This article originally appeared in Forbes Coaches Council.
For the past several years, I have been researching the topics of college student success, adults in career transition, and employee engagement. The main conclusion I drew is that only about 30% of all U.S. workers, including college graduates, are working in careers at which they are particularly good and passionate about.
This situation, from my perspective, is a major factor in explaining the low rate of employee engagement and high turnover rates. Interesting related worker and student statistics are:
- Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report (registration required) found that a little more than 30% of U.S. employees are engaged at work (meaning, they love their jobs). Of the other workers, 51% are not engaged (they are just there), and about 16% are actively disengaged, which works against the positive results of the engaged employees.
- The Agglomeration and Job Matching among College Graduates report by Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz, representing the status of 36 million college graduates, found that only about 30% of college graduates get jobs that match their major. (Interestingly, the Gallup report found that only 31% of college graduates are engaged at work.)
Based on the statistics presented above, I now believe that engagement actually follows a 30/70 rule. In other words, the (roughly) 30% of engaged employees must support the inaction of the other 70%. If worker engagement were to increase, the burden on engaged workers, in turn, would decrease. Even modest increases in engagement can result in very significant improvements in productivity, sales, and profits.
So, what can be done to increase worker engagement?
Various organizations, such as Gallup's State of the American Workplace report and SnackNations’ 2019 Clear and Complete Guide to Employee Engagement, provide detailed recommendations for changes and actions companies can take to increase the percentage of engaged workers. Recommended actions are generally related to making employees feel more involved, appreciated, recognized, and fairly rewarded for a job well done. They also discuss how efforts to create a team atmosphere and an improved work environment can benefit worker engagement.
But I've observed that studies often do not provide specific statistics on exactly how much employee engagement can be increased when managed properly. However, Gallup’s study does indicate that the average engagement rate of their recent clients is 44% and that there are exceptions with average engagement rates as high as 70%. From this data, I believe it’s reasonable to estimate that by using improved management techniques and styles, the level of engagement could generally be increased from 30% to the order of 50%.
From my perspective, improved management practices are only part of the answer. Leaders must also implement hiring practices that maximize hires who will be engaged and minimize the actively disengaged employees. Based on my experience as a growth officer and CEO of large, national consulting firms, I know that great strides in engagement can be achieved. We were able to maintain a very high engagement level because:
- Our managers all knew that maintaining good employee engagement was a key corporate objective, and they routinely appreciated and recognized employees for a job well done.
- We had a philosophy of engaging all employees in important project strategies and conclusions. This gave each employee a feeling of ownership. As a result, they often would have suggestions that would contribute to the project's success. This feeling of ownership and related recognition resulted in a higher level of loyalty throughout the company.
- A major emphasis was to always involve the junior professionals in discussions leading to major project decisions. This not only gave them a degree of ownership but also greatly accelerated their growth rate, which, in turn, allowed them to take on responsibilities that would have otherwise be done by senior staff.
- We implemented a rigid and focused screening process of new candidate employees. This process required that we carefully determine if a candidate is good at and passionate about their career, as well as if they fit within our problem-solving culture. We actively implemented the 80/20 principle in our hiring. We anticipated that 20% of candidates would fit our criteria and, if hired, would be fully engaged employees, while 80% probably would not. As a result, our turnover rate was very small — some years close to zero.
In our recruiting and hiring process, we did not focus on education and experience after an initial screening of a candidate’s basic qualifications, and I encourage others to do the same. Instead, pay attention to personal factors, such as their level of motivation, the way they would respond to example situations, the level of priority they placed on their career, and your feeling for how well they would fit into your company's culture.
Based on the statistics presented above, I now believe that candidates for employment also follow a 30/70 rule. Around 30% of all candidates and employees would be especially good, passionate, and engaged with their work, while the other 70% would not.
My conclusion is that to maximize employee engagement, two programs must be consistently implemented. One is to implement and maintain the types of employee engagement practices that prioritize the voices of all your employees. The second is to refine your candidate screening process to focus on the 30% who would be good and passionate about their work assignments in your organization.