When Sustainable Employee Engagement Isn't Achieved (Part 2 of 2)

by Allison Reilly

sustainable employee engagementIn the first part of this series, we discussed the importance of a sustainable workforce and how a sustainable workforce is different from traditional employee engagement. Essentially, traditional employee engagement isn't enough for the workplace of 2014. The wants and needs of employees are different today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. They're more stressed out and under more pressure than before, and they're also much more worried about job and financial security. In the second part of this series, we're going to cover what employers need to do to achieve sustainable employee engagement and the consequences of not having a sustainable workforce.

How to Achieve a Sustainable Workforce

According to a global workforce study by Towers Watson of more than 32,000 employees, 40 percent of workers are either unsupported or detached. They aren't yet disengaged, but they the lack the energy and the support needed in the workplace environment to help them to become engaged. When engagement declines, or when a majority of your employees aren't engaged, there's also a noticeable drop in productivity and customer service quality with an increase in absenteeism and turnover.

To achieve a sustainable workforce, there are five drivers. These five drivers have the biggest collective impact on employee engagement and are a stark contract to the reward and incentive-focused mindset of traditional employee engagement. They affect the overall work experience, versus the work itself, while also incorporating the thousands of interactions that happen each day in the workplace.

  • Leadership - From the CEO to the team leader, employees want leaders they can trust and have confidence in. They also want leaders who can grow the business effectively and who genuinely care about the well-being of their employees. It's important to employees that their leadership behaves according to the company's own core values.
  • Stress, Balance and Workload - Many employees already have to do more with less, and this situation will only last so long. Employees want to have lives outside of work and they want manageable stress levels. Stress is a part of life, but employees want the flexibility to manage what life brings and to schedule work around life, instead of the other way around.
  • Goals and Objectives - Employees don't just want to do their job. They want to know that their job matters to the company. They want to know how the job fits into the company's big picture, and how an employee's duties will help the company achieve its business goals.
  • Supervisors - Employees don't necessarily want an easygoing boss who allows them to slack off. They want supervisors who act consistently with their words and treats people with respect. They also want supervisors who can assign tasks according to an employee's skills and who are willing to work with employees to improve performance.
  • Organization's Image - Public opinion isn't just a marketing or public relations problem. Whether or not your company is highly regarded by the community is also a human resources problem. Employees want to work for companies that are well-liked and trusted to have honesty and integrity in its business activities.

What Happens When Sustainable Employee Engagement Isn't Achieved

Highly engaged employees are less likely to leave their employer than disengaged employees, and that's a no-brainer. It sounds like a good thing if disengaged employees leave because it's presumed that the least engaged employees are the least productive.


Productivity is not an indicator of employee engagement. According to a survey from Leadership IQ, the lowest-performing employees often considered themselves more engaged with their employers than the middle- and high-performing employees. They were more likely to say leadership holds people accountable for their performance and that they are motivated to give a 100 percent effort at work than their higher-performing coworkers. Without sustainable employee engagement, you're most productive and you're highest performing employees are the ones that are going to criticize leadership and to leave your company first.

Creating a sustainable workforce takes time. Sustainable employee engagement must be assessed and tweaked regularly because creating a sustainable workforce isn't possible by implementing new rewards or incentives for productive behavior. Productivity doesn't come from the right reward. It comes from having the right environment, and a sustainable workforce is having the right work environment for your workforce so that they engaged, enabled and energized to do their best.

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