3 Reasons Your Employee Engagement Efforts Aren’t Working

September 18, 2018

3 Reasons Your Employee Engagement Efforts Aren’t Working

If your company is struggling with getting employee engagement right, you’re not alone. The State of the American Workplace reports that 4 out of 5 organizations don’t believe they’re equipped to build strong cultures of engagement. Chances are, you’re one of those organizations. This number is staggering considering that more than $700 million was spent on engagement programs last year, yet only one-third of employees are engaged.  

That is a terrible return on investment. Companies deserve better. And so do their employees. 

There are the three primary reasons employee engagement likely isn’t working well enough at your organization:

You’re overwhelmed. You might well be making valiant efforts to move employee engagement and having some success. But after every survey, there are a million directions to consider in pursuit of moving that engagement needle. As such, HR leaders are overwhelmed and struggle to build a true foundation for long-term success. With so many employee engagement solutions, surveys, reward programs, recognition models, and talent management platforms, it’s nearly impossible to get a firm grasp on what will fundamentally work for your culture, year in and year out.

You’re looking for engagement in the wrong place. Focusing on engagement exclusively is getting in the way of you actually achieving engagement—because engagement itself is simply an outcome, not a solution. What you need is a model for change that everyone can embrace and find value in. Research shows the best approach is pretty straightforward: Put your employees’ fundamental needs front and center.

This isn’t simply a nice, inspirational thought. It’s also practical to do—and profitable. We created a framework to understand, measure, and support these fundamental needs across your company: Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT is a science that’s been validated by thousands of studies around the world, inspired best-selling management books, and been used by leading Fortune 100 companies to build stronger engagement and performance. The model outlines key experiences that create engagement, well-being, growth, and performance—not just at work but in our everyday lives. In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that supporting these needs is the most important step a company can take to truly build engagement and drive success. 

You need a blueprint for an awesome culture. How do you get from A to Z? Where do you start? Measuring engagement itself is important, but it’s just the beginning. Too many organizations fail to pair their engagement metrics with a proven framework for how to build and sustain it. Fortunately, SDT gives organizations a clear understanding of what’s driving engagement and what to do about it. In fact, no model has more evidence backing up its effectiveness at bringing about real change.

One of the great gifts from SDT is that it shows a new way to understand engagement and motivation that is truly transformational. SDT has proved that motivation isn’t something we have “more” or “less” of. It has many forms, some of which are low quality, and others high. When we try to manipulate or control employees—including through incentives and reward programs—we foster lower motivational quality. However, when we focus on fulfilling employees’ basic needs, high motivational quality and engagement naturally emerge. This in turn makes any good metric of engagement go up naturally—and stay there. 

Simply put, SDT is the science that will help you understand these critical dynamics, assist you in measuring drivers that matter, and provide you with evidence-based approaches to building the incredible performance culture your company deserves.

The Authors: 

Dr. Scott Rigby is an author, behavioral scientist, and thought leader focusing on the application of behavioral science to organizations, products, and services. He is the co-creator of motivationWorks, a platform for transforming motivation and engagement through applying Self-Determination Theory. He is a leading authority on predictive measurement of motivation and engagement, as well as on interventions to improve organizational culture. Clients include Prudential, Amazon, Warner Brothers, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney.

Hiswork on understanding engagement and motivation has been featured by Wired, ABC News, BBC, National Public Radio, National Geographic, and Scientific American, among others. In addition to his commercial work, he has served as the principal investigator on multiple grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health exploring the role of behavioral science to improve engagement to achieve positive outcomes.