On this episode of the All About HR podcast, Tom sits down with People Element’s People Experience Analyst, Quinton Barrett. They take a deep look at all things employee engagement and walk us through the findings of People Element’s recent Annual Engagement Trends Report. This report is comprised of engagement data from employees across hundreds of organizations collected throughout 2022. Tom and Quinton dig into the top five key drivers of engagement and how companies can take this data and apply it to their own workforces.
VIP Guest Quinton Barrett
Quinton Barrett works as a People Experience Analyst for People Element. With a graduate degree in Organizational Development, he has analyzed client-specific surveys, interpreted results, and built action plans for clients across several industries. In his role, Quinton has gained extensive experience working with HR and leadership to target key areas of opportunity such as turnover or low engagement.
Definition of Engagement
This episode is all about employee engagement, so it is fitting that Quinton begins by sharing his definition of engagement and how he likes to ask leaders how they would define it.
Engagement is the emotional connection an employee feels toward the organization and its goals.
Global Engagement – 2019 to 2022
Now with the state set, Quinton digs into the report to share the average engagement levels starting in 2019 and explains how the pandemic played an unexpected role in increasing engagement. He mentions that in 2019 the aggregate engagement level across the data was 56% which was pretty typical. You would think that in 2020, with the pandemic at its peak, that engagement would have taken a nosedive. Interestingly enough, it did the opposite. Engagement jumped up to 61%, the highest aggregate score People Element had seen in over 30 years of collecting data. Quinton remembers how during this time he was curious what this was attributed to and he found that many workforces developed a sense of ‘coming together’ and this helped engagement.
He goes on to share that in 2021, engagement dropped to 58% and held steady through 2022. Quinton points out that one of the main takeaways here is that engagement is still outperforming its pre-pandemic levels.
Emerging Workforce Trends
Another big piece of the report is the workforce trends that were identified. Quinton and Tom discuss a number of trends, from shifting expectations, stress and burnout, and economic uncertainty. It’s unsurprising that one of the trends was the increasing preference for flexible work like hybrid and fully remote options. Quinton adds a layer of context into this trend, by mentioning that in the data, he has been finding a pattern that employees are trying to find a balance between remote work and staying connected with their workplace. Many still want to come into the office on occasion but don’t want to give up the ability to work fully remotely when needed.
What Drives Engagement?
At this point in the episode, Tom and Quinton get into what is probably the most insightful part of the report, the drivers of engagement. Quinton begins by sharing the methodology used to identify these drivers and explains that these are the survey items that were most correlated with employee engagement based on People Element’s research-based engagement index. These items had the most statistically significant impact on improving or decreasing engagement across employee survey data in 2022.
Quinton first gives us a high-level overview of the following five drivers:
- Growth & Development
- Company Communication
- Employee Voice
- Feeling Valued
Then he dives into specifics and action items for each one. We’ll share his insights on the first two drivers below:
Growth & Development
The first driver that Quinton covers is Growth & Development. The items within this category that were correlated with engagement were employees feeling like they have the opportunity to be promoted, being provided with growth opportunities, and having someone that encourages their professional development at work. So how do you improve upon these items? Quinton mentions that leadership sometimes overlooks this category because they feel that they can’t just ‘promote everyone’. He shares the following action items:
The next driver mentioned is Company Communication. This driver encompasses employees feeling like they have sufficient communication from senior leadership, and leadership communicating a clear vision for the future. Quinton shares the following tips for addressing these areas:
You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know
This episode wraps up with Quinton sharing one of his favorite sayings, “You can’t fix what you don’t know”. He shares that the best way to understand what would enhance your workplace is to ask your employees. He suggests trying employee surveys for an easy way to gather insights from everyone. Once you have that information, you can start to fix things. Without it, as his saying goes, you won’t know where to start.
Tom: Welcome to All About HR. I am your host, Tom Horne. And I am on a journey to learn about All Things HR, I am documenting my conversations with thought leaders, HR professionals, and real employees, but everything from recruiting, workplace of the future, benefits, you name it. We are All About HR. Let’s go.
All right, we are back for another episode of All About HR, pretty excited about this one. I have one of my colleagues, Quinton Barrett, that’s going to jump on with us. This is our first people element guests since episode three, getting close to two years ago. So, People Element has been a great sponsor, it’s my employer but, we don’t go to the well too much. We are not trying to turn this into a big people make commercial but there’s some great people at People Element, I want to make sure I am talking to you more, now we are all remote. When I started at People Element we were all in the office together. So Quinton has been one of my favorite people at People Element, and that’s part of the reason he’s on the show. But the other part of the reason he’s on the show is, he is one of the data analysts at People Element and this episode is going to be fully dedicated to unpacking the data from People Element’s 2023 engagement report. I want to welcome Quinton, I am going to give him a quick bio here. Quinton works as People Element analyst. He has analyzed client specific survey and interpreted results across several industries. In Israel, Quinton has gained extensive experience working with HR and leadership to target areas of opportunity such as turnover, and low engagement. Quinton, welcome to All About HR.
Quinton: Thanks for having me.
Tom: I had you on my initial list when we launched to get on do a show. But I don’t know how it’s been almost two years. So I am excited to have you at the mic here today.
Quinton: Yeah, I was getting offended. I was wondering when you were going to have me on.
Tom: Well, I mean, you are one of the busiest guys of the company, or at least it feels like you are one of the busiest guys at the company.
Tom: Tell the listeners a little bit more. I gave you a bio, but what’s your day to day like? Why are you so busy? What are you busy doing here?
Quinton: Spend a lot of time looking at employee experience data. I spend most of my time digging through engagement surveys, exit surveys, new hire surveys, well-being pretty much any survey you can think of. I am looking at the data; I am picking it apart. And I am trying to figure out what are some of the key opportunities in each survey for our clients.
Tom: I love that. And I think a lot of our listeners, I think what you do is incredibly valuable. But one of the things we talk a lot about is employee engagement, understanding employee data is not always rocket science. I mean, you can go down a rabbit hole of biocide, right? But it’s not rocket science. But what it is, it’s understanding a lot of different nuances, right? A lot of people think they could probably do what you do and go, “Yeah, I can find out what’s engagement,” but off the cuff, what’s the difference between somebody that doesn’t have a lot of experience looking at data versus you who have a lot of experience? What’s that delta look like? Why is your job so important?
