Your Most Valued Employees Are Unengaged: What Do You Do?

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

87% of the world's employees are unengaged at work, and most of those have been with the company for more than 10 years. So what can you do?

In the office or in outer space, perfect alignment is a powerful thing.

Take Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Throughout the movie, a series of heavenly bodies moves slowly into alignment. It makes for an ethereal image and a compelling theme—one that is echoed several times over the course of the narrative.  When you see the planets aligning, you know something beyond the ordinary course of nature is about to unfold.

In job roles, a similar phenomenon occurs. When employees are in perfect alignment with three key factors, they are usually the company’s best performers.

The Three Key Factors:

  • 10 years or more of experience at the company
  • A consistently high level of engagement
  • Innate talents that match the job role well

Engaged Employees & Their Tenure: The Correlation

According to Gallup, a whopping 87% of the world’s employees are not engaged at work. Interestingly, the research shows that most employees who have been at a company for 10 years or more (the time it typically takes to become a top performer) are usually the least engaged.

By virtue of their greater years of service, these individuals can still outperform most new and average employees simply because they’ve learned how to negotiate the various bureaucratic and political facets of the organization better.

Re-engaging for Success

Having your top employees operating in a state of near-unconsciousness all day long can be a huge problem. After all, these are the people who are capable of performing the company’s most valuable work. They are also the ones interacting most frequently with your internal and external customers.

They should therefore be driving the organization to greater and greater levels of profitability. Instead, they are often content to ambivalently toil away, unconcerned with whether they make a sale or exceed a customer’s expectations.

It’s concerning—and it should be. The overall health of your business enterprise is at stake! To succeed, your company must focus on bringing up the engagement levels of your most seasoned employees. To do this, you’ll need to employ a four-pronged attack:

  • Create a new company wide leadership philosophy regarding employee engagement
  • Hold managers accountable for the personal level of engagement of their most seasoned employees
  • Tie the company’s new leadership philosophy to the strengths of each long-term employee
  • Provide ongoing nurturing to long-term employees to turn their strengths into the attributes of winning Brand Ambassadors

Creating a New Leadership Philosophy

As with most changes in an organization, engagement strategies must be executed top down. That means hiring the best managers. It is no secret to business experts that a horrible boss has the ability to make the workplace environment a veritable hell-scape for employees—long term or otherwise.

If companies hope to retain the best talent and earn the highest profits, they simply must take a long, hard look at their managers, supervisors and department heads. The people in these leadership positions should be held personally accountable for the engagement levels of their senior staff. But how, exactly, is this task achieved?

Creating a System of Accountability for Long-Term Employee Engagement

As previously mentioned, the company must first hire the right supervisor or manager for the job. Whether these leaders are promoted internally or from outside the company, they must be hired based on their own levels of engagement, ability and vision. The selection process must be scientific and include testing.

Managers tasked with raising the engagement levels of long-term employees will need to understand that every interaction he or she has with subordinates should be viewed as an opportunity to increase enthusiasm and build excitement around common goals.

Managers who make the cut will actually show empathy toward long-term employees and stimulate their engagement levels by playing to their strengths and putting them in positions to succeed. These types of managers must therefore have a keen eye for talent and an almost innate ability to match up employee strengths with assigned tasks. It’s no easy task.

In fact, Gallup research indicates that only about 5% of all employees on the job for 10 years or more are both engaged in their work and doing work that plays to their strengths.

The Corporate Engagement Philosopy

As the engagement throughout the team begins to build, management must then graft the corporate engagement philosophy into everyday activities. Mangers have the most power to influence employee engagement, so once the momentum begins to build, they can further develop the strengths of the individual employees by tying their efforts and accomplishments to the company brand.

When cultivated properly, seasoned employees will begin to feel, on an almost emotional level, that they are part of a collaborative team focused around everyone’s strengths. Management should have ongoing discussions about these strengths with the team as a whole and one-on-one with individual employees. The end result for management should be to create a team of actual brand ambassadors—people who embody your company’s brand by showcasing their unique talents and abilities.

Think of it like this: your managers are your most important assets when correcting or cultivating long-term employee engagement. They must skillfully link employee strengths to the key skills necessary to becoming outstanding brand ambassadors. Rather than having scores of seasoned pros that have no observable engagement levels, each 10-plus-year employee should see how their specific personal contributions positively affect the company’s bottom line. This will give them a clear understanding of exactly what sets their corporate brand apart.

Aligning personal strengths with the company’s short- and long-term goals will not only raise the engagement levels of seasoned staff; it will cause a ripple effect throughout your entire organization. Long-term employees will begin to see themselves as mentors and consequently stakeholders in the company’s health and success.

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