Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement Workers Want Feedback — Even if It’s Negative

By Garry Kranz

Feb. 18, 2010

The best way to drive employee engagement is for managers to accentuate the positive in employee performance. The second best engagement approach is to focus performance discussions on employee weaknesses. Worst choice: Give no feedback at all.employee engagement

That is the synopsis of “The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes,” by Gallup Inc. More than 1,000 U.S. employees were interviewed for the report. Gallup broke management styles into three categories, based on employee perceptions:

• Managers who focus mostly on employee strengths
• Managers who focus mostly on employee weaknesses
• Managers who focus on neither strengths nor weaknesses

Thirty-seven percent of employees say their bosses concentrate on strengths, while 11 percent say their managers focus solely on negative characteristics. Gallup says 25 percent of employees surveyed fall into an “ignored” category, in which their supervisors address neither strengths nor weaknesses. Twenty-seven percent of people did not express strong opinions about their managers either way.

The differing approaches reflect back varying levels of engagement. Sixty-one percent of employees in the “strengths” group report being engaged in their jobs. Still, 38 percent of those workers remain disengaged despite the positive feedback, perhaps because they believe the praise is not sincere, according to Gallup. About 1 percent of employees whose managers are focused on strengths are considered to be “actively disengaged,” meaning they may act out on their job frustration.

By contrast, engagement is considerably lower—just 45 percent—for employees whose managers focus primarily on negative characteristics. One-third of such workers are disengaged. Most alarming: 22 percent are deemed to be actively disengaged.

The worst engagement scores can be found in the “ignored” category, where only 2 percent of employees are highly engaged. Fifty-seven percent report being not engaged and 40 percent are actively disengaged.

So while emphasizing strengths gives the strongest boost to engagement, even negative feedback is better than no feedback at all, according to Gallup.

“We found that it is better for managers to dwell on some aspect of employee performance—even if it is a focus on negatives—than to avoid the matter altogether,” says Jim Harter, a Gallup research scientist and co-author of the report.

Harter says negative feedback “at least lets people know that they matter,” while neglecting them can be far worse.

Engagement—or lack of it—carries huge implications for how well companies achieve their business goals, especially amid recession, Harter says.

“The growth trajectory for companies with highly engaged workers, on average, looks really good when compared against their competitors. These types of companies are holding their own while their competitors are dropping off” on key variables, Harter says.

Organizations with high engagement scores exceed their peers in nine areas of business performance, including customer loyalty, profits, productivity, quality, turnover and absenteeism. For instance, organizations with the highest engagement scores in Gallup’s database have an 83 percent chance of achieving above-average business performance. By contrast, organizations at the lowest levels of engagement have a 17 percent chance.

The report is based on Gallup’s Q12 Index, which measures a dozen factors that are known to affect engagement.

Workforce Management, February 2010, p. 10-11Subscribe Now!

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor.

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