Quinton: I think a lot of people who don’t look at data from day to day, look at the bottom five items in a survey and say, “Hey, that’s what I need to work on.” And I talked about this all the time, if you are looking to exit data, the lowest scoring items in your survey, that might not be when people quit their job. You can be unhappy about something and not make you quit your job.
Same thing with engagement surveys, the lowest scoring items aren’t necessarily what makes people disengaged. So, I like to look at it like I am trying to build a case. I always imagine that the CEO of a company walked into my office and they say, “Quinton, I need you to tell me the top three things that drive turnover and organization right now.” And I want to be able to lay out a solid case and say, “Hey, these are the top three things, and this is why.” And the lowest scoring items in the surveys is typically just one piece of evidence, then you have comments to look at, you have all different types of questions. So that’s the difference. I tried to build the case. And some others might just look at the lowest scoring items.
Tom: I love that. I love that you back into it, you know where you want to get to, what’s the data going to tell you? Can you build a case, or can you not build the case? Do you find a lot of people when they are analyzing data? And I am at the start, you and I talked about music and bourbon, we will get there. But we are in the weeds with work already.
Tom: But do you find that clients get stuck trying to build a case and make the data fit the case they want instead of let the data drive them to the reality whether it’s the one they want or not? Is that pretty common and is that easy to do?
Quinton: Well, I think there’s a couple different ways that can go. You can have a client come in and they already think they have the answer, right? They already think they know what drives turnover or what drives disengagement or engagement. And then they are trying to build a case around that. And that’s just not the way to go. You’ve got to let the data speak for itself.
So I want to make it clear that I don’t go in there with any idea already made up, as to what drives turnover to what drives engagement. I look at the data and I see what the case says, right? And then I tried to build it from there. And I think it is a pitfall that people end up falling into, is they go into it thinking they already know what the issues are.
Tom: Well, that’s, that’s a good teaser for what we are going to dive into. We will intro that in a second. But Quinton, I got to ask, you and I both like bourbon. We like whiskey. We like tasting responsibly, of course.
Tom: Have you had anything good lately?
Quinton: You know this, but I have been stuck on Nectars, American whiskey for a long time. Nectars unblended, American whiskey is, it’s been about a year and that’s the one I go to. I have almost stopped trying others because I like it so much.
Tom: No, wow. You have settled in, you are like, “This is my go to, this is what I like, this is what I am doing.”
Quinton: If I drink daily, that would be my daily drink. I still have to go out and try other things. But it’s just a solid choice. It really is.
Tom: Yeah, so the unsolicited Nectar’s commercial here on All About HR. I keep a bottle of that on my shelf at all times, since you have introduced it to me. Where we were, what restaurant in Denver were we at where we tried that for the first time?
Quinton: It had to be Bowling Bush, right?
Tom: Yeah, it was Bowling Bush, that’s right. All right, so that’s another commercial Bowling Bush. If you’re ever in Denver, that place has an awesome whiskey list. Great beer list. And some of the best queso you might find in Denver. Right Quin?
Quinton: Great queso, I wasn’t going to let you mess on the queso there. Yeah, a good queso, chorizo in it, love it.
Tom: Yeah. And I mean, that’s a pretty high bar, right? I am sure anyone listening, you have got queso at 100 places in your town. But if you are ever in Denver, Bowling Bush, pretty central, check it out. I am a queso guy, Quinton’s a queso guy. His resume includes growing up in Texas, so he knows his way around, some Tex Mex, some cheese and spices one of the best at Bowling Bush. Cool. Thanks for letting me wax poetic about some queso. So, we need to get back there and check that out again soon.
Quinton: For sure.
Tom: Alright, so the People Element Annual Engagement Report, give me a primer about what’s in it, what it is, and what we are going to be talking about today?
Quinton: Well, you just said it, it’s data that comes from the annual engagement trends report that we make each year. And the report we are talking about is made up of all People Element’s clients that ran an engagement survey throughout 2022. So, we are talking about this and it’s not like two or three clients. We are talking about more than 200 different organizations, and a bunch of different industries, where you are talking about healthcare, transportation, or manufacturing. And it’s just the engagement trends that we have seen across those clients in 2022.
Tom: Just to follow up on something you mentioned there, when I am having my business development conversations, and I am talking to different clients, I feel like a lot of the data whether you are in manufacturing, or government, or technology, or the global benchmark, do you find that there tends to be some parity between the ups and downs of engagement? Or is it really just all over the map?
Quinton: No, there’s definitely drivers of engagement, things that are correlated with engagement that are very common across industries. It doesn’t matter whether you are driving a truck, or whether you are an RN at a hospital, you probably care about the way your senior leadership communicates with you, right? Maybe you care about growth and development or your future at the organization. There are certain things that are just drivers of engagement. They were drivers five years ago, and they are probably going to be drivers of engagement five years from now.
Tom: Yeah, that makes sense. Thank you. So let’s start at the very base here. How do we define engagement? And what are some of the impacts of engagement disengagement? And then we can get into how it’s measured as well.
Quinton: Yeah, the question of what is the definition of engagement, is actually an interesting question. If you were to Google, Tom, if you were to Google, what is employee engagement, right now, you are going to come back with about 1000 different answers. And really, they all might be pretty good definitions of engagement. I will tell you a funny story, before the pandemic, I used to travel a lot more. And I would ask senior leadership, I would ask CEOs and frontline employees, what do you think employee engagement is? I just thought it was an interesting question. And I always thought it was so funny that people have an innate understanding of what engagement is. They all know, even if they don’t do this type of work. They all would come back with something like, “You know what? I think it’s just people who wake up in the morning and they want to come to work and they want to do a good job, or I think it’s people who, they are not just coming to work for their paycheck, they care about the outcomes. They care about the goals of the organization.”
