There’s a wide gap between employees who merely like their work and the ones who truly love it. Used right, employee development can be the thing that warms workers’ hearts and makes them feel more passionate about your organization.
First the good news. According to a report released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in December, the majority of workers are satisfied with their jobs. Given the grim economic outlook of the past three years, many are grateful just to have a job.
The bad news is widespread satisfaction masks a deep and troubling lack of worker motivation and engagement.
While 83 percent report satisfaction with their jobs, 7 in 10 workers report being moderately engaged in their work and only about half (52 percent) report being fully plugged in at work or volunteering for activities beyond what the job requires (53 percent), according to SHRM’s 2011 Job Satisfaction and Engagement report of 600 randomly selected employees.
Limited career advancement and development opportunities pulled down the overall engagement scores, said S. Evren Esen, manager of SHRM’s Survey Research Center.
“With more individuals staying in their jobs for a longer period of time, they’re starting to focus more on items where they’re able to improve or use their skills or feel like … even if they don’t love their job and they’re ready to move on that they’re at least able to use their skills and engage in work that is allowing them to reach a higher potential,” she said.
Yet rather than seeing those opportunities to grow, many employees see a brick wall. Less than half are satisfied with the opportunities for career advancement and development, leading to the breakdown in employee engagement. In response, many companies turn to compensation and recognition programs, but those programs tend to be better suited to driving higher satisfaction.
Know Thy Employee
Instead, companies should focus on building meaning in work and providing opportunity to grow. Engagement is tied into the value the individual gets from his or her work, the opportunity to learn new skills and abilities and relationships with co-workers and supervisors.
“Because people are staying in their jobs longer, those relationships are playing more primary importance in their day-to-day world,” Esen said. “If they didn’t have a good relationship with their supervisor before, they would probably jump ship earlier, but now they’re having to stay in their jobs.”
Developing programs that help managers with the soft skills of management are a no-brainer. But chief learning officers can still play an important role in boosting engagement even in situations where money and resources remain in short supply. Cross-functional teams and projects are a relatively cost-effective way to give workers a chance to grow and engage in meaningful work.
“Those types of opportunities, although it may not be a direct line to a promotion or career advancement, give employees an opportunity to flex their skills in different ways,” Esen said. “Those kinds of opportunities are exactly what employees are saying they want to be able to do.”
The organization that knows its employees best and finds a way to align with their passion and interests has a better chance of moving them from merely satisfied to deeply engaged. Sadly, in many cases it may be a tale of love lost.
“Employers tend to look at employees by their job and what they’re doing and not necessarily looking at the person in that job and thinking of them as being capable of doing more than that job,” Esen said.
Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editorial director of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at mikep@CLOmedia.com.