The “shocking” to “disturbing” headlines about employee engagement are almost routine these days. Study after study turns up numbers in the range of 70 to 80 percent of the workforce that’s either not fully engaged or actively disengaged at work, costing companies billions in annual turnover.
It’s not that executives aren’t throwing money at the problem. In fact, by some estimates, companies are collectively investing upwards of $1.5 billion a year into trying to turn it around, without much to show for it in return.
But there have been a few positive signs beginning to emerge. Modern Survey’s Fall 2014 Employee Engagement Index showed engagement levels are beginning to inch up, while disengagement is at its lowest point since the study began.
Sounds good, right? Well, keep reading.
That same survey examined “who wants to leave” and found that, surprisingly (or “alarmingly,” as they put it), nearly a quarter (24%) of fully engaged employees are currently looking to leave their companies.
Something is clearly wrong when companies are spending billions of dollars on engagement, and they can’t even count on their fully engaged people to stay.
One of the biggest culprits? By and large, leaders, managers, and even L&D and HR professionals don’t know their employees. They don’t know what they care about, what matters most to them or what they pay attention to. This is the critical “homework” that has to be done before you put all that money into engagement and retention efforts.
Because work of any kind is primarily a mental activity, the best way to get to know your employees is to start by understanding how they think. This is the filter through which they communicate, listen and process information. It influences how they approach a task and what kind of work they find stimulating (or draining).
As part of the process of writing the second edition of The Whole Brain Business Book, we looked at some of the data around work satisfaction, and generally speaking, we found that the highest satisfaction comes from those who have a strong alignment between their thinking preferences and the mentality of the work they’re assigned to do. The lowest are associated with those who are misaligned—unless they’re looking for a challenge in that specific assignment and have been prepared and are motivated to stretch.
And that’s why this isn’t just about them; it’s also about you. Unless you’re intentional about your thinking, which is what Whole Brain® Thinking is all about, your own preferences will become filters and blind spots, impacting how you communicate, make decisions, assign work and create development plans for others. When fully engaged people are still looking to leave, being able to see past your own preferences and “get inside their heads” is the critical missing piece.
So before you make assumptions about what’s going to engage and retain them, start with thinking. In our experience, it’s the much more cost-effective—and just plain effective—route.