I love asking that question because it comforts me to know that you can spot engagement, you can spot an engaged employee. But if you made me pick my favorite definition of engagement, I would say it’s the emotional connection an employee feels towards the organization and its goals. That’s what I think we are trying to tap into. That’s what I think everybody is trying to tap into when they want to measure engagement, the emotional connection, and employee feels towards the organization and its goals.
Tom: Yeah, I love that. That’s great. And I liked what you said before, too, that everybody tends to have an idea about it. And they are not wrong either. And that there’s a lot of ways to look at it. And maybe we will have to add that question to our hot sauce. How do you define engagement? I want to do that same poll you did and get a whole broad library of answers of what people think it is.
Quinton: I can tell you, when you ask people, they tend to freeze up in the beginning, and then you just press them a little bit and you say, “Hey, think of an employee that you know that’s engaged. I know, you know somebody that you know is engaged, how do you know they are engaged?” And then they will start telling you, they will almost tell you exactly how to measure engagement, if you press them a little bit.
Tom: I agree. And I feel like that’s one of the areas that makes this whole engagement place tough and less sticky as people go, “All right, you know what? I have a good definition of engagement. I feel like I know what engages my people. I don’t need to do a survey. I don’t need to understand the data.” And that’s really what I want to get to today is, not in a salesy way, but genuinely why is it important to move past just understanding what engagement is and get to the impacts of engagement or disengagement, and then how to measure it and what that data looks like. So disengagement, I have said that twice, what are the impacts of disengagement? And is disengagement more important to look at than engagement, I feel like everyone’s looking at engagement, but tell me how disengagement filters in?
Quinton: I mean, I just think of them as the same thing, it just depends on whether you are a glass half full or glass half empty type of person, right? I could say your organization is 80% engaged, or I could say, it’s 20% disengaged. The impact of somebody being disengaged, somebody who, they speak disparagingly about the organization, maybe they don’t plan on being there for very long, they are going to quit their job pretty soon, they spread negativity if they don’t quit their job. The impact is that turnover probably goes up, accidents go up, absenteeism goes up, productivity goes down, well-being goes down. This is just what the research shows. This is not just People Element, there’s tons of research around engagement. So, I always call it a magic metric. If you can reliably measure engagement, and then you can figure out a way to increase that engagement, you get all these positive outcomes that maybe you wouldn’t even have thought of.
Tom: It’s like having a sprinkler system, right? You water all the flowers, make their garden pretty.
Quinton: Yeah, I am going to use that from now on. It’s a sprinkler system.
Tom: I hope so, that just came to me. I’m riffin’ here. So how does People Element measure engagement? When you say, “You are 60% engaged.” How do you measure that? What’s that actually come from?
Quinton: Yeah, I think that’s probably more important than the definition of engagement. So I gave you my favorite definition, which is not anywhere near as important as how we measure engagement. People Element measures engagement with an engagement index that’s embedded into the survey, and that index, I won’t go over the actual items, but it looks at a few different things. It looks at discretionary effort, whether they are motivated to go above and beyond to really put forth that extra effort. It looks at organizational pride, are you proud to work for the organization? Advocacy, are you an advocate for the organization?
So Tom, if I were to bump into you at the grocery store, 10 years from now, and I say, “You still work at People Element?” You say, “Yeah, I love it. You should work there, too.” In this scenario, I am no longer working there, I don’t know why but for the sake of this. So you are an advocate for the organization.
Feelings of accomplishment and then even organizational commitment. This is whether you plan on being there, or do you plan on quitting sometime soon. So, a lot of people just take one of those things, and they sort of equate it to engagement, they think of somebody’s intention to stay equals their engagement. And that’s not necessarily the case, it’s made up of a bunch of different things. So we have these items, this engagement index embedded in our survey, we measure it consistently across all of our clients the same way so that we can compare to other clients. And it’s a really important metric to look at. Because like I said, if you can figure out a way to increase that score, you will see those positive outcomes that we talked about.
Tom: I love this. I mean, this is the world I live in, and this is already beneficial to me, I like what I am hearing here. Let’s start looking at some of the data now that we have got kind of a base and a groundwork here. What percent of the workforce is engaged from the benchmark? Let’s start there. What is engagement like, period?
Quinton: I think different vendors might measure engagement in different ways. But if we look at engagement with the People Element Engagement Index, in 2022, across all those organizations that we talked about, we saw the Global Engagement benchmark be 58%. Fifty-eight percent of their employee population was engaged based on our measurement of engagement. And if I can go down a little rabbit hole here, I think this is kind of interesting, because I get this question all the time. People say, “What did it look like during the pandemic?” And it was a wild ride. Back in 2019, before the pandemic, engagement was 56%, 56% engaged. 2020 hit and that’s year one of the pandemic. And this is a question for you, Tom, what would you think would happen when a global pandemic hits? What do you think happened to engagement?
Tom: I mean; I know what I did think when it happened. I was like, “Oh, man, it’s fallen off a cliff.”
Quinton: Yeah, you would think that. You would think it’s just going to nosedive. And I mean, this is new for everybody. Nobody had been part of a pandemic like that. And engagement spiked, it went up across all of our clients, it went up to 61% engagement for 2020. Which was bizarre to me, I was still traveling a lot at the time. And I would go and I would ask leadership teams and frontline employees, and all these people, “Why is this happening? Why do you think engagement getting better?” And they would tell me things like, “We have to band together, we have to take care of each other, we got to beat this thing.” It was a silver lining a little bit, I don’t want to pretend like, it’s a good thing that we had a pandemic, but from an engagement standpoint, it was really interesting that it went up. Then year two in 2021, it dropped to 58% engaged, I think just fatigue started setting a little bit. And then in 2022, it stayed that way, 58% engagement, but it still hasn’t dropped back to what it was in 2019, which I think is interesting.
Tom: And I think it’s interesting to just being out in the HR Twitter-sphere, and just on social, you would think the world is collapsing in the workplace with the back-to-work and the possible recession and layoffs and all the conversations negative. But that’s a pretty positive number you gave, 58% is not a bad engagement score. And it’s still higher than it was pre-pandemic.
