Opinion: The great engagement crisis, failing leadership, and CSR

by Contributor07 Apr 2017

It's time to rethink our approaches to engagement, writes Matt Chapman

It is quite possible that the modern workforce is in a state of crisis. Several weeks ago Gallup released its latest State of the American Workplace which made for some sober, and very important, reading. Only 33% of employees are 'engaged' in their jobs, 51% are not engaged, 16% are actively disengaged. If the alarm bells aren’t ringing, they should be. If these figures are correct, and they seem to support other surveys from developed economies the world over, then modern business is facing a quiet and insidious tsunami of employee dissatisfaction.

While it is tempting to brush this off as a millennial/Gen Y/Gen X/everyone loves an anonymous complaint, the reality is the employee engagement strategies and models we have in place are not working. The cost? The impact of this goes far beyond client experience and corporate profits. Unhappy staff are less physically healthy, pressures are put on families, mental health disorders increase, and negative sentiment eats through an organisation like rust.

Engagement - Can it get any worse?

Yes. It can. The numbers are even lower when it comes to views on leadership and organisational communication. As a result, some 51% of employees—your employees—are looking for another job. With leadership ranking so poorly it is questionable just how quickly we can turn things around. Change must come from the top; this has been shown time and time again, but the messages from up the food chain are either not getting through, are not what employees want to hear, or these people at the top of the food chain are not seen as leaders.

And leadership is more important now than ever. We have already seen the impact of economic and political shocks on employee morale—Brexit and the recent US election are prime examples of external events shaking up the status quo. It is at these times when employees need direction and leadership. If these skills are absent, then it is likely people will feel even more disillusioned with their current working environment.

Is this the downside of technology?

With so much recent HR and employment/employee debate around the use of more tech, more AI, and fewer humans in the known workplace, it is worth asking if this is contributing to the decrease in engagement levels. No one wants to feel obsolete or unwanted.

Technology might be making our jobs easier, communication faster, and our hours more flexible, but it might also be making us less connected to our colleagues, less emotionally interested in the group's success, and more focused on our own, isolated, interests. Somewhere along the line, we might have lost something.

Corporate Social Responsibility – Are we looking in the wrong place?

In the context of 67% 'non engagement', companies should look at where they need to invest in CSR. There is a strong argument that, as business leaders, we have failed in our responsibility to the people who spend 40 hours a week with us. Rightly or wrongly, HR is in the middle of this. It might be worth considering that the policies and procedures put in place have not adapted to the needs to employees, or they might have been wrong in the first place.

In the ChapmanCG Global HR Interview podcast series, engagement regularly comes up as an HR priority and an area of management focus. But, according to Gallup, it's not working, and we need to rethink why. There are no easy solutions. In only one of our recent podcasts did we hear clearly about the impact of low engagement within an organisation—but this is not an isolated problem.

The solutions to chronically low engagement are unclear and multifaceted. (If it were easy, we wouldn’t be in this situation!) But some solutions might be closer than we think, and it is worth looking at organisations like NGOs, the military, and (some) start-ups to assess what might work.

Because doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result…well…we know how that ends.

About the author
Matt Chapman is co-founder of ChapmanCG. Visit www.chapmancg.com