You Have Low Employee Engagement Scores – What Do You Do to Improve It?

If you suspect your employees are showing signs of disengagement, you should listen to your employees and take action quickly. Most executives already understand that low employee engagement scores can be a warning sign. Disengagement directly affects an organization’s financial health and profitability.

According to Gallup, “Organizations that are the best in engaging their employees achieve earnings-per-share growth that is more than four times that of their competitors. Compared with business units in the bottom quartile, those in the top quartile of engagement realize substantially better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, fewer accidents, and 21 percent higher profitability. Engaged workers also report better health outcomes.”

Here are the results from a Gallup report on a random sampling of 30,628 full and part-time U.S. employees:

  • 34 percent of American workers are engaged at work (tying its highest level since Gallup began reporting the national figure in 2000)
  • 53 percent say they’re “just showing up”
  • 13 percent describe themselves as “actively disengaged” (therefore, most employers have a lot of work to do to unlock the full potential of their workforce)

There are three types of employees according to Gallup:

  • Engaged: Your outstanding team members who work hard and exceed expectations.
  • Disengaged: These individuals have a hard time staying focused and on task. They may miss deadlines, be absent more than usual, and turn in mediocre work.
  • Actively disengaged: This is an employee who is clearly unhappy at work. He or she may have a negative attitude and are low performers that sabotage other team members.

After working with several clients focused on improving employee engagement, researching the topic, delivering leadership development programs, and coaching for 1000s of hours, here is what I’ve discovered …

These are the 8 steps you can take to improve low employee engagement scores:

  1. Get real and face the facts by measuring your employee engagement scores. Even if you have low employee engagement scores, see it as an opportunity to improve your organization. Management thinker, Peter Drucker, is quoted saying, If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” You don’t know whether or not you are successful unless success is defined and tracked.
  2. Identify a strong leader to own improving low employee engagement scores. This is a leader that is authentic, adaptable, action-oriented and has the courage to speak truth to power. The second famous quote from Peter Drucker is, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
  3. Listen to your people and open up lines of communication for a constant feedback loop and not just when team members are completing an annual engagement survey.
  4. Make a plan and take action. Create a clear roadmap to success and take action. Find creative ways to get employee on board with your new plan and become advocates.
  5. Ask the experts for help. Include a combination of consultants, trainers, and coaches to design and deliver leadership development
  6. Hold managers and senior leaders accountable. Senior leaders need to support the plan and learn how to execute it. Change is hard, so getting leaders on board might be challenging. However, it’s extremely important and crucial to improving employee engagement across your organization. After all, managers account for 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores across business units.
  7. Celebrate improvements and create a recognition program at all levels of the organization. As your employee engagement scores go up, make sure to recognize and appreciate those who helped get your organization to where it’s at.
  8. Measure results and set new goals to keep improving and persevere. To get started, here are key steps to measure employee engagement.

Success Story: How Bayhealth Medical Center Turned Around Low Employee Engagement Scores

I’ve been working with a hospital client, Bayhealth Medical Center, since 2017 and they’ve managed to turn around low employee engagement scores with a multi-prong approach. In 2018, Bayhealth’s engagement scores fell to an overall low since they had been tracking them. They decided as an organization that it was time to change their response if they wanted a different outcome.

I had the chance to interview Shana Ross and Lauren Brittingham from Bayhealth to talk about their employee engagement success story. Before diving straight into the interview, below is some quick background on both:

Shana Ross is the VP of HR at Bayhealth, was the leader in charge of a big task: improving employee engagement and guiding the entire team. Shana is a dynamic and authentic leader who has always wanted the best for Bayhealth. She doesn’t mind making the hard decisions and standing by these decisions. She has developed a strong HR team that is respected as experts in their areas of responsibility. She instills confidence in her team and those who work for her.

Lauren Brittingham is the Director of Organizational Development at Bayhealth, and she has a key role in improving employee engagement scores. Lauren manages the company’s recognition program, powered by Achievers, and Bayhealth’s leadership training and coaching programs. She is an intelligent, well-organized leader with an open mind to learning, which makes her a great trainer. She has poise and a calm presence when she presents to a group and is very respected by her team and organization.

Now that you’ve been “introduced” to Shana (SR) and Lauren (LB), here are some of the highlights of my interview:

How did you begin the process of improving employee engagement?

SR: One of the first things I did was to understand what was needed to improve employee engagement at Bayhealth. We had a reality check when our engagement scores were very low 2 years ago; they plummeted to bottom quarter of the industry average.

Once I had identified the key areas and the team members that would work on this, I knew it was going to be successful because nothing had been done at Bayhealth before at this level of effort. I also recognized that actions speak louder than words. We needed to develop a plan and implement it through improving recognition, leadership training, coaching, and overall communication.

How did you find out about the Achievers Employee Recognition platform?

SR: I worked at Adventist before Bayhealth and that is where I discovered the Achievers employee recognition platform. One of the first things I did was improve an outdated popularity system of recognition that was not inclusive or diverse. I was responsible for bringing the Achievers platform to Bayhealth. Before Bayhealth implemented Achievers, recognition was in the top 3 lowest scores in the engagement surveys, and then it went on the “low score” employee engagement list. Pay, benefits, and senior leadership were some of the other “low score” employee engagement areas. This gave me a roadmap to what areas of improvement I would focus on next.