Quinton: Yeah, we will probably get into a little bit of this later. But I think some of the workforce trends that we see are kind of a struggle for different organizations, there is a silver lining to it, suddenly people want flexible work. And they want to be able to work remote, things that we didn’t have to deal with as much before. But they also want meaning, they want to find more meaning in their work than they did before. And I think that is, if I had to guess that’s part of the reason why engagement is still a little bit higher than it was in 2019, is people came out on the other side of all this craziness. And they said, “Listen, I don’t know that I am happy with just coming to work for a paycheck. I want meaning in my work. I want work-life balance. I want my leadership team to care about me.” And I think that has a positive impact on engagement, that mindset.
Tom: I never thought of it that way. I love that. I love talking to analysts. I am going to do an all-analyst podcast, I think. This is great! Let’s go another layer deeper. What else are you seeing at a higher level before we get into drivers? But what else were you seeing from our engagement report that stuck out or that might be good to share as far as a high level, kind of some high-level numbers about engagement?
Quinton: Well, I guess one of the things is kind of the way it trended in throughout 2022. That’s something that kind of stuck out to me. Like I said, in 2021, we were at 58% engaged. So everybody, me, my colleagues, and my supervisor were really interested in, what’s it going to look like in 2022? And we tracked it quarter by quarter. And in Q1, we were at, like 60% engagement, we were thinking, “Oh, man, we are about to spike back up, again. Things are getting a little bit back to “normal” and we are about to see better engagement.” Q2, it was in about 59% engagement. Q3 54%. Q4 56%. So it started even out around 58% engagement, the same exact engagement score as it was back in 2021. I thought it was interesting that it looked like we were going to have some really strong engagement at the beginning of the year, but it didn’t end up any better than the last year.
Tom: So should I do my engagement survey in Q1 and not in Q3?
Quinton: Yeah, I don’t think you can take one year and make that decision. I always tell people, “I don’t care when you do your engagement survey, just do it that same time consistently each year.” I actually have an organization that I work with, and they plan their engagement survey kind of right before, like an Employee Appreciation Week. And you might look at that on the outside and saying, “Wait a minute, they are doing that because they know their scores are going to be better.” But who cares? As long as they are doing it, same time each and every year, and they are doing it consistently, they are still getting a good, reliable measurement of engagement. And I think it’s just more important to be consistent with when you do it.
Tom: Awesome. What are some of the trends? Now we are in it, what are some of the trends that you saw coming out of the data from 2022?
Quinton: So stop me if I am going on too much here. I can tell you some of the trends that we saw in our data, but we also saw in other research. One thing we saw was a shifting of expectations. And I will be a little more specific, we see that most people get some sort of sense of purpose out of their work. But post-pandemic, and I use that term lightly. Like I said before, they seem to want more, they want more of a purpose. And I think that’s good. And I think that’s helping us with engagement. They want a connection to their organization and their work. And the challenge that we are seeing with some of these employees is they now want less work. They are really focused on work-life balance, they are really focused on facets of well-being, this is the shift and expectations that I am talking about. They are focused on that so much that we are seeing that a lot of them are saying, “Hey, I would even take a lower rate wage, if I could find that balance.” So shifting expectations is one of the trends that we see. And I don’t think anybody listening would disagree. I think everybody’s kind of dealing with that.
Tom: Yeah, I think that sounds right.
Quinton: Another thing and this is kind of overlapping with it, but flexible work has become a huge deal. More so than it was in the past. A lot of employees got to work from home for the first time ever. And big surprise, they liked it, they liked working from home. So you got workers with full schedule flexibility and their reporting, “Hey, we have better productivity, I have more ability to focus.” They are reporting all these positive outcomes that are associated with flexible or remote or hybrid work. I don’t doubt the positive aspects that employees are reporting. But I do know that they are scared of having it taken away, you can kind of see it in the data. Because not to say too much bad about it, because they are like, “I really liked this. And I want to make sure I get to keep this, this flexibility.”
Having said that, I also believe that organizations can create policies that support and guide a flexible workplace. And you and I, Tom, we could probably agree on that because people did a pretty good job. Right when the pandemic hit our leadership kind of saw right away, like week two, they were like, “You know what? We need to start having weekly huddles, and coffee breaks and this and that.” And I am a genius, I was thinking, “Why? This is going to be done in a month.” And then you see two years later, and I am not kidding, I have certain organizations that I have worked with two years into the pandemic, they are like, “Should we start having like, some sort of coffee breaks, maybe like on Teams?” They are starting to look at it now. So there are policies that we can create to kind of make it a win-win for employees and the organization, I think.
Tom: Yeah, I mean, looking at that, too. I mean, just for me, personally, a one-person survey here, something you said, really, it’s stuck in my head now, and it probably will be there forever. When I joined People Element, it was all in the office, there’s a little bit of flexibility on a Friday afternoon, I think, but it was pretty much in the office most of the time. And that’s what everyone was set, and then boom, the culture went to fully remote.
But now, I mean, I definitely miss like, popping by your office and being like, “Hey, you want to go to Bowling Bush, or hey, who’s going for lunch today?” I really miss that interaction; I miss being able to go and just ask questions face-to-face with team members. But at the same time, I like working at home. And I think the biggest fear is that I would prefer to go back to a little more of a hybrid environment. But I am scared to introduce anything that starts taking away that fully remote that we have gotten used to. So, I think that point you make about that anxiety of like, having something taken away is almost stronger than whether they like working fully remote, or hybrid, or any of that anyways, because I think that was the best way to talk about how I feel. And I didn’t know that’s how I felt till you said it.
Quinton: Yeah, and I want to be clear, I am not discounting their feedback when they say, “Hey, I can focus and I feel productive.” But I also read a bunch of comments, and I read a bunch of qualitative data. And I know that right now, they’re kind of on the fence around like, “I love remote work, I love having this flexibility. But I don’t want to lose that connectedness. I don’t want to lose that collaboration that I have with my co-workers.” And I see a bunch of comments now of employees saying, “Maybe we should have one day a week where we all go into the office, or maybe we should do that.” They really don’t want to lose that. And I think people, humans don’t know how much they miss being connected to other humans until they are not. And then they are having to deal with it. So they are learning and each individual’s learning along the way as well.
