Blog Managing People

You’ve got an employee engagement problem, and you don’t even know it

Just 50% is considered an acceptable response rate for an employee survey. So employee engagement scores are likely to be inaccurate, with large sections of companies unrepresented. But employee engagement's a key element of today’s hybrid work environment. So HR Directors must find better ways of how to spot disengagement. And form a clear picture of problems in their business so they can take action where disengagement's high. 

5 red flags to spot disengagement

  1. Check to see how often managers run 1:1's with their team, less than once a month is a red flag
  2. Look at staff attrition rates by manager: people leave managers, not companies
  3. Cross-reference performance against goals - if a whole team is underperforming, it's likely to be the manager that's failing
  4. Measure employee engagement and sentiment with passive analytics, not pulse surveys
  5. Lower volumes of kudos or recognition coming from a team or previously vocal employee

Spot the hidden signs of disengagement

Managers have a huge impact on employee engagement. And low scores point to managers who are failing. But disengagement means employees don't provide feedback. So it's hard for the business to address. And some employees would rather have a bad manager than risk raising concerns and getting a replacement who’s worse. So you must consider your approach to engagement. And find ways to get more accurate feedback and address problem managers.

There's no one-size-fits-all for bad managers in your business. The micro-manager nit-picks. The terrible leader refuses to delegate. And the absent manager avoids interacting entirely. But the last of these goes largely unnoticed.

Employees don’t raise concerns about absent managers. They fear the replacement will be worse. So, instead, they disengage, productivity suffers. And morale slumps so not even sunshine and ice-cream can fix it. But it is possible to find these managers and take action to improve employee engagement.

You must look for:

Evidence of limited feedback

Absent managers don’t review Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). They move meetings and avoid check-ins. So system dates are old and any comments are outdated. So look for gaps in check-in reports. And spot those employees who submit reviews, but never get a response. Help their managers understand the benefits of regular feedback and support the progress and development of their teams.

High attrition rates could be a warning sign of poor engagement

Employees don't start as disengaged. It builds over time as things start to slip. So they get ignored for too long and resign. But absent managers don’t see the problem. They blame poor progression or better paying roles. So find managers who regularly recruit, but don’t want to manage the process. And can't explain the role they need as they don't know what gap's being left. You need to guide them on finding great people. And explain the benefits of connecting with their teams.

Downward trends in sentiment indicates disengagement

As commitment drops, employee language changes. And negativity shows through. In the past, you’d look for a shift in body language. But remote working makes words matter more. So look for declines in positivity and a sense of not wanting to be there. And improve manager communication skills so they can turn things around before it’s too late.

Ways to improve employee engagement for remote workers

Upskilling managers doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to train and develop their skills. And in the meantime, you run the risk of losing employees. But it isn’t just direct line management who have an impact on spotting the signs of disengagement. So look at other options while you get managers where they need to be.

Set a clear purpose

Senior leadership set the example. So make the purpose clear. Be sure everyone understands it. And link OKRs at all levels. Managers need to understand where they fit if they're going to successfully do the same for their teams.

Reward achievements

Value employee contributions and celebrate them. Make recognition matter for everyone. Reward achievements across the business and encourage peers to recognise each other. Employee engagement isn't just about the manager, so look for ways to increase commitment to others in the business too.

Encourage open communication

Remote working changes how informal communication happens. Wanting an informal chat for a few minutes is harder to achieve. So make it acceptable for impromptu video calls. And encourage more small talk at the start of team meetings.

Stop running annual employee engagement surveys

Employee expectations are growing. Competition for talent is fierce. So you need employees who are committed to your business to secure its success and support its future. Yet many businesses still assess engagement using an annual survey. It provides a snapshot of responses. And by the time results are released, much of the feedback’s irrelevant. So you must take proactive action.

Weekly check-ins are a good place to start. Regular two-way communication where employees provide updates and managers take action to support achievement. They focus on communication and provide easy ways to track poor management behaviour. You can see at a glance where conversations aren't happening. And flag downward trends in language before morale drops too far.

But you also need to educate your team. HR are no longer the keepers of engagement. Instead, they're proactive at pointing out concerns. This is no longer an exercise that happens once a year. But a rolling programme that looks for pockets of risk. Find those teams whose behaviour is changing and develop managers to head off the issues. Make employee engagement a positive change and create a business that people are committed to.

Maintaining employee engagement is complex and relies on support from the top. And moving to remote working has made it even harder. Download our best practice guide: Employee engagement in a remote workplace for ideas on where to begin 👇