel a sense of growth.
There’s unhealthy competition
This speaks to company culture. Management should be incentivized to develop and promote their best and brightest, not keep others down out of fear for their own positions. A rising tide floats all boats – so make sure your culture and policies reflect this adage.
#6 Do I have balance?
If employees don’t have a sense of “balance,” they will burn out, and burnt out employees are 2.6% more likely to look for a new job. Balance will look different for employees of a fast-growing startup versus an established Fortune 500. The key is that they feel balance. Statistics have proven repeatedly that effective employees have balance and invest in their body, mind, spirit and family. Companies that actively reinforce this have employees that feel cared for.
Typical reasons someone says they don’t have balance:
Maybe you’ve already been hit by employee attrition; maybe your staffing hasn’t caught up to shifting priorities. Employees can only pick up the slack for so long before it throws them off kilter – and drains their engagement levels.
You lack clear processes
Multitasking is out . Focus is in. Your employees might feel out of balance if they are being asked to do too many different things with no clear workflow. When someone knows what they need to do and when, they can develop a clear game plan – and execute it – which contributes to a sense of balance.
Your policies and/or your culture don’t promote it
In order to give employees a sense of balance, you need to implement the right policies – whether it’s work-from-home options or caregiver leave – and make sure your culture supports people taking advantage of those policies. No one should be penalized for taking advantage of a benefit you offer, so make sure your reviews account for that.
#7 Do I believe?
The seventh “yes” is the single most important; it gets you across the finish line. A company can offer all the perks, but at the end of the day, no one comes to work for the wheat grass juice. A company is not the sum-total of its fringe benefits; it’s just a bunch of people who believe .
If it’s just about believing in their paycheck, you’ve got a problem; mission-driven employees stick around and are more likely to become high performers than those who are just in it for the direct deposit. It’s that they believe the company will make good on its promises – to the employees, the shareholders and the public.
That starts with how closely your lived culture reflects your mission, vision and values. If your employees feel like they’re looking in a funhouse mirror every time they try to figure out what you stand for, chances are, they don’t believe.
Ask the question just like this: “Do you believe?” Keep it open-ended. Don’t add in any details. The point is to find out how they define “belief,” whether they don’t believe in your market strategy, your leaders or something else.
Then, when you ask them, “What would it take to get to a ‘yes’?” look for patterns in their answers. Unpack those patterns, and you’ll have an actionable roadmap to engagement that is tailored to your company at this specific moment in time.
How should you implement the 7 Yeses?
Once you have the Right Formula , you need to adopt the Right Tactics, which means unpacking what must be true to get to a “yes.” Ideally, you’ll hold a leadership forum with a facilitator who can focus on the reasons behind any “no.”
Collectively, their answers will form company action items that should be prioritized based on percentages. If 82% are unhappy with market strategy, that’s where you focus, and then move down the list, ignoring any outliers.
Then, once you have succeeded at the leadership level, you can conduct regular surveys company-wide. This becomes your Repeatable Action that you can implement, until you get your seven yeses.
With this method, we have seen a 30% increase in overall employee engagement scores. And, according to Gartner, improving your Employee Value Proposition will also yield benefits such as:
28% increase in employees who are likely to recommend the organization…
40% increase in high performers
6% increase in intent to stay
7% increase in wellness
9% increase in employees likely to accept the job again
There’s a lot of chatter about the Great Fill-in-the-Blank, but with the three Rs, you can be the company that dodges 2022’s most worrisome trend.