Tom: Yeah, 100%. I can’t disagree. All right. So, the return to office, the flexibility, solid trend. And I think there’s some really good insights there. What else have you seen in there?
Quinton: We are starting to see that stress and burnout started reaching levels that we saw during the height of the pandemic and you think it wouldn’t be like that. You think people stress and their burnout and the well-being, we would be getting a little better. But no, towards the end of 2022, it was exactly what we saw during the height of the pandemic. Burnout leads to decreased morale, burnout leads to lower engagement, more turnover. I have alluded to this a couple times already, but I just think it’s important to remember that, for many people, it wasn’t like there was a concrete end to the pandemic. It wasn’t like, “Alright, 2022, the pandemic is over.” There are a lot of people that are still dealing with the aftereffects of the pandemic, and they are still dealing with it right now. And I will just use that to jump into the next trend. When I say, aftereffects, I am talking about things like economic uncertainty, we are all dealing with that right now, whether you are talking about growing inflation rates, general cost of living, world politics, without getting into too much detail, that all contributes to economic uncertainty. And, yeah, that’s why it seems a bit disingenuous to say things are back to normal, because they are not quite.
Tom: Yeah, what is normal? Right?
Quinton: Yeah, we were going to have to throw in the cliche here and say, we are working toward the new normal, I was trying to avoid it, but I am going to throw it in.
Tom: Sorry, I pushed it there. Are there any other trends? Because we are going to take a break in a second. And when we come back from that break, I want to talk about the drivers of engagement and some things that you can do to push back on those drivers of engagement that we found.
That’s awesome, Quinton, appreciate those insights to the trends. Definitely, that burnout piece, I think is really pointed. And I feel like burnout is one of those things, it’s really tough, because I don’t think a lot of people realize they are burnt out until they are really burnt out. And if the data can show that, you can capture that before they hit that tipping point when they are already actively disengaged, and they are just not present. I think finding that earlier and understanding that it is prevalent in today’s workforce is exceptionally important.
Quinton: Yeah, agreed.
Tom: All right. This has been great. We are going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we are going to dive into the drivers of engagement and how to take action.
Quinton: I am ready.
Tom: We will be right back.
. . .
Alright, Quinton, it is time for the HR Hot Sauce questions. Are you ready?
What is the best job you have ever had?
Quinton: In college, I used to clean doctor’s offices and lawyer’s offices for extra money. So I would just go in and clean at night. Nobody breathing down my throat. Just listen to music. It was a fun job.
Tom: That’s a new first of all Hot Sauce. I love it. What’s the one phrase at work that drives you nuts?
Quinton: “Perception is reality.” Just because of the type of work we do. I look at perception data all day. I know that perception is not reality. I understand the phrase. I understand why people use it, but it does kind of bother me in terms of my work.
Tom: Do you like working on rainy or sunny days?
Quinton: I would prefer not to work on either. I guess if I am going to work, it should be a rainy day.
Tom: Best useless skill?
Quinton: This is a weird one. I can twirl a stick really well. And let me explain. That’s strange. I know. But I grew up in the country and I always carried a little walking stick with me. For some reason, I am really good at twirling a stick around like that, like a gymnast girl or I prefer to say like a ninja.
Tom: One of the baton twirlers?
Quinton: Yeah. Kind of like that.
Tom: Mild, medium, hot, or nuclear?
Quinton: We are talking about hot sauce and I say, hot. I love spicy food. But I don’t want anything to ruin my day. So, I will stick with hot.
Tom: Favorite interview question to ask or be asked?
Quinton: I like to ask what would your current coworker say is your biggest area of opportunity? Sometimes you will still get like a humble brag like, “I work too hard. I give all my colleagues credit.” But it still makes them take a step back and think like, “What are my coworkers think of me?” So that’s my favorite.
Tom: Good question. What is your favorite song to bring you out of a funk?
Quinton: Dixieland Delight by Alabama.
Tom: All right, great song, we will add it to the list. We are down with HR Hot Sauce. Let’s get back to the show.
. . .
And we are back. Great Hot Sauce with Quinton. We have been talking about the data from People Element’s Global Engagement report that just dropped in Q1, we are talking about the state of engagement, some of the trends we are seeing, but we are going to focus a little bit more on what’s driving engagement. So Quinton, what are some of the drivers of engagement that you saw in the data from 2022?
Quinton: Yeah, that’s a good question. First, I want to kind of explain how we determine what a driver of engagement is. We talked about that engagement index, where we look at like commitment to the organization and advocacy and things like that. So what we do is we take that index, and we run a correlation against every other item in the survey. So let’s say, you have an engagement survey that has say 40 items in it, you take that engagement index, you run a correlation against every item. And what we are looking for is, we are looking for items that have a positive correlation with engagement. And that means that this is a relationship.
In general, if these items go up in score, engagement is likely to go up in score. If these items go down in score engagements likely to go down in score. That’s the relationship.
So these are not the lowest-scoring items in the survey. A lot of the time you already know what the lowest-scoring items are instead, these are the lowest-scoring with the highest impact on engagement. So what we call key drivers of engagement, you can think of it is, these are the areas that are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck, when you want to work on increasing engagement. Now each organization can have different drivers, you are going to have drivers specific to your organization. And our platform will show you in real-time what your drivers of engagement are. But what we are about to talk about are, what were the drivers of engagement across all of the organizations we worked with that did engagement surveys in 2022.
Tom: Well, just to stay on that before we get into the bigger drivers of engagement. I mean, that can vary by demographic within an organization too, right? That will change per organization. But do you find that to be pretty common that the drivers of engagement do skew within an organization, depending on different demographic views?
Quinton: That probably would, but the platform shows you drivers of engagement at the org-wide level and it does that for a reason. You wouldn’t necessarily want to look and see what drivers of engagement are for every little demographic, because then you would have people filtering in on like a certain department and people with less than one-year tenure and only millennials. And then it’s like, “Is the correlation really strong enough to even talk about that point? Do you even have enough data to really do that?” That’s why, you kind of want to look and see what the key drivers are engagement for your overall organization.
