Encouraging Employee Engagement in a Recession

In a recent article in the Journal Industrial and Organizational Psychology (recounted in e!Science News) researchers William H. Macey and Benjamin Schneider define employee engagement:
“Engagement is not synonymous with satisfaction. Engagement connotes energy and not satiation, while satisfaction connotes satiation and contentment but not energy. Employees come to work ready to be engaged, and the challenge for organizations is to create conditions that will release that energy.”

Do you agree? What about employees who may have reached a point of disengagement for a variety of reasons? Can they be re-engaged? How is the current recessionary economy and the attendant fears and anxieties impacting this latent energy? Are employees who may come to work “ready to be engaged” actually less so now? What are the potential impacts?

A few points from recent news to consider:

1) From the Merit Systems Protection Board study (reported in GovernmentExecutive.com ) of nearly 37,000 employees at 24 United States federal agencies: Agencies can succeed and thrive, even with fewer resources and increased pressure, if managers connect with their employees. Testing of engagement levels revealed higher levels of engagement correlated to higher scores on results and accountability and fewer sick days.

2) Gulfnews.com recently reported that actively disengaged workers cost the US economy alone up to $350 billion per year.

3) A recent US national study by Modern Survey (completed in August prior to the major world recession news and events) show employee engagement levels dropping in every category measured, including a 4% increase in employees who are actively disengaged (21% total). “All five components of the Engagement Index show erosion in favorability, and organizational pride shows the largest (and most statistically significant) decline over the last year, dropping from 78% favorable in 2007 to 71% in 2008.” Don MacPherson, president of Modern Survey, commented:
“These findings should serve as a wake-up call to leaders and managers in any type of organization. As economic conditions worsen, you’ll be counting more and more on your employees to put forth their best efforts and to pull your organization through. These results suggest that unless you pay special attention to the engagement of your workforce, and to maintaining the type of work environment in which employee engagement flourishes, fewer and fewer of your employees will be willing to ‘give their all’ to help your company succeed.”

What are you doing to build an “environment in which employee engagement flourishes?” Are you recognizing employees and thanking them for their hard work? Are you creating opportunities to publicly acknowledge them? Share your techniques in comments.

2 comment(s):

At December 15, 2008 7:37 PM, Tim Wright said...

I am glad you asked for recommended techniqes.

You might take a look at the 4-post series on maintaining (even increasing) employee engagement in these "trying times": http://culturetoengage.com, Dec. 8-11.

At December 16, 2008 4:43 PM, David Zinger said...


I work at creating community with purpose. We are working at achieving results while also building our relationships and bonds. I think a very powerful way to recognize people is to ask them to make a meaningful contribution to a community (that community could be a team, a department, a neighborhood, an online group, etc.