By Melissa J. Anderson

In the past few years, we’ve seen employee engagement drop significantly from previous levels. In fact, according to Gallup, which is well known for its employee engagement tracking methodology, in the best organizations, the ratio of engaged to disengaged employees is 9.57 to 1. On the other hand, in average organizations, that ratio is only 1.83 to 1. Gallup says that engagement is key to driving effective workers – and disengagement costs US companies $300 billion in lost productivity.

If employee engagement is so important and, simultaneously, so low, why aren’t companies doing more to raise it? And what can companies do to increase the engagement levels of their workforces?

Managing Expectations

Recently Forbes contributor Ty Kiisel wrote that the leading statement that disengaged employees tend to disagree with is: “I know what is expected of me at work.”

He explains that understanding “expectations” can mean knowing, on a daily basis, the tasks one is expected to complete and what those expectations will be the next day too. But, he explains, it’s also a broader understanding of one’s value to the company. He writes:

“Everyone on the project team should be able to identify what they’re working on now, what they’re going to be working on next, and the priority of individual tasks on their work list. There are many software solutions that will help organizations do this. However, I think there’s more to this question than simply knowing what’s on a list of things to do.

“Part of knowing ‘what’s expected of me’ is knowing how what I’m doing impacts the larger goals and objectives of the organization. Making that connection is something that few organizations attempt and even fewer software solutions facilitate. Of course we’re talking about visibility, but visibility only scratches the surface. What we’re really talking about is creating transparency.”

Part of the problem, he says, is that too many business leaders see work as a transactional relationship: workers are paid for services rendered – feelings like happiness and satisfaction don’t enter the equation. But when it comes to talented, high performing individuals, creating value and being valued are also important – and many senior managers miss this connection.

There are hard numbers to back up this relationship. Yet, Kiisel writes, “too many business leaders don’t make the connection between employee engagement and critical business outcomes.”

The Numbers

In a recent Triple Pundit article, Jen Boynton interviewed Shannon Schuyler, Head of Corporate Responsibility at PwC on the value of employee engagement initiatives like corporate volunteering and CSR. Shuyler revealed that the firm has run the numbers on how employee engagement efforts measure up.

Boynton pointed out that PwC tabulated a relationship between worker satisfaction and client satisfaction. She explained, “the communities where they have rolled out service programs have happier workers, and those workers do a better job, leading to clients who report good things about having worked with PwC.”

PwC has also measured retention rates when it comes to employee engagement initiative participation. Boynton continued:

“There is also a correlation between hours spent volunteering, longevity, and performance: workers who volunteer stay with the company longer and demonstrate better performance. Sadly, this correlation peters out at the highest level among the very top performers — indicating that those with the highest ‘utilization time’ probably don’t have much time to volunteer. The company is currently considering whether or not it makes sense to drop their utilization a little bit so that they have time to give back in their communities.”

Finally, she said, PwC employees enjoy the initiatives so much that even if they leave the company, these programs are a reason they may want to come back – which was noted in a significant percentage of exit interviews.

According to Gallup, there is a direct return on investment when it comes to employee engagement initiatives. They make employees feel happier and more valuable, and they help companies be more productive. The notion that the relationship between employee and employer is all about money is outdated. The employee engagement research proves this. The importance of creating value is something everyone in a company can agree on – if business leaders want their companies to thrive going forward, they must work to engage talent in this mission.