Tom: Yeah, I think that kind of aligns with the, I am not going to go down the rabbit hole, but the dreaded benchmark conversation as well, where people want it so granular that you are like, “Is it really that actual benchmark?”
Quinton: Yeah, that comes up a lot. I always say, there’s no sense in trying to be better than somebody else, if you can’t be better than yourself. I think benchmark data is really important to look at, but I would never use it as the main thing that helps me action plan, because it’s possible that you are better than everybody else at something, and it still be the thing you need to work on. Because maybe just for your organization, that’s the thing that’s important to your employees, and that’s the thing that drives engagement.
Tom: See, I love that. I am glad I brought up benchmarks now. But we are going to stick a pin in that and get back to what we are talking about. Drivers of engagement, what did we see as the key drivers? And then we will get into kind of how we push back on them. Or I don’t know, how do you want to do it? Do you want to talk about each one? And what steps to take? Yeah, I will let you present the data however you want.
Quinton: I will kind of tell you the themes that came up that drive engagement without necessarily getting into each individual item, I will give you the big themes that we saw that were drivers of engagement across all of our clients in 2022.
Quinton: So we will just list them out for you. One, Growth and Development. Growth and development, people feeling like there’s opportunity, feeling like there’s a path forward. That’s a very common driver of engagement. And it was across our clients in 2022.
Two, Company Communication, communicating with your employees from various ways. Three, Employee Voice, having a voice, feeling like your ideas and suggestions matter, people care about what you have to say.
Four was Well-being, which is something that was a little new. This is a product of our times, I think. Well-being is very important. We have already talked about it. And it was a driver of engagement.
And then last but not least, just in general, feeling valued as an employee, which is kind of a good measurement of engagement in and of itself, if you can figure out a way to make employees feel valued. And I know that’s vague, but engagement will get better. Those are the big things. Those are the big things that drive engagement, and likely they’re drivers of engagement for people listening to this call as well. But you also can have your own individual something very specific that drives engagement for your organization.
Tom: Yeah, I don’t think anything was super out of what I guessed. Well-being, it’s good to see that on the list. I mean, it really is.
Quinton: Yep, we can break it down one by one. I don’t know if we want to go through each one of them.
Tom: Let’s do it.
Quinton: Some of the items that are correlated with engagement were things like, employees feeling like they have the opportunity to be promoted, being provided with growth opportunities, or even just having somebody that encourages their professional development. Those are specific items from growth and development that are correlated with engagement. Now, growth and development is one of those areas that I think a lot of organizations kind of throw their hands up and they say, “Well, you know what? We can’t promote everybody. Tom, we can’t promote everybody. So I don’t know what to do about that.” And they have to take a step back. And they have to remember, this is employee perception data. You have to ask why they have low perceptions of growth and development. And they have to understand that nobody said the answer is promoting everybody. Sometimes it’s just making sure somebody’s talking to them about their growth, or making sure that they are promoting the training opportunities that they already have available to them.
Tom: That’s great. I love that distinction.
Quinton: I will give you a concrete action item that I have seen people take. You have a department of engineers, and you say, “Well, they have really low perceptions around growth and development, but they are all engineers, they already have a manager, we don’t know what to do with them.” Well, some organizations might create a career path within that department that wasn’t there before. They might say, “Okay, now we have engineers, one, two, and three. And these engineers can now work their way, through these different job titles.” Well, you have created growth opportunities for them by doing that, that’s something, that’s concrete that can help increase perceptions of growth and development.
Quinton: It never hurts to also have one-on-one conversations with your manager, creating that strong connection with managers where they are sitting down annually with their employees, if they have the bandwidth to do it, and have a career conversation with them, talk to them about what they want to do in their career, where do they see themselves in five years? How do they get there? I don’t want to be cynical but even if that person didn’t progress in their career, you still planted a seed in their head at that point, “Look, there is opportunity, if you can do the right things, there is opportunity,” and that impacts their engagement. So those are just a couple of things that I think can help, if somebody is really kind of struggling and working on increasing perceptions or on growth and development.
Tom: That last item you mentioned too, just kind of speaks to the nuance of what we are talking about that nothing you said, like I bet there’s a bunch of you are listening, “Yeah, of course we do that.” But I think the act of sitting down to just talk about growth and development, that the meeting is, “Let’s have a growth and development conversation,” is so much more impactful than just, “Oh, hey, at the end of this other thing, like do you want to go somewhere? What do you want to do?” I think it’s like that little bit of intention of sitting down, focusing specifically on growth and development is one of those areas where it can make a huge difference. And also one of those areas where a lot of companies will see lower scores and go, “We are doing this,” but the perception of the employee is that, “You are not doing it well.”
Quinton: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. I mean, this is the mistake a lot of organizations make is they have like, they say, “Yeah, we have performance appraisals every year.” And we talked about that, during a performance appraisal, “Oh, it’s a little piece of this other meeting that you are having, right?” You are talking about performance and all this other stuff. And then at the end, you say, “You ever thought about management or something like that?” I mean, ideally, you would have a conversation dedicated to their career and growth and development. That’s where you are going to get the biggest bang for your buck. And they are going to say, “Hmm, maybe there is a path forward for me.” And I realized that not every organization can have their managers do that, depending on how they are set up. I promise you, it has a big impact on employee perceptions.
Tom: I knew it. Awesome. Company communication, talk about that. I bet a lot of ears perked up to that one.
Quinton: Yeah. Especially what we are talking about when we say, company communication. So when I first got this Engagement Trends Report, I was kind of flipping through it. I am not the one who made the report. But I look at employee data every day, I was flipping through the report. And I read the key drivers of engagement. And I didn’t see Senior Leadership as one of the drivers of engagement. And I said, “Hey, something’s wrong here, guys. There’s a mistake. I know for a fact the way people feel about senior leadership drives engagement, I see it every day, I see it in everybody’s data.” And then because I tend to jump the gun and they said, “Hey, calm down, Quinton, read it a little closer here, read the Company Communication Driver of Engagement.” Then I read the actual items that were correlated with engagement. And one of them was, “Having sufficient communication from senior leadership.” And other one was, “Leadership communicating a clear vision for the future.” So both fall under company communication, but it really comes from that senior leadership.
