Creating Engagement in a Diverse Workforce


According to the Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, “employee engagement is a headline issue throughout business and HR.” Fully 85 percent of survey respondents ranked engagement as a top priority, yet only 46 percent reported that they were prepared to address engagement challenges.One of the drivers behind the focus on engagement — which not only concerns HR, but also has wider implications for the overall performance of an organisation — is the increasing diversity of today’s workforce. From aspiring Millennials to aging Baby Boomers — working in a complex mix of full-time, part-time, contingent, temporary, and contract roles — the 21st-century workforce is more diverse than ever, challenging organisations to build and support a corporate culture that fosters employee engagement. When you pair this diverse workforce with the growing competition to attract and retain top talent, it’s easy to see why culture and work environment have become key drivers of employment brand. No matter the age, status, or position of your employees, how can your organisation effectively engage and inspire today’s diverse workforce?

We can define engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work. In practice, the way companies interpret engagement varies. Some measure employee favourability and happiness, which tend to have limited utility in improving performance outcomes. Others confuse engagement with motivation, which is better defined as “does an employee receive those things they’re looking for in return for their efforts on the job?” Or companies can fall into the common trap of mistaking their employee engagement survey for an employee engagement strategy. They soon learn that taking employees through a set of survey questions does not lead to improved engagement. 

In order to impact engagement, you must first agree on what engagement looks like. A commonly accepted definition, from BlessingWhite, says that “Employee engagement lies at the intersection of maximum contribution for the business and maximum satisfaction for employees. It’s a sustainable level of high performance that benefits both the company and the employee.”

Organisations must approach employee engagement as part of an ongoing human capital strategy and consider all the elements that contribute to the overall employee experience — from leadership accountability and managerial education to clear role expectations and employee development opportunities. When you take this approach, employee engagement is strongly connected to those business outcomes that are essential to your organisation’s financial success, such as productivity, profitability, and customer engagement and satisfaction. Engaged employees support and enable the innovation, growth, and revenue that companies need.

The cost of disengaged employees

For all the attention being paid to the topic, employee engagement has remained fairly static, at around 30 percent since 2014, and has not experienced large year-over-year improvements in Gallup’s 15-year history of measuring and tracking the metric.

According to Gallup, almost 20 percent of U.S. workers are “actively disengaged” employees, those likely to actively undermine coworkers and sabotage projects.4 But most U.S. workers continue to fall into the “not engaged” category (51 percent). These employees typically do not negatively affect business performance, but tend to do the minimum asked of them and are not likely to go the extra mile for clients and customers. Gallup describes not engaged employees as being “checked out” or attempting to get their job done with little or no management support.

Gallup reports that disengagement costs the U.S. around $500 billion annually.7 According to the Bureau of Labor, approximately 125 million U.S. workers are employed on a full-time basis. With 20 percent of this workforce actively disengaged, that mean 25 million workers aren’t contributing to their organisation’s success — and may even be working actively against it. Divide by the annual cost of disengagement, and you’re looking at $2,000 per actively disengaged employee. That is a lot of money to ignore.


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