Bridging the Engagement Gap

What percentage of your workforce is engaged?

If your workforce is representative of the the American workforce, 30% is engaged, 50% is not engaged, and 20% is actively disengaged (1). These figures are considerable, and they can have a big impact on your bottom line. In aggregate, employee disengagement costs the U.S. between $450 and $550 billion dollars per year – approximately 3% of GDP (2).

How to Bridge the Engagement Gap

In order to understand how to bridge the engagement gap, we analyze one of the most engaged components of the workforce – entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs work long hours, forgo stable salaries, and assume big risks. Many also possess a variety of desirable traits; they are innovative, resourceful, and goal-oriented.

Without a doubt, part of entrepreneurs’ high levels of engagement is due to inherent personal characteristics, but substantial part is due to their environment. Companies that can replicate “startup” environments and empower their employees to be more entrepreneurial will be able to increase employee engagement across the board. In fact, 90% of Millennials think that being an entrepreneur means having a certain mindset – not starting a company (3).

Why are entrepreneurs so engaged?

  1. Mission – First and foremost, entrepreneurs care about creating something of value.
  2. Variety – Many entrepreneurs decide to go out on their own because they feel underutilized in traditional corporate settings where they are expected to fill a specific role and become increasingly specialized.
  3. Incentives – Entrepreneurs have “skin in the game.” As opposed to traditional corporate settings, entrepreneurs feel that their efforts can have a significant impact on their personal earning potential.

How to Use Learning to Create an “Entrepreneurial” Environment

  1. Mission – Learning may not be able to change a company’s vision or mission, but it can have a profound impact on an individual’s level of engagement. In two recent studies, 33% of Millennials cited learning opportunities as potential employers’ most important attribute (4), and 89% of Millennials said that it is important to be constantly learning on the job (5). Most employees are willing to accept a tradeoff between mission and other factors, but they still need something to be passionate about. A truly differentiated learning plan could bridge the gap for employees who may not be 100% aligned with a company’s mission. (Hint: Unless you are the CEO of Habitat for Humanity, that’s probably your company!)
  2. Variety – Many companies take a prescriptive, check-the-box approach toward learning. However, employees rarely feel that they are in their ideal role and are always looking to broaden their horizons. Learning professionals should empower employees to learn new skills, even if those skills are outside of the scope of employees’ current roles. Employees will become more well-rounded and better able to communicate with colleagues from different disciplines. In the worst case scenario, employees may discover a true passion that they can pursue in another role within the company. (Though many companies shun internal transfers, they are preferable to disengaged employees who atrit after a couple of years.)
  3. Incentives – Knowing is doing. Experience-based training is fun, interesting, and has a longer-lasting impact on employees’ skills and engagement. Instead of many small trainings spread throughout the year, create more engaging milestone trainings that double as a development opportunity and a reward. Virtuali’s Go! Program, for example, is a 30, 60, or 90-day international leadership development program that employees can complete while continuing to work full-time. Milestone trainings may not be equivalent to a multi-million dollar startup exit, but they provide a sense of accomplishment and a significant investment in employees’ professional growth that the employee must earn.

Take Action!

Not every company can be a startup or a niche nonprofit, but learning is a valuable tool that companies can use to bridge the “engagement gap.” By understanding and incorporating employees’ learning objectives, and you can build a program that increases effectiveness and engagement.

Sources: (1) Gallup (2) Gallup and Virtuali analysis (3) oDesk (4) Millennial Branding and (5) MTV Insights.