(Illustration by Rudzhan Nagiev/iStock by Getty Images)

In a 2021 survey, Gallup found that a mere 20% of the world’s labor force was “engaged at work.” Still, companies on the Fortune Global 500 list had raked in record revenue–a total of $33.3 trillion–even as Covid-19 spread around the planet.

While corporate leaders at the time may have had little impulse to address the lack of engagement from the overwhelming majority of their employees, that’s something they should reconsider. “We are going to be going through difficult times. We need to prepare, not to survive; we need to prepare to win in this market,” said Adrián Campomanes, global senior product marketing manager at Workday, an enterprise management platform, during a recent From Day One webinar, “Gaining an Edge in Employee Engagement.”  

Campomanes was referring to the pending economic downturn, predicted for the U.S. and other countries around the world, as well as the challenges that have come with the Great Resignation. A roster of actively engaged employees, hired and retained in a period when many leaders fear talent is lacking, can only help an organization weather the coming storm. 

Why Do Companies Fall Short With Worker Engagement?

To improve employee engagement, it behooves leaders to first understand the reasons why its workers might not be engaged at an optimal level. Campomanes believes it’s partly due to a lack of leadership incentive to invest in employee engagement. “Why would they invest money in employee engagement if they’re making a lot of money and getting their bonuses?” Campomanes said. 

But he also observes a misperception on the part of leaders when it comes to responsibility for employee engagement. According to Campomanes, the cultivation of a work environment that inspires employee engagement cannot only be carried out by the HR department. “This is something that should be a company-wide initiative and everyone should work toward the same direction,” he said. 

He added that injecting fun into the office, such as happy hour drinks on Friday afternoons or the presence of a pool table, is not what spurs engagement. Employees need much more than that today.

Why Should Companies Prioritize It?

The past year and a half since those Fortune Global 500 groups saw record revenue has wrought tremendous change. Campomanes noted that, due in large part to the pandemic, employees have changed their priorities and outlook on life and work. They want employers to show concern for their health and well-being, and more workers today want their employers to address social and economic inequalities and environmental sustainability issues. Employees have also made a shift to remote and hybrid work arrangements, and are seeking employer support to make the transition as smooth as possible, Campomanes said. 

Making grand gestures to show that leadership is mindful of these concerns and is willing to take steps to address them will help employees feel more valued. In turn, they will likely feel more motivated to perform

With the aid of Gallup data he presented on a slide, Campomanes said that optimized employee engagement delivers significant business value. Turnover can be reduced as much as 59% when employees are engaged at work, while absenteeism can fall 41%. Productivity may rise 17% with optimized employee engagement, which will improve customer ratings (10%) and profitable sales (21%). 

So the impetus is there for employers to show they care–about workers, society and the planet. Employee engagement optimization programs “shouldn’t be a ‘nice-to-have,’” Campomanes said, “it should be seen as something that is strategic, that will drive the business forward.”

How Can Leaders Get the Best Out of Their Workers?

The leaders who want to boost worker engagement first have to factor in the new drivers of engagement that have come to the fore the past couple years, Campomanes said. They also need to better understand the scientific reasons people become motivated and build engagement programs around them. 

“Superficial pulse surveys,” as Campomanes called them, won’t cut it. They will only build a cask of quantitative data that might point to workplace issues, but without much context. “What you need is very simpl: it’s rich quantitative and qualitative data, which has to be accurate and needs to give you not only the ‘what’–you know there is a problem–it needs to give you the ‘why,’” Campomanes said.

Adrián Campomanes, global senior product marketing manager at Workday

But this data, he said, also must be accrued and analyzed in real time. Rolling out one of those “old-fashioned” surveys, as he called them, and then studying the data for months to come up with insights won’t do a company much good. As the pandemic and the Great Resignation have shown us, things change quickly. Real-time and continuous employee feedback is a must, Campomanes said. It will better guide decision-making over time, in service of increased engagement. Furthermore, as improvement strategies are rolled out, more quickly and in direct response to employee feedback, greater trust in the employer is forged on the part of workers.

And those working toward increased employee engagement should not be relegated to HR offices. Campomanes said that advocacy for this boost must be agency-wide with leaders of all levels taking the initiative. 

To help companies of various sizes carry out this promise of improved workplace conditions, in response to employee needs, with a goal of optimized employee engagement, Campomanes’s company has developed a new tool: Workday Peakon Employee Voice. The platform provides real-time insights into employee sentiment, as well as diversity and inclusion, Campomanes said, to drive execution excellence and overall company success. 

The tool’s technology is built to ensure that employees will be “asked the right question at the right time and in the right way,” Campomanes said. This feature allows the leaders working to optimize employee engagement to track engagement, in real time, across an entire employee life cycle.

Automated data insights give leaders the opportunity to pinpoint where and how they can transform workplace culture, at scale. “It delivers personalized employee experiences that include collaboration and productivity by getting recommended actions, courses, etc., that actually allow managers to take actions, to act upon the feedback they have received,” Campomanes said. Workday Peakon Employee Voice tracks engagement, “so you can capture the real sentiment of your employees,” he said.

He added that the platform allows leaders to compare engagement and diversity, equity, and inclusion metrics through benchmarks, so they “can surface the truth of what’s going on with diversity, and inclusion, well-being, etc.,” Campomanes said. Finally, leaders tasked with boosting employee engagement can “drive people initiatives,” Campomanes said, with personalized prescribed actions, powered by contextual learning.

“Engaged employees bring their full, best selves to work,” Campomanes said. “They often perform well beyond what is required, they go the extra mile every time. They are the kind of employees who can be brand ambassadors; every time something comes up about the company they will always speak well about it. And they will make discretionary efforts, things they don’t have to do, but they will do for the good of the company.”

Editor’s note: From Day One thanks its partner, Workday, who sponsored this webinar.

Michael Stahl is a New York City-based freelance journalist, writer, and editor. You can read more of his work at MichaelStahlWrites.com, follow him on Twitter @MichaelRStahl, and order his first book, the autobiography of Major League Baseball pitcher Bartolo Colón, at Abrams Books.