Building Great Places to Work

November 6. 2012

The 5 Little-Known Factors That Affect Engagement

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November 6. 2012

As part of the evaluation process for the NorthCoast 99 award, ERC conducts an annual survey of top performing employees at applicant organizations to measure their levels of engagement. This year, ERC surveyed 4,280 top performing employees in Northeast Ohio. Additionally, ERC regularly conducts engagement surveys for organizations.

Many organizations measure and track engagement regularly, but often don't realize that certain factors - like age, tenure, education, and even industry - may affect engagement levels in their organizations. While it's widely known that engagement varies within certain departments, shifts, and other groups throughout the organization; over the past few years, we've identified a few less commonly known factors that affect engagement.

1. Younger generations appear less engaged than older generations.

It seems that age and generation appear to slightly affect engagement. Younger top performers seem a little less engaged than older top performers. They typically rate workplace factors which affect engagement like leadership, job design and challenge, rewards and recognition, supervision, organizational support, and autonomy lower than older top performers.

In contrast, older workers (age 51+) tend to be the most engaged and satisfied, except in the area of development and growth. Younger top performers were the most satisfied with their prospects for development and growth when compared to older employees.

2. Employees in the "middle years" are usually the least engaged.

If you have suspected that employees with between 3-5 years and/or 6-9 years of service in your organization are somewhat less engaged than your newer or more tenured employees, your hunch probably has merit based on our research.

Surveys conducted for clients as well as this year's survey of top performers show that engagement is generally lowest during 3-5 years of service and 6-9 years - or the "middle years." The areas that seem to be decreasing engagement levels for this group are perceptions of rewards, recognition, development, and growth.  

The "middle years" are often a risky time for organizations when employees consider leaving their organizations for "greener pastures." During this time, their job is no longer new and exciting, nor have they accepted their situation for what it is. Employees can grow disengaged if they have reached a career or compensation plateau, don't see opportunities for growth, are no longer challenged in their work, or don't receive adequate rewards in exchange for their efforts. They may also not feel as valued anymore. Therefore, targeted engagement efforts can be worthwhile for this group of employees. 

3. Employees with more education are often less engaged.

One might expect that the more educated an employee, the more engaged. The opposite seems to be true, and while the differences are only slight, they are consistent from year to year. In our survey, top performers with graduate or professional degrees were a little less engaged than top performers with less education. Gallup's studies on engagement validate these findings and also reveal that the highly educated are less likely to be engaged.

What's could be influencing their lower engagement levels? Top performers with more education tend to be less satisfied with their autonomy, supervision, and leadership. They also tend to need a high degree of challenge on the job, but may not necessarily receive it. Interestingly, these are the same areas in which they place quite of bit importance. Employers can likely increase engagement for this group by focusing on improving these areas.

4. The industry effect: employees in certain industries tend to be more engaged.

One rarely discussed trend in employee engagement is the industry effect: the fact that employees in some industries tend to be more engaged than others. According to our client norms as well as our research via the NorthCoast 99 program, there are definitely industry differences with regard to engagement levels.

For example, top performers in health and human services and professional services industries tend to be the most engaged. Meanwhile, top performers in technology and non-profit industries tend to less engaged than top performers in other industries. Manufacturers and other for-profit industries tend to have average engagement - generally not higher or lower than other industries.

5. Engagement is higher at employers of choice.

Top performer engagement is higher at NorthCoast 99 winners than at non-winners. Most notably, top performers at NorthCoast 99 winners tend to rate leadership, recognition and rewards, development and growth, and autonomy - factors that influence engagement - significantly higher. These factors tend to receive lower scores by employees, but are typically higher at NorthCoast 99 winners. 

Why does engagement tend to be higher? Our research shows that engagement, as we measure it, can be correlated back to the presence of certain workplace practices and thereby can be directly affected organizations. Employers of choice like the NorthCoast 99 winners tend to have more of these workplace practices in place, which are further described in our 2012 NorthCoast 99 Winners Report. Additionally, many winners track engagement and make workplace improvements to affect it.

If your organization cares about employee engagement, it's important to recognize that engagement can be influenced by these factors, and to understand those effects when making decisions that will affect the engagement of your workforce.

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