It might not surprise you that employee engagement comes with some very significant benefits for an organization and its leaders. Employees who are engaged perform better, are more involved, and are enthusiastic about their work and the workplace. Since millions of people started leaving the workforce in the Great Resignation, it’s clear why employee engagement has become a higher priority for corporate leaders.

CEO and Founder of Acuity Consultants Julie Kearney joined us to talk about the importance of Employee Engagement in a recent Leadership Conversation webinar. Julie shared an excellent framework for building employee engagement that we’ll discuss later in this blog. She’s also a certified Gallup Clifton Strengths Coach, sharing some of Gallup’s recent findings with us.

In comparison to companies that are in the bottom quartile of engagement, companies in the top quartile see the following results:

  • 21% higher productivity and profitability
  • 18% higher sales
  • 43% lower attrition
  • 76% of employees are more likely to champion change

Gallup has also recently found that globally, only 20% of employees are engaged. That means 80% are disengaged and more likely to be at risk for turnover. Of course, we’ve known about this growing problem for a while now, but what might surprise you is the link to another workplace issue: burnout. In this article, we’ll look at the relationship between disengagement and burnout and share Julie’s framework for getting back on track with employee engagement.

Why Employees Disengage

Julie made clear throughout her presentation that engagement goes both ways. You may have heard that people don’t leave companies, they leave their managers, and she has some data to show it. Gallup’s research shows that the manager is responsible for 70% of an employee’s engagement. 

Have you ever heard a story like this: after underperforming for a while in one role, an employee gets moved out or managed out into a different team, and suddenly they are delivering better work than ever? What do you think the problem was, and how was it resolved in the new environment? Sure, it might have been company culture, job, or role. But too often, it has to do with this relationship with the manager and how impactful it is.

Commonly individuals are promoted for their achievements without experience or knowledge about training, coaching, and inspiring others. Julie had this experience, but luckily, she could build leadership training into her new position. The management fundamentals that she finds are usually missing stem from strengths-based leadership. They don’t understand how to transition from a boss to a coach, set clear expectations, give effective feedback, or manage remote teams. So if leaders want to prioritize just one action, it should be to equip managers to become coaches rather than bosses. That means putting engagement front and center as their primary role and responsibility.

Symptoms of Burnout 

Let’s take a look at the burnout part of the equation. Harvard Business Review came out with a study that showed 85% of respondents said their well-being had declined since the pandemic’s beginning. And now that many have returned to the office and going about regular routines, the signs of burnout might be harder to spot. 

  • Cynical and/or critical attitudes
  • Irritability, impatience with coworkers or customers/clients
  • Reluctance to go to work or trouble getting started
  • Lack of satisfaction from achievements
  • Energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Use of food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or to numb
  • Poor sleep/lack of sleep
  • Physical changes

Remember, these are the effects of burnout. The most common causes of burnout are a lack of manager support, unfair treatment at work, unsustainable workload or time pressure, unclear communication from managers, and mismatched values or skills. Almost all of these things are directly influenced by an employee’s relationship with their manager.

There’s no quick fix for disengagement and burnout. Many companies subsidize wellness benefits like gym memberships and meditation apps. Unfortunately, none of this can make up for feeling overworked and underappreciated; meaningful change has to come from a culture change and must start at the top.

The Elements of Engagement

Gallup’s approach to measuring engagement breaks down into 12 criteria or questions that they include in pulse surveys. Backed by data from over 82,000 teams and over 1.8 million employees, Gallup has found that positive scores in these 12 areas positively impact profitability, productivity, lower attrition rates, and absenteeism.

Between increasing engagement and preventing burnout, managers have a lot of work cut out for them. The 12 Elements of Engagement are how Gallup measures the results, but Julie share’s a CLIMB model as a practical tool to improve your managers’ experience and equip them with what they need to take care of your employees.

Here’s a quick summary of each step of the CLIMB model: 

Coach

When people work in their strength zone, they look forward to working. They treat their clients better and are more optimistic, creative, and innovative. Therefore, Gallup promotes strengths-based leadership coaching. The other important thing is providing training on management fundamentals, like how to give feedback. 

Listen

Some companies are holding listening sessions with their managers. Like a focus group, the executive team invites a group of managers to answer questions and share their perspectives while they do nothing but listen. But, instead of jumping in to try and solve problems up front, they are listening to understand their managers’ challenges and what they need. Engagement surveys are another critical tool for listening to your employees, and Gallup says to do them at least every year, if not every six months. 

Involve

Managers and employees are more likely to feel engaged when they are involved in the change. Of course, you can’t involve everyone all the time, but it’s worth considering when it impacts their team or their role directly. It will take more time to make the change, but the payoff is that you’ll see people jump in with you to take on the responsibility to make the change.

Model

Over the past two years, our work and home lives have blurred. As a result, some companies are introducing policies like meeting-free days and email reprieve hours to model and encourage a healthy separation—for instance, no meetings on Fridays or emails after eight p.m. and before 7 a.m. In extreme cases, some companies turned off their email servers because they saw managers had difficulty modeling these behaviors.

Believe

B is for belief; belief in strengths-based leadership. Believe that when people are working in their strengths, they’re more positive and creative. Believe in your people; your managers are trying their best and often don’t have the tools or resources.

The Solution: CLIMB To Increase Engagement 

By 2025, most of our workforce (35%) will be millennials, and many will be in leadership roles. So how do we help transition these individual intelligent, unique, talented individual contributors into leaders who can motivate and inspire others? We make CLIMB our management policy and reward managers who Coach, Listen, Involve, Model, and Believe. We teach how to go from being a boss to being a coach. 

There was a lot more brilliance in Julie’s talk that we couldn’t fit in this article! Watch the video to catch all her tips and insights, and keep an eye out for more Leadership Conversations soon!