When ‘good enough’ isn’t

As a career and executive coach, I am used to hearing about the struggles that people have in their professional lives. Despite this, it is still staggering to see the levels of job dissatisfaction as borne out by national statistics… According to the 2009 research report published by the Conference Board a few days ago, overall job satisfaction in the U.S. alone (and global studies suggest similar trends in other industrial nations) is at its lowest point in two decades: more than 50% of employees are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Of the remainder, only 12.3 percent of Americans (across all age and income groups) say they are ‘very satisfied’ with their job.  And satisfaction levels do not rise with earnings. The most dramatic individual percentage decline is in ‘interest in work’, a significant driver of employee engagement.

This rise in job dissatisfaction is not cyclical: it has been climbing steadily for the past two decades.  Aside from the fact that a negative working environment can be downright depressing, less engaged and motivated employees result in significant reduced individual productivity and business unit performance: ultimately negatively impacting the organizations profits and shareholder value.

Reduced loyalty also tends to lead to increased absenteeism and result in a higher turnover of staff.  Put simply: the costs to organizations of a disenfranchised workforce are huge.

Consider the following statistics:

Disengaged employees are more than twice as likely as engaged employees to take sick days. In the UK, disengaged employees cost the economy between £59.4 and £64.7 billion per year. Losing talented employees has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line – the American Management Association puts the cost of losing a senior executive at between a year and 18 month’s salary.

On the flip side:  “Best Buy” who changed their talent management policies and actively tried to keep employees happy (through allowing employees greater flexibility on working hours for example), experienced a productivity increase of 35% and saw a steep rise in employee retention (Harvard Business Review, 2009).



How can organizations effectively engage their employees?

One of the key lessons from this data is that: meaningful and fulfilling work is crucial to ensuring employee satisfaction.

Assuming that employees receive a baseline level of compensation, the number one driver of job satisfaction is the design and the content of the work.  Organizations need to offer their employees challenge and variety within their jobs, match job content with employee talent and skills, along with visibility and recognition for their impact on the organization and the bottom line.

Daniel Pink, author of Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us asserts that: ‘engaging employees calls for giving them a sense of autonomy, of mastery over one’s labor, and of serving a purpose larger than oneself.’

From my experience – both in the corporate world and as an executive coach – I would add that an explicit commitment to transparency and communication is another key element of employee engagement. Leadership needs to ensure that employees understand company values, and that they see the connection between their job and the vision and aim of the company. An organization must train its managers to appreciate employee efforts and contributions appropriately, both in-person and publicly.

Finally, communication and knowledge-sharing is a two-way street. There needs to be a continuous and reciprocal flow of information between senior management and its employees – so that employees understand that they are ‘part of the process’ and are more likely to feel gratified with the company’s success.

If you find yourself unmotivated at your current job or company, or if you are a HR professional or a leader interested in learning from organizations who have mastered employee engagement, check out the 2009 Fortune ranking of the “100 best companies to work for” – these profiles will spark some insights and indicate which companies are treating their employee’s right…