According to Gallup over 70% of American workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their work, this is essentially defined as employees being emotionally disconnected or “sleep-walking” through their day-to-day jobs.  This is a very scary statistic.  We jokingly talk about the zombie apocalypse but it’s already here and it’s expensive!  Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy over $370 billion annually.  This shouldn’t be surprising though because a recent McKinsey study found that in the U.S. (in just four sectors) there is an untapped annual value of between $600-$900 billion which could be unlocked via social technologies being used internally.  It’s no wonder that employee collaboration and planning for the “future of work” is such a high priority for executives around the world.

So exactly what is engagement?

There are some enterprise collaboration vendors and consultants who would have you believe that engagement refers to metrics such as: comments, likes, ideas submitted, employee log-in rates, blogs created, or any other number of what I like to call “busy metrics.”  However, activity is not the same thing as engagement.  Engagement refers to how connected and passionate an employee is about the company they work for and the people they work with.  In other words, engagement is about how employees feel not what they do, and there is a big difference.  Employees may be active in collaboration environments not because they want to or choose to, but because they have to.  If we look at these “busy” metrics as a way to measure engagement then we are looking at the effect of something instead of the far more important cause.

Consider some of the following numbers:

  • 70% of engaged employees indicate they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs; only 17% of non-engaged employees say the same. (Wright Management)
  • 78% would recommend their company’s products of services, against 13% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
  • Companies with high levels of engagement improved 19.2% in operating income while companies with low levels of employee engagement declined 32.7% during the same period (Tower Perrins).
  • Engaged employees advocate their company or organization – 67% against only 3% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
  • 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, as against 11% of the disengaged. 45% of the engaged say they get a great deal of their life happiness from work, against 8% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
  • Higher levels of engagement are strongly related to higher levels of innovation. 59% of engaged employees say that their job brings out their most creative ideas against only 3% of disengaged employees. (Gallup)
  • 18% of dis-engaged employees actually undermine their co-workers’ success. (Gallup)
  • 72% of US workers are not engaged in their work. Defined as essentially sleep walking throughout their day. (Gallup)

Getting a sense of what your engagement looks like doesn’t need to go any farther than conducting an employee survey at some sort of regular interval, say every quarter, which asks employees how they feel about working at your organization.  We use the net promoter score for our customers and many organizations could benefit from having something similar for their employees.

Business leaders are investing in social and collaborative tools (and strategies) such as Jive, Yammer, IBM Connections, Newsgator, and dozens of others to help solve this growing problem of engagement but why?  How are these approaches helping?  There are many benefits to what these tools (when properly deployed, meaning there’s a strategy in place) can accomplish, employees will have the ability to:

  • Share their voice within the enterprise and become leaders and subject matter experts
  • Create communities of work, passion, and interest which in turn build trust and foster relationships
  • Get a better sense of how their contributions impact the team and the organization as a whole
  • Work more efficiently without such a heavy reliance on internal email
  • Find people and information when and where they need to
  • Receive and provide real-time feedback
  • Connect and collaborate across boundaries

All of these things help create a more engaged workforce and build a collaborative organization but this is just the starting point.  The benefits of building a collaborative organization are real and focusing on the future of work is critical.  In a follow-up post we will look at the 12 principles of collaboration that successful companies are leveraging.

Zombies are fun to watch on TV but if companies keep breeding zombies then one day we are going to wake up wondering why someone just took a big bite out of our arm.  And we all know what happens when a zombie bites a human, we get another zombie…

Jacob Morgan is the principal of Chess Media Group, a management consulting and strategic advisory firm on collaboration. Jacob is also the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Collaborative Organization, which is the first comprehensive strategy guide to emergent workplace collaboration. He can be found on Twitter @JacobM.