So then I am like, “Okay, now this is legit. Now, I will trust it.” Also, just being kept informed about matters that affect them. That was correlated with engagement. So some things you can do around that if you want to increase perceptions of company communication. One, you want to make sure you deploy multiple delivery mediums. We are talking about not just email, do you do townhall meetings? Do you do video messages, team chats, recorded messages, podcast or something? We are on a podcast right now. But I have an organization that I worked with, they actually have a podcast. It’s a transportation organization, and they have a podcast that their drivers can listen to, it’s genius, right?
Tom: I love it.
Quinton: They are driving. They are listening to a podcast, and they are getting company information. I love it. And there’s no way they are going to come back and say, “Yeah, they don’t even try to communicate with us.” No, they are doing all kinds of different things to communicate. So make sure you have different delivery mediums. They want that information. That’s part of the communication we should be getting across to them.
Tom: Yeah, I have been talking to a lot of nonprofits lately, for whatever reason, and it might be correlated might not be, it might just be coincidence. But I have talked to a lot of nonprofits and most of their workforce is driven by the passion for the work. But now, a lot of these nonprofits are going, “Hey, if we are not running a full business, and we are not doing all these other business motions of communicating our vision, where this nonprofit is going to be in three years, are we growing? Are we staying where we are at?” That it starts whittling away at that passion. The key driver of engagement for the nonprofit is the passion and they need to understand all these other pieces. And I think, with you the data saying that people want that connection to their job, they want it to go for something. I think that really resonates and just the leaders communicating that, I think that piece connects to a lot of the other things you have been talking about today.
Quinton: Yeah, I mean, if an organization like that were to run an engagement survey, and they were to log into the People Element platform, they would probably see, one of their top key drivers of engagement would be leadership communicating a clear vision for the future, that’s how it would show up. And then I would end up with an executive presentation presenting to those people. And I would be saying, “Listen, you got to connect what they do to your vision, to your values, because they care about that. That’s why they are doing this type of work. They are passionate about it.” And then if they did a good job of connecting, well, then they can have a positive impact on engagement. I don’t want to pass up the chance to talk about tapping into your managers, your frontline managers. It’s pretty normal for perceptions of immediate managers to be higher than perceptions of senior leadership. So senior leadership really needs to make sure they are working on having a connection with frontline managers as well. Because a lot of the times they are your mouth. They are the ones passing down information. You want to empower them; you want to make sure that they are given the information so that they can answer questions. They can communicate HR policies or corporate information directly to employees. You don’t want to create a culture where it’s an us versus them thing. And the managers are saying, “This came down from senior leadership upstairs, I don’t have any control over this.” You want to be on the same page, senior leadership and management.
Tom: Feeling valued, is the next, I think that you noted. So we are feeling valued, employee voice and well-being I want to make sure we get to all these but dig in a little bit to feeling valued.
Quinton: Well, if you don’t mind, let me go out of order a little bit, I want to say feeling valued to the end. And I will tell you why here in a minute.
Tom: Perfect. I love the assertiveness.
Quinton: So let’s talk about employee voice for a minute. What does employee voice mean? I think it’s probably pretty self-explanatory. But the specific items are people feeling like they are encouraged to share their opinions and feedback, feeling like their ideas and suggestions are considered. Just having a voice! Now, if you want to give your employees a voice, one really, really cool way to do that is run an annual engagement survey. All right, run a survey, that is really what it’s for, so that you can give them a voice, you can get their feedback, and you can act on that data. That’s really, really important.
Tom: What if people say, “You know Quinton, our managers do a really good job. They do their one-on-one every week. We talked about it, we don’t need to do that annual engagement survey.”
Quinton: Yeah, those are the same people that they assume they know what’s causing people to be disengaged, then they run their survey. And they realize it’s completely different than what they thought. And they also realize they have 70% disengagement and they’ve got a long road ahead of them.
Tom: Thank you for humoring me there.
Quinton: It is very important to give your employees a voice. People want to be heard. And you want to create a culture where people feel safe to voice their opinions, where they don’t feel persecuted, they don’t feel judged. A confidential engagement surveys a way to do that. If you run this survey, and you make sure you explain to people why you are doing it, because you care about them. Because you want to give them a voice and it’s confidential so they can give their candid feedback. Well, their perceptions of having a voice are going to get better.
Also, I will go back to managers. I know I do that a lot. But you want to promote a deeper one-on-one conversation between managers and direct reports. You would be surprised how many organizations have direct reports or just frontline employees who don’t have one-on-one conversations with their manager almost ever. I have seen in the comments sometimes. “I haven’t had a one-on-one conversation with my manager in a year.” If you are having those, whether it’s weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one conversations with your manager, well, then you are giving the employees an opportunity to tell you things, to bring up things they are unsatisfied with, you are giving them a voice. So promoting that deeper connection between managers and employees is really helpful for employee voice as well.
You said you were happy to see well-being on the list. So I will talk about the items that were specifically correlated with engagement. It was having the resources and support to manage their stress, that was correlated with engagement. Being supported and maintaining a work-life balance, work-life balance is connected to engagement. And having sufficient staff to handle the workload. So stress, workload, work-life balance, they all kind of equate to well-being, I would say. How do you do that? How do you work on those things in an environment like we have today, especially where people are remote? You go home, and sometimes it’s hard to turn your computer off. Sometimes it’s hard to understand when the end of the workday is.
One thing you want to do is you want to make sure your managers are promoting healthy boundaries between work and home, you want to make sure they are leading by example, you want to make sure they are holding their employees accountable, to know when it’s time to be off of work. I am the worst person to talk about this, you will get on Teams, and you will see me on there in the middle of the night, but my manager does a good job of trying to hold me accountable. You want to train leaders, managers, and employees on how to navigate mental health at work. You can outsource this, there are people that can come in and train your people regarding mental health. But you also want to make sure that all the resources that you have, are available to all employees, and they are communicated really well. I have worked with organizations that have like hotlines to call. They have resources available, but they are not always doing a great job of promoting those. So that’s a little bit about well-being, it’s really around workload and stress.
