Employee engagement is a hot topic in many organizations. And understandably so: Gallup estimates employee disengagement costs the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion annually. It’s a fairly basic concept, and we all get it: Engaged employees are good for business—and perhaps most compellingly, bottom lines.
Engagement by the Numbers
But in spite of all the care, attention, and resources lavished on employee engagement programs, it would appear that the needle has barely moved. Gallup continues to report that, of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 30 million—or 30%—are engaged and inspired at work. At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million employees—or 20%—who are actively disengaged. The other 50 million—that’s 50% of full-time workers in the U.S.—are somewhere in the twilight zone of engagement: Not fully engaged and involved at work, yet not totally switched off. They’re just kind of . . . there.
In most organizations, employee engagement (or the lack of it) is being addressed at the organizational level, with group-wide programs and initiatives that have been designed to result in an engaged workforce.
But what if we’ve been looking at this wrong?
Why Relationships Matter
Instead of a top-down approach, I posit the answer exists at the grassroots level. The path to employee engagement is in the quality of the one-to-one relationships that happen in the workplace every single day.
Exit interview data and various studies indicate that the quality of the relationship an individual has with his or her boss, colleagues, and customers directly impacts their decision to stay (or leave) an organization. Relationships are consistently listed in the top 10 reasons to stay or move on.
All of which is to say: Relationships matter.
Think about your own network of colleagues and the quality of the relationships you have. My guess is there are people you look forward to collaborating with, others with whom you are more neutral, and then others—hopefully a small number—whom you find frustrating and difficult to be around. The health of your professional relationships and interactions influences your level of engagement and participation in your work.
Still not sure how to assess your workplace relationships? Think back over the last seven days. Have you:
- Been surprised or blindsided by the words or actions of a colleague?
- Hesitated to make a decision for fear of others’ reactions?
- Been guarded with your opinion or avoided sharing feedback with a colleague so as not to rock the boat?
If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, your professional relationships may be in need of care and attention. But even if you answered “no,” I would still encourage you to pause and consider if, in the last few weeks, you’ve returned home and said something along the lines of the following to your friend/significant other/dog:
“You won’t believe what happened at work today!”
In my experience, our professional dynamics can always benefit from an investment in nurturing and cultivating winning relationships.
In the model I’ve developed and in my next AMA Playbook post, I’ll outline the four possible relationship dynamics that exist in every workplace and share three steps that will help you cultivate more fruitful relationships across your organization.
Are you forming meaningful relationships with others across your organization? Become more engaged and productive at work with AMA's resources and seminars.