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Employee Engagement Levels Up

For another straight year, employee engagement levels experienced growth, according to the 2011 Overall Employee Engagement norms produced by HR Solutions International Inc., an Avatar company.

In a press release earlier this year, HR Solutions indicated that U.S. employee engagement levels increased from 2010 to 2011.

The normative data—comprised of employee survey responses from more than 3.3 million employees at more than 2,400 organizations—showed that the number of actively engaged employees increased two percentage points to 29 percent in 2011 from 27 percent in 2010. During that same time period, the percentage of ambivalent employees (neither engaged nor disengaged) slightly decreased to 59 percent from 60 percent, while the percent of actively disengaged employees fell to 12 percent from 13 percent.

"I think engagement has increased in the past year because organizations are becoming more savvy and asking for employee input as organizations have had to become leaner and more efficient," said Murat Philippe, principal consultant of Avatar HR Solutions.

(HR Solutions International is a Chicago-based Human Capital Management Consulting Firm that specializes in workplace survey design, implementation, analysis and action planning. Avatar International is a research and consulting company based in Orlando, Fla.)

Some key drivers of engagement include "knowing that senior managers are concerned about the employees, recognition for good work, and having an opportunity to improve yourself (career development, increased job knowledge or skills)," Philippe said.

While incentive rewards programs can be enticing and motivating to employees in any given company, they are not always the sole inspiration behind an employee's level of engagement. Other reasons include work schedule flexibility, autonomy and telecommuting.

"Companies have tried to do more to engage their employees because many are concerned that as the economy recovers, those that have been biding their time will leave the organization," Philippe said.

"Furthermore, the baby boomers reaching retirement age have highlighted the fact that there won't be enough people in subsequent generations to replace them, creating a workforce shortage in the next decade or so. We find that rewards don't fuel engagement levels. You have to be competitive with your compensation, of course, but once you are fairly compensating people, it becomes about developing them, giving them a realistic goal, the tools to achieve them, and getting out of their way," he said. "Work schedule flexibility, autonomy, telecommuting (work permitting) are the currency in this new marketplace."

When asked about the future and whether or not employee engagement levels will increase or decrease, Philippe said he is optimistic and believes that "engagement will continue to grow as more organizations are asking the right questions of their workforce and strive to empower them to do their best for their customers. Over the past few years we have seen it increasing in our data."

Any reason for employees to become disengaged likely would have to do with a "Lack of resources to do the work is one of the big causes or disengagement. When employees don't have enough coworkers or lack the equipment and supplies they need, it can make them feel helpless to make a difference," Philippe said.

And, for those employees who remain actively engaged, "one of the big reasons for engagement we found in our data has to do with ensuring that there is a good fit between employee skill/talent and their job. The idea that if you are able to do what you do well, it makes the work personally rewarding," he added.

Of course, to measure employee engagement, companies need to use surveys to assess employees' level of commitment. HR Solutions uses three different surveys.

For example, the Sweet 16 is HR Solutions' most popular survey and consists of 16 survey items and measures four key aspects of employee engagement designed to assess an individual's loyalty, likelihood of giving extra discretionary effort, and personal commitment to the organization. The Sweet 16 also has two open-ended comments and enables those taking the survey to choose an additional 20 customized survey items. The Sweet 16 takes about 15 minutes to complete. Topics measured are: organizational effectiveness; recognition/career advancement; supervision/management; and co-worker performance/cooperation.

The second employee engagement survey the company uses is called the Short-Form Engagement/Satisfaction Survey. This survey is designed to measure how content employees are with 10 key aspects of the workplace to provide a more complete view of the areas that influence employee satisfaction. The survey is composed of 40 questions with two open-ended comments, and an additional 40 customized survey items can be selected. The Short-Form takes roughly 30 minutes to complete, with such topics measured as: overall job satisfaction, pay satisfaction and benefits satisfaction, just to name a few.

Finally, the third survey is called the Comprehensive Engagement/Satisfaction Survey, which covers a broad range of topics and is designed to measure how content employees are with 19 aspects of the workplace. It takes about 40 minutes to complete.

The survey is composed of 80 questions with two open-ended comments, and can include an additional 60 customized survey items. This particular survey is ideal for organizations that wish to capture the largest amount of information to prioritize strategic initiatives. Most organizations use this survey if they have never done a survey before, or have not conducted a survey in a long time to establish a baseline and then move to a shorter instrument for future surveys.



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