Tom: But I just want to give a shout out to the well-being committee at People Element. When I saw it, I was like, “Oh, this is cool. We will see where it goes.” But I mean, they are constantly sharing fitness goals like yoga at your desk. And it’s consistent. And I think the thing that I like most about it is it doesn’t fall off, that it’s really now a part of kind of the communication and the culture at People Element. And I think that’s across the board for everything but that do these things, but have staying power, don’t just commit to them for a couple of weeks or a couple of months. That’s the tenure that gave, I think the most power to the well-being committee people. And that was the fact that like, they didn’t just drop it. It’s still there.
Quinton: They are consistent with it. For sure, they make me go on walks and stuff when we have little company get together. And they won’t take “No” for an answer and I appreciate them for it.
Tom: Good. I think I went skiing when you went for that walk.
Quinton: Feeling valued. Why did I save that one for last? The items! The items that were correlated with engagement around feeling valued are: I feel valued at work, leadership values its employees. If I would have started with that, I think, Tom, you might have said, “Well, that’s not very actionable, I feel valued. What makes people feel valued?” and you are right, feeling valued is almost always a driver of engagement. I mentioned that earlier. It’s such a common driver of engagement, that I sort of think of it as a decent measurement of engagement, in and of itself. It’s an outcome. So I will just point out that if you do a good job of making sure employees feel like they have growth opportunities, if you do a good job communicating with them, you give them a voice, you support their well-being. You see what I am doing here? I am kind of recapping all these efforts around engagement. If you can figure out a way to increase perceptions of all those well then your employees are going to feel more valued. They are going to say, “Man, they really cared about communicating with me this year, or they really cared about my growth and development. My manager even sits down with me and talked about it with me.” They feel more valued. It’s an outcome of all those other things we have talked about.
Tom: So where’s more pay in this?
Quinton: Well, I don’t want employees coming for me. Is this going to be public? Are you putting this online somewhere?
Tom: You are going to be on Apple, Spotify, Amazon stuff. Approach this appropriately.
Quinton: All right. Well, I want to remind everybody, my name is Chris Coberly. Just kidding. This is just a fact, pay is not a typical driver of engagement. Pay is not one of the things that typically makes people have that emotional connection to the organization and its goals. I want to be clear, pay will drive turnover, pay will make somebody quit their job. If they feel like they are not paid fairly. And honestly, giving somebody a pay raise and trying to make sure you are at market value, as long as you do a good job of communicating why you did it. Yeah, that will make people feel more valued, for sure. So it can have an impact on engagement. But it’s not common for our compensation items to be correlated with engagement. That’s just the way it is. It is very common for perceptions of senior leadership and growth and development and feeling valued to be correlated with engagement.
Tom: Yeah, the one thing I hear is that, “I am not paid enough for the work I do.” And it’s really about the resources, the job description and all the other things that you have already talked about. So in a way, I guess it’s still in there.
Quinton: Yeah, I am not discounting perceptions of pay. I mean, that’s definitely something we should be working on if it’s a persistent issue, but it is interesting that when you read the comments, people sort of pair it with other things. They say, “I need to be paid more, and there’s no room for growth.” “I need to be paid more and my manager is mean to me.” They always pair it with something else. And I sort of get the feeling that if we were hitting the mark on all those other areas there, well, then maybe pay wouldn’t be as big of an issue to them. But that’s just a thought.
Tom: All right, Quinton. That was a lot. You took us through defining engagement, what an engagement index is, why it’s important, some of the big data points that we found. It is a 22 page report that we have been kind of working off of on this podcast. And I would love to get this to anybody. You can find links to it on the People Element website, and I am happy to send this report out, I am happy to send this report out to anybody that’s listening to this podcast, DM me on Twitter, All About HR pod or at Tom’s Engaging HR on Twitter or on LinkedIn, I will make sure you get a copy of this. Quinton, before we walk away, wrap this whole thing up, what did we see and what’s the most important takeaways from 2022 engagement?
Quinton: I think the big takeaways and the ammunition that we gave you were those key drivers of engagement. I won’t read them all again, but company communication and growth and development, those things that we saw that drive engagement across all of our clients in 2022. Those are big takeaways. But I want to leave you with this.
Those are big takeaways, because many of those drivers of engagement that we talked about, they are driving engagement for your organization as well, right now, whoever’s listening to this podcast, they are likely driving engagement for your organization. But there are also drivers that are specific to your organization that you will never be able to pinpoint. You won’t know about, if you don’t take action, if you don’t take the time to run an engagement survey. Because maybe those specific drivers of engagement for your organization are different. Maybe you are one of the one out of 10 that perception of compensation drive engagement. Maybe it’s the perceptions of your immediate managers. Not a common driver of engagement but maybe that’s specific to your organization. Or there’s some sort of cultural issues that are driving engagement where you work, but you can’t fix those things, if you don’t know about them.
So you run an engagement survey on a set cadence, you prioritize this, you prioritize the process of collecting data, you take action each year. And if you take it seriously, I promise it’s going to be one of the most impactful things you do at your job, because you are going to have all these positive outcomes that we have talked about related to engagement. That’s what I want to say about it.
Tom: I love it. One of your favorite quotes, you got to give it to me on the way out here.
Quinton: You can’t fix what you don’t know. Yeah, I was going to say, perception is reality. But then I was like, “That’s the one I don’t like.” Yes, you can’t fix what you don’t know. Run an engagement survey!
Tom: There we go. Quinton, I really appreciate you taking the time. I know you are super busy out there working with all of our clients. Q and I need to go get a drink at Bowling Bush sooner than later. I really appreciate everything you do. And this has been really helpful and informative for me even though I have read this report like 20 times. Still really awesome.
Quinton: Yeah, well, thanks for having me. This was fun.
Tom: And everyone out there listening and don’t be shy. If you want a copy of this. Reach out to me. I will get you a copy. Thank you for always listening to All About HR. Hope you learned something today. Be safe. Take care of your employees. See you back here next time!
Laura: Understand, engage, inspire, and retain your people like never before. People Element’s employee experience and engagement solution delivers powerful intelligence, giving you the confidence to act. To learn how you can gain a better understanding of your employees, please visit us at peopleelement.com.