Lauren Brittingham has been in charge of the Achievers implementation and our main liaison. She has done an excellent job of managing the Achievers recognition platform with Bayhealth. Our employees embraced Achievers and the recognition newsfeed went off every 2 seconds after the first few weeks, and now it goes off all the time.

How has recognition improved at Bayhealth since implementing Achievers?

LB:  Recognition is more transparent – we know who has been recognized and for what across the enterprise. And, everyone in the organization can celebrate accomplishments we see posted, which is what I love. Prior to implementing the Achievers platform, we had no way of knowing what our employees were accomplishing across the enterprise, or what they were being celebrated for. Having an online system that brings transparency to recognition also creates a place where all employees can be together in one place, which is hard to do with so many off-site locations.

How did you change your approach to training and development?

SR: I started with accountability, holding managers, directors, and supervisors more accountable with the coaching and training programs that Bayhealth offered. I brought the current structure to the Leadership Development Institute (LDI); the leaders were not adding value when they attended programs in the past. I wanted to have enrichment that would allow them to communicate and create a successful leadership development program with measurable results. In the beginning, we had a curriculum and roadmap focused on millennial issues and other topics including Crucial Conversations. Lauren Brittingham was certified in Crucial Conversations and Bayhealth started to put together programs and speakers.

Lauren is our only certified trainer in Crucial Conversations and she provides monthly trainings to employees. Gallup Strengthsfinder (SF) was added and now Lauren and another OD team member are certified in SF. Bayheath added Emotional Intelligence (EI) training with the SW Institute for Emotional Intelligence; training and development was a key initiative.

LB: The Crucial Conversations launch was a little more challenging – not all leaders embraced it, but many have incorporated it. Bayhealth is a high-reliability hospital and having the tools to improve communication along with EI skills is key to our patient satisfaction, employee engagement, and our reputation. Diversity, inclusion, and strong succession planning will set us up for success.

I know you rolled out a comprehensive coaching program for managers and senior leaders – how was that received and implemented?

SR: Bayhealth added on-on-one coaching for all mangers and leaders that received low employee engagement scores. Bayhealth wanted to invest in training and developing these leaders, and giving them a chance and support to improve their leadership skills and engagement with their team members.

The coaches were observing where the deficits were and were approaching their coaching conversations differently. At first, coaching was viewed as negative and some employees were hesitant and apprehensive and upset about getting coaches. The leaders that stuck to it and embraced it grew a lot. They ended up being the best promoters of the coaching program.

Bayhealth assigned leadership coaches to each of the senior leaders, including the CEO, and had quarterly training programs outlining training and development. There has been real growth in self-awareness and the senior leadership’s team dynamic.

 How did your employee engagement scores improve?

 LB: Engagement increased from the 16th percentile to the 34th percentile from 3.92 to 4.03 in 2019, and we still have plenty of work to do. We are looking to improve our engagement scores again in this year.

How did you persevere with holding people accountable when other leaders were not on board with your employee engagement strategy?

 LB:  I shared with them how valuable the coaching opportunity was. We had some leaders who had great engagement scores who were asking for a coach, but it wasn’t something I could extend to them at the time. We also made sure to advise leaders that they wouldn’t be losing their jobs, but they needed to focus on strengthening their leadership skills so they wouldn’t lose their people. Shana and I both really stressed that people are the #1 priority, and the reason we can provide care for our patients.

 What advice would you give other organizations that have just discovered low employee engagement scores?

 LB: Start with rounding with employees and leaders to connect with current issues and concerns to really understand where the issues lie. Read through the open-ended comments on the survey to see what people are really saying. Look for trends in comments and try to connect the comments with what you’re hearing in person. Assess the opportunities your organization is currently providing to leaders to support them and enhance their leadership abilities so they can better meet the needs of their teams. Assess organizational communications and ask yourself, “Do your business decisions reflect how these decisions impact your people – employees and customers?” All of these are foundational areas to review to give you a good start on understanding what is driving disengagement and how to address it.

 In summary: What really improves low employee engagement scores is having leaders measure, listen, identify, act, and repeat. Many leaders feel like action is the only solution and believe that if they’re listening, then they’re not getting anything done. It couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s important to take time to listen first; you may be solving the wrong employee engagement challenge if you skip this critical step. Really listen to hear someone and mutually identify his or her concern and then create an action plan. Repeat and persevere. Now, your organization has a continuous feedback loop: measure, listen, mutually identify concerns, and act. Inclusiveness fosters engagement. Take the time to care about others in your organization and let them know you are in this together.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” ― Theodore Roosevelt

To learn more about Bayhealth’s success story with Achievers’ employee recognition platform, access this webinar recording featuring Lauren Brittingham.

Are you looking for more articles to read? Check out my other guest posts for the Engage blog here.

Do you have any thoughts on this article? Share your comments below.

About the Author

Bobi Seredich is a recognized speaker, author, trainer and successful entrepreneur specializing in leadership development. She has spent over 20 years of her career dedicated to creating, directing, writing and presenting leadership programs for top companies in the U.S. and around the world.

Bobi is the co-founder of the Southwest Institute for Emotional Intelligence and Managing Partner of EQ Inspirations.