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Employee engagement and the impact of uncertain times

Employee engagement has always been a challenging aspect of people management for leaders with teams. The added impact of uncertain times means it is now also highly unpredictable. 

Aquiline Business Coaching has been a member of Business Australia since August 2020.

It makes sense for leaders to believe external factors (such as a global pandemic) play a major part in reducing feelings of engagement within their employees. But the question is, is this entirely true?

What does the research suggest?

In a recent study conducted by Gallup, they found that under normal circumstances, employee engagement is generally quite low. The research, conducted globally, categorised engagement into three levels: engaged, disengaged and actively disengaged. According to Gallup:

  • an employee is engaged when they are emotionally driven to perform
  • an employee is disengaged when they do not have the passion and drive to perform
  • an employee is actively disengaged when they influence the organisation negatively and act out their dissatisfaction by engaging in politics and undermining the efforts of others.  

In the 2019 Gallup State of Global Workplace report, it was reported that within Australia and New Zealand, 14% of employees were engaged, 71% were disengaged and 15% were actively disengaged. At a global level, they found only 23% of employees were engaged while the rest (67%) were disengaged or highly disengaged.

These are mind-boggling statistics, especially when considering the impact this can have on a business’s financial health and organisational culture.

The good news is that Gallup also found when there are changes within the external environment that hamper the productivity or financial viability of a company (such as COVID-19), employee job attitudes and business success outcomes were significantly stronger during the recession years. 

What does this mean?

If your company generally has a high level of engagement, the probability that this is going to be more or at least the same in the event of an external challenging circumstance at a macro-level is higher.

Your challenge may not necessarily be just the external environment you are dealing with, but the internal one. If you have high levels of engagement and retention rates, you can literally weather any storm. 

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A different kind of pandemic

The pandemic we are facing globally within the workplace may be related not just to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the absence of sufficient employee engagement.

This means that when times are good, you are working on improving employee engagement, and when times are tough, you reap the fruit by advocating for even more commitment from your team which leads to even more engagement and higher morale, especially when you and your team see the light at the other end of the tunnel.

You can control costs and improve profit margins because your team is careful, committed and driven, even when sales are not meeting expected budgets.

Managing employee engagement

What you may be thinking is if the global average for employee engagement is so low, chances are engagement within my organisation may not be that great. And how would you know? Some indicators of low employee engagement could be high turnover rates, impoverished work culture and meaningless work politics.

Where can you start? When you Google “reasons for leaving”, you will usually find surface-level reasons such as “because of the supervisor” or “because of the work culture”, “personal reasons”.

But here’s the thing… the secret to understanding employee engagement and why people do not want to engage actively with your organisation is to be able to understand the dynamics of employee disengagement, or to be able to understand the mindset behind why they are making the decisions that they are.

Furthermore, in terms of understanding how to improve employee engagement within the workplace, we must change the concept of employee engagement into a process and follow a step by step process that helps you manage your employee engagement.

These steps include:

  • self-leadership and management
  • recruiting people who are a match to your organisation’s values
  • training and developing them to perform in a way that brings in revenue
  • coaching, mentoring and performance managing in a way that resourceful feedback is not frowned upon
  • having practical communication skills, execution and goal-setting skills
  • an understanding of the nature of cultural diversity and how this impacts your overall organisational environment.

And more than that, it helps leaders create a culture that nurtures growth, satisfaction and true purpose, improving the quality of work-life-balance that spills over to other areas of life.

Dr Kay Huq

Principal Consultant, Aquiline Business Coaching

Kay is an employee engagement and human behaviour specialist who provides face-to-face, online consultation and training support to top-level executives. Kay has a Doctoral Degree in Human Resource Management and an MSc in Applied Business Research.

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