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Are you waiting for your annual employee engagement survey to “tackle” your employee engagement problems? Or maybe you’re so over it after hearing about how important it is, without anything actually improving year-over-year?

Regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall on, or anywhere in between, employee disengagement doesn’t just show up when you’re ready to make a big to-do about your annual engagement survey. It shows up each and every day in the things your employees are doing and saying – and you and your leaders, are ignoring the warning signs.

None of us have time to add another thing to our already overflowing HR plates – and since we already have to administer the annual survey anyway, we tend to let the big block of engagement, fall by the wayside.

But here’s a little secret: if you start paying attention to the little things your employees are trying to say to you throughout the year instead of waiting for a big company-wide survey, not only will your survey results be better, but you will have to spend less time tackling employee engagement issues as big blocks (ahem, saving you a lot of time and energy).

These are the four company-wide warning signs for you to look out for throughout the year to create a more truly engaged workforce.

4 Company-wide Signs

1. Your external company review scores are dropping

External sites like Glassdoor, Payscale and LinkedIn come with a wide array of opinions, views and levels of helpfulness to those of us in HR and in the C-Suite. But one thing these sites are great at helping us see, even if we don’t want to believe it, is our overall engagement across our employee population.
External sites like Glassdoor, Payscale and LinkedIn come with a wide array of helpfulness to those of us in HR, but one thing these sites are great at is gauging our overall #employeeengagement. Click To Tweet

I can’t tell you how many executives I’ve heard explain their way out of the feedback on Glassdoor, or deny how a certain consistent theme has shown up on LinkedIn – only to have it become a real problem a few months down the road. These sites, while they are biased and you have to consider the good and bad is exacerbated, it does present you with a glimpse inside your employee’s minds.

When you look at Glassdoor in particular, a good indication that your employees are disengaged, is your overall company score. If you’re less than a four and/or if your score has decreased by more than half a number, you have an issue.

To better understand where the issues are, the warning signs can be found in the comments. Read the most popular and the newest comments (within the past two months), and jot down the themes.

Here’s an example:

I think we can all agree that an overall rating of 2.5 with a 34% recommendation to a friend rating, is painful (note: this is statistically significant with over 2,400 reviews).

And if you weren’t sure or convinced that there is an engagement issue, let’s look at the comments and evaluate the trends:

And the most popular comments:

From this example, we can clearly see that pay is a HUGE issue – in the overall trends and individual comments. From an engagement perspective, we can take this feedback as HR professionals and evaluate if our pay rates are not aligned with the market and then decide if investing in more pay or incentives is worth the engagement cost.

(Spoiler alert: this company did not decide to do that. They made a decision to not invest in pay/total rewards, which has led to significant disengagement and turnover. But in this example, it was a strategic decision – your company may have a different approach after reviewing the results).

2. Response rates are low for company-wide surveys, perks, offerings

An easy way to check the pulse of your employee engagement across the company, is looking at response rates across the board. Are you employees participating in your company-wide surveys and offerings? (And hello – 25% participation rate is not acceptable).

An easy way to check the pulse of your #employeeengagement across the company, is looking at response rates across the board - are they participating in your surveys and offerings? Click To Tweet

When you ask for them to participate – do they?

If not, you have an engagement problem.

Look at things like your annual engagement survey – is most of your company completing the survey and doing so without a ton of prompting or bribes? If so, this shows that they are eager to provide you with the feedback and excited to be a part of the solution.

Do your employees take advantage of your various total rewards, perks and offerings?

This can also highlight a communication issue but understanding the way your employees interact with your perks is a good indication if they’re on the same page with you.

Here’s the connection: they trust you enough to read more about the programs you talk about and feel like you’re on their side outside of work too.

When you ask for employees to take action, do they?

Look at things like your annual enrollment campaign – enrollment numbers, late enrollments, ERISA cases due to missing enrollment, and so on.

It can be smaller things as well – update your password, let us know about phishing emails, questions for the town hall. If you are asking your employees to take action and they don’t (or you have to nag them to death and still aren’t pleased with their willingness to do it), they have tuned you out and you have a credibility problem.

This is one of the biggest warning signs, that if unheeded, your employees are not only disengaged, but they can start causing some significant issues for your organization as a whole.

3. Learning and Development participation is low, scattered or incomplete

Employees who want to grow and learn with you, are your most engaged employees (and your key talent in most cases). There is a direct correlation between an employee who wants to invest in their own career and feels safe and excited to do so at your company – to them being highly engaged and productive employees.

First, if your Learning and Development (L&D) department is merely an online tool or something for compliance training, you are already failing at the engagement game. If you’re not providing meaningful opportunities (and the required time to participate) to help your employees invest in their career at your company, they will not feel supported – and will think of your company as a place to get experience and bounce.

Let’s assume that your company has a robust L&D department and offerings – and you truly believe in and invest in, delivering growth opportunities to your employees.

If that’s the case, how many people are going through training (participation rate)? What is the percentage of employee required and employee requested training? What is the completion rate? What do your post-training surveys say about how they’ve implemented their new skills?

If your employees have access to learn and grow and are choosing not to, you have an engagement problem. And worse, if your company actually invests in learning and your employees don’t do it – you’re wasting a lot of money and a low-hanging fruit opportunity to retain your key talent.
If your employees have access to learn and grow and are choosing not to, you have an engagement problem. #hr #employeeengagement Click To Tweet

4. Inconsistency in question volume and topic

When looking at the ways in which your employees can engage with you on the questions they have – whether it’s a call center, email inbox, forum, direct email, etc. – have you seen the frequency and the type of questions change over time?

Here’s an example: Company A received 302 calls to the call center, asking about how to log-into their perks website. 90 days later, without updating their communication channels/methods, they received 84 calls.

Company A was excited – our call volume has gone down, YAY!

BUT… when we looked behind the numbers, it turned out that people stopped caring about the perks website (see above number two)… so they weren’t calling to figure out how to access it. Their perks participation rate across the company went from 26% (still crazy low) to 18% within the quarter.

This was a key warning sign that their employees were starting to check-out. A lack of questions meant a lack of caring, engagement and utilization of that perk (and the company as a whole).

Looking at this item for warning signs may mean that you need to dig a little deeper behind the numbers, but it can also provide a really important early flag that doesn’t show up in many other ways.

Heeding the Signs

The four warning signs above, are just the start and usually fall to HR or senior leaders to pay attention to. These help you spot company-wide trends and pinpoint areas where you may need to start influencing change or bring to the table as decision points on the engagement scale.

Bringing about large-scale company engagement change is hard. As most change and disengagement, starts with individual employees. Part two will focus on employee-signs leaders can spot, to make more micro-changes at the individual employee level.