The Four Levels Of Employee Engagement
I talk and write all the time about engaged employees and how they are the bedrock of a high performing operation. Highly engaged employees have bought into the organizational mission and vision, and they serve without urging as brand ambassadors wherever they go.
Highly engaged employees are the “A” players who can transform a mundane workplace into a hotbed of innovation, productivity, and fun. When employees work alongside co-workers who are reliable, predictable, and positive, they are capable of accomplishing more than they would if toiling alone. They feel such passion and such a profound connection with what they do and who they do it with, that they have more physiological resources to tackle large, daunting issues, and to innovate in their work. These A players motivate other, less engaged, coworkers to increase their level of engagement on a particular project or for a period of time they work together.
When we measure engagement in our client organizations we refer to these workers as the actively engaged, and in typical organizations they comprise 5-15 percent of the staff.
At the same time, another 20-25 percent of staff are engaged. They are focused on their work and deliver an honest day’s labor. Their outlook is positive, they work hard, and they generally believe in the mission and vision. Many of them are inspired by the A players they feel lucky to be associated with.
Employees engaged at this level are the performance backbone for any enterprise.
In most organizations, roughly half the staff is what we categorize as the somewhat disengaged. They are clock-punchers who generally do adequate work but are not functioning anywhere near their full potential. For any number of reasons (most commonly an ineffective manager) they are distracted for 2-3 hours out of each day, typically disrupting the work flow and quality for coworkers who disdain their presence.
They may be engaged episodically, but not generally. They tend not to be compelled by the mission or see great meaning in their work, and are happy to burst out the door when their shift ends. It is not possible for an enterprise to function at its full potential when half the staff at any given time is less than fully engaged.
Ordinarily, a small group of employees is actively disengaged—roughly 5-15 percent of the staff. They have checked out, but still want the paycheck. These are people who actively doubt the mission and vision, speak ill of the organization and its leaders, and do just enough to not get called on the carpet or fired.
The company is paying them for eight hours of work but only receiving four hours of true productivity. But even this distorts their true impact, because whatever they do manage to get done is overwhelmed by what they prevent others from accomplishing.
Actively disengaged employees often act out their disaffection, but they don’t have to denigrate the organization or grumble about their jobs to be cancerous to the social fabric inside the company. In any operation that requires teamwork, employees’ brains’ hunger for coworkers who’ll support them and contribute to enterprise-wide achievement, whereas disengaged “slackers” undermine everyone’s efforts.
Actively disengaged employees take a real toll on organizations, both psychologically and monetarily. Gallup has found that actively disengaged employees cost US businesses roughly half a trillion dollars annually.
While actively disengaged employees are the most resistant to change and eventually may need to be dismissed, that still leaves a wealth of opportunity to shift other employees into higher stages of engagement. For more information about these concepts, or to begin the process of producing highly engaged employees, visit our website or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don Rheem is a former congressional science advisor, CEO, and author of Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures with ForbesBooks. Learn more at DonRheem.com.