Giving engagement a spring clean: tackling coasting in the workplace

With the long Easter weekend upon us and the recent arrival of spring, now is a great time to check back in on our attitude to work – both as employees and employers.

 

At the start of 2019, millions of employees will have used the excuse of a new year to reinvigorate their working life, either by refreshing their approach to their current role or by seeking new opportunities elsewhere.

 

But even with the best will in the world, a large majority of those millions will have quickly settled back into the daily grind, coasting through their jobs and doing just enough to get through their tasks day to day. Coasting is an all-too-common occurrence in today’s workplace, and it’s something we tackle regularly with our clients when we focus on employee engagement.

 

Coasters are coasters for a reason: they feel their employer doesn’t support them; they aren’t making best use of their skills; they’re not able to develop their career in the right direction; or their wellbeing is ignored.

 

At ENGAGE, we see coasting as the absolute antithesis of engagement. Understanding what coasters really are and what causes them to become that way is a complex process, yet many organisations will lump coasters into a single, undefined group. This is a dangerous approach, because failing to get to grips with the multiple drivers of coasting has a major impact on productivity, costs and employee retention.

 

Our own research shows that two facets matter most when it comes to identifying and addressing the problem of employee coasting:

  1. How engaged people are, not just with their own work, but with their customers and with where the business is going
  2. How likely people are to stick around in the short or long term.

 

Implemented correctly, data and analytics can provide the answers to both these challenges. That’s because once an organisation has defined what it means to be engaged, there is clear, meaningful context to measure against. The resulting insights gathered from targeted engagement programmes will then allow an organisation to take action in one of two ways:

  •  Helping to re-engage those identified as coasters, by assessing through smart analytics what could engage them more, and what isn’t working for them (e.g. career development, better leadership, improved communication about where the business is going).
  •  Identifying those employees who may need to be moved on, if they are not triggering productivity. As harsh as this sounds, our own data shows that employees who stay when less than fully engaged are as big a risk to business success as those who leave through disengagement.

 

An important side note: we call these employees ‘hostages’: they are low on engagement but stay around for other reasons (they can’t find other opportunities, they are happy to coast in their comfort zone, or they are financially tied in). We’ve seen hostage levels as high as 40 per cent in some organisations – and when you consider that productivity rates among hostages can be up to 30 points lower than their highly-engaged colleagues, the scale of the problem quickly becomes clear.

 

All of the above comes with a big proviso, however: none of the engagement analytics that an organisation performs will be of relevance or use if they don’t begin with employee segmentation. This is because all employees are different, and don’t all need the same things from their employers in order to make a productive contribution to the business.

 

A case in point is a programme we carried out with a large supermarket chain, during which it quickly became obvious that those who didn’t want to progress their career were just as valuable to the business and its customers than those who did.

 

It’s very easy then, when we look at engagement to make broad assumptions – unless people are ambitious then they must be disengaged being a common theme. Organisations need to become much smarter about understanding the different types of people they employ, and segment their engagement strategies according.

 

Done well, segmented engagement analytics can deliver a virtuous circle of engagement, in which a fully engaged workforce manages coasting organically: engaged employees simply won’t tolerate disengagement and will hold peers, managers and leaders to account accordingly. What’s more, they won’t need New Year, Easter or any other seasonal excuse to reflect on whether they’re truly engaged.

 

By Dr Andy Brown
CEO & ENGAGE Leadership Practice Head