Is The Recession Killing Employee Engagement??

Jul 15, 2009 by William Schiemann

A senior executive said to me the other day, ???Of course, engagement is down.  After all, we’re in a recession.”  I decided to tackle the issue here because I’ve been hearing the comment from a growing chorus of executives.  Keep this fact in mind:  Engagement has NOT plummeted in all firms, jobs, or locations due to the recession.  Data from the Metrus Institute backs that up.  Its research shows that about half of the organizations register higher Engagement scores on their employee surveys—some as much as 8 percentage points over the past year.  In others, Engagement has been flat or somewhat down.

Why this phenomenon?  I ask the reverse question.  Did we think all along that Engagement was a function of the economy and not organizational actions—leadership communications, human resources policies, and supervisory behaviors?  It’s interesting to note that during stable and growth economies, most people attribute high and low Engagement to things that happen within organizations, most especially leader and supervisory behaviors; yet during a recession, more is attributed to “bad times.”

Most research has demonstrated a set of factors that seem to drive Engagement across most situations:  supervisory behaviors such as fair treatment and honest communications, leaders with a vision, solid values, and opportunities to learn and grow at work, which can apply in good times and bad.

No, I think what we are seeing is more a reaction to How organizations are handling the recession than the recession itself.  How are we treating employees?  How are we communicating?  Are we living our values?  Are leaders inspiring and painting a future vision, or just hunkering down?  We are finding increases Engagement scores both in firms that are financially stable or growing as well as ones that have been hard hit economically.

Could it be Contrast?

Another factor to consider is how employee compare their relative situation to others.  Early on in the recession, expectations of and actual reductions of perks such as travel and training perhaps were viewed as takeaways.  As the recession has deepened, having a stable job with reasonable policies and treatment may look pretty good compared to friends and family members who do not have a job or have one that is draconian in employee treatment.

As in most things in life, people often judge their situation relative to others, and in the current environment, having a stable job with decent policies and a fair boss may not be so bad after all!  I could get engaged with that notion.


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by William Schiemann | Categories: Engagement |

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