In a New York Times article published in 2014, Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath reported that recent research found that only 30% of employees in America feel engaged at work and around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13%. This would indicate that work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.
At Strategic Programs, Inc., our research in the healthcare industry mirrors the concerns about engagement found in other studies, but the percentage of engaged staff seems to be between 40% and 50%. Still not a number to aspire to.
Schwartz and Porath state, “Demand for our time is increasingly exceeding our capacity – draining us of the energy we need to bring our skill and talent fully to life. Increased competitiveness and a leaner, post-recession work force add to the pressures. The rise of digital technology is perhaps the biggest influence, exposing us to an unprecedented flood of information and requests that we feel compelled to read and respond to at all hours of the day and night.”
Our research also indicates lack of appreciation, not being listened to, unrealistic expectations, and supervisory issues as dissatisfiers that lead to decreased engagement.
Engagement – variously defined as “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy” – has now been widely correlated with higher corporate performance. In a 2012 meta-analysis of 263 research studies across 192 companies, Gallup found that companies in the top quartile for engaged employees, compared with the bottom quartile, had 22 percent higher profitability, 10 percent higher customer ratings, 28 percent less theft and 48 percent fewer safety incidents.
In our healthcare world of value-based purchasing, payments impacted by patient experience, and intense scrutiny of quality outcomes, the connection with employee engagement is indisputable.
Employees have basic needs on the job that can be drivers for their level of performance. Recognition of these needs is a leadership imperative:
- Physical Needs – Employees in healthcare do work that is physically demanding. Walking, lifting, standing for hours, and just the expenditure of energy in patient care can be exhausting. 10 and 12 hour shifts magnify the physicality of the work. Staff need breaks, a place to sit, and perhaps an opportunity to close their eyes for a few minutes. Breaks are not an inconvenience forced upon employers, but a necessity for renewal.
- Emotional Needs – Employees need to feel valued for their work, appreciated for their contributions, and supported for the burden of dealing with pain, death, sadness, and the other vagaries of illness. Smart organizations recognize this and provide counseling, places for meditation, or other emotional support structures. Certainly frontline leaders that express an understanding of the emotional challenges of the job, and welcome an opportunity to help, make a big difference.
- Mental Needs – Employees need to be challenged but also have the resources to complete the intellectual aspects of their jobs. That would include IT that works, references available, and processes mapped out when possible. Good leaders balance demands and resources. Training, group learning activities and building capability will help meet mental needs.
- Social Needs – People are social animals with the need to be part of a group, be heard, and feel safe. Workgroups that encourage interaction, have group activities and shared values help meet social needs. Leaders need to proactively manage stress and conflict, support social interaction, and encourage the development of shared values that are lived out on a daily basis.
Our research from engagement and exit studies validate other published works that show that employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one break during the day. They also report a nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being. (State of Human Capital 2012; McKinsey & Company)
The more effectively leaders and organizations support employees in meeting these core needs, the more likely the employees are to experience engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction, and positive energy at work, and the lower their perceived levels of stress. If you agree with the needs-based view of you employees, ask yourself “What am I doing to enhance the meeting of on the job needs for my staff?”