How to Boost Declining Employee Engagement

BY Kathy Crosett
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We’re now solidly into the fifth month of social upheaval, confusion about the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty about the future. If your company is like most others, you’re dealing with declining employee engagement. This new reality may be hard to reconcile with the big engagement jump that employers reported early in the pandemic.

The Numbers

The number of actively engaged U.S. employees dropped from 38% to 31% between early May and June. Gallup reported these numbers and the company also noted that 14% of the workforce is now actively disengaged. Managers and leaders should be asking themselves what’s happening and what can they do to improve this state of affairs. The longer they let disengaged employees go through each workday without addressing the issue, the more expensive this situation will become as employees depart for greener pastures.

The big drop in employee engagement follows the record rise that took place earlier this year. When we all realized the seriousness of the pandemic, we jumped into action. We worked hard and wanted to make a difference. Unfortunately, Gallup research shows that 54% of employees are now considered unengaged. Basically, they are marking time and putting in a minimal performance every day. Do they already have one foot out the door? Possibly, though they may be waiting awhile before they receive a great offer.

Declining Employee Engagement

Researchers aren’t entirely clear on the causes of the declining employee engagement. It could be the continued strain of working from home and trying to conduct business without having the necessary resources. These resources include the casual interaction with co-​workers that often happens in the break room or the conference room. The continued uncertainty about how or when business operations will return to a steadier state is wearing on everyone.

  • On a personal level, we don’t know when a vaccine might become available. We’re not sure if it’s really safe to go to restaurants and gyms. And we don’t know if our kids should return to their regular school environment.
  • On a social level, the country is facing turmoil as we look for the right way to go forward with implementing diversity and inclusion plans that will make a difference.
  • On the professional level, business leaders have pivoted. They may be operating under plan B or plan C by now in order to maintain cash flow to support the payroll. In some states, office have reopened for a few weeks only to close again.

Reverse the Trend with Better Messaging

Your employees may be on the verge of burning out. Senior leadership should be taking steps to increase engagement. While you can’t promise more in-​person interaction, you can improve your messaging. Much of the news your team hears every day is uncertain, especially in terms of the pandemic. What they need to understand now is your plan for the future and their role in making that plan a success. If you are only planning out for two to three months, give your team members details. And then, follow up. Let them know how things turned out at the end of that time frame. When they learn about what has succeeded and what has failed, they’ll feel appreciated. Ask for their input and suggestions going forward.

Jim Harter at Gallup explains, “engaged leaders have more engaged managers who then have more engaged employees.”