It’s old news that low employee engagement predicts negative business results. Way back in 2004, Gallup estimated that employee disengagement and associated behaviors cost the U.S. $1 trillion per year, or 10% of GDP.1 Since then, many studies have validated the effects of employee engagement on organizational performance. What most of the conversations around these studies miss is that employee engagement is not just an issue of commerce but a moral issue as well. Companies that choose to invest in employee engagement are also choosing to improve the quality of their employees’ lives. When employees like their jobs and have a sense of purpose, they are happier and healthier. They also make teams more effective and better serve their employers.
So, engagement is clearly a win-win, right? What’s not to like about something that benefits everyone? Although you might assume all companies are on board, the truth is that most continue to neglect employee engagement. Yes, engagement did receive a recent bump — probably due to remote work’s impact on work-life balance — but a 2020 Gallup poll still revealed that 51% of workers are not engaged and an additional 13% are actively disengaged (by their own reports). Evidently, organizations need to start taking a more proactive approach to boosting morale than the occasional pizza party. They need to look at the root of engagement: personality.
People power organizations, and personality powers people. You can think of personality as a person’s core wiring and the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that stem from it. Using personality tests for engagement efforts will allow leaders to ensure that their employees — and thus their companies — are around for the long haul. Here are four surefire ways to use the science of personality to grow employee engagement.
1) Tailor development to the individual.
Before you can grow employee engagement, you first need to understand who you are trying to engage. Each person brings a unique constellation of strengths, weaknesses, and values to an organization, so a one-size-fits all engagement solution is unlikely to produce results.
One high-level engagement strategy that can be applied throughout the company is to focus on development. If employees are going to spend half of their waking hours at work, it is natural that they want their jobs to be rewarding. Employers can help satisfy that desire by investing in employees’ futures within the organization, which will make employees feel valued and boost their chances of professional success. Crafting development plans for each employee will encourage them to think about how their current roles are helping them grow professionally and benefiting their career trajectories.
Employers should assess employees to ensure that these trajectories are achievable and realistic. Personality tests yield individualized personality data that can help employees bridge the gap between their day-to-day behaviors and their long-term career ambitions. Personality tends to remain stable over time, and therefore personality test results should be a powerful resource for feedback and coaching throughout an employee’s life.
2) Hire according to values.
Employees whose beliefs conflict with organizational values are bound to leave before an employer’s investment in them pays off. Deeply personal, values define careers by shaping which work environments and cultures people find enjoyable. Organizations that are challenged to retain the best talent should look at whether they are seeking candidates whose motivations, preferences, and values align with their own. Employee selection processes that prioritize alignment between employee values and organizational values will help create a culture of engagement.
To illustrate the impact of values on organizations, consider the cultural differences between the two biggest competing technology companies in the United States. Apple famously has a reputation of valuing individuality, nonconformity, and innovation. In contrast, Microsoft’s stated values focus on collaboration (i.e., “One Microsoft”), accountability, and making a difference in the world. While the technical competencies for employees would likely be similar for roles at either company, the conditions for engagement would differ substantially. Engaged employees at one company might care strongly about the appearance and quality of their work and surroundings and respond well to managers who value their autonomy and creativity. Engaged employees at the other might respond more strongly to community involvement, performance rewards, and a focus on team achievement. If you took an employee from one company and put them in the same job at the other, that person’s engagement could differ depending on the degree of employee-organization alignment.
Hence, selection processes should prioritize candidates whose values overlap with those of the organization. These individuals will find it easier to engage in their work, mesh with their teams, and get behind corporate initiatives. Organizations that assess for values alongside personality will have much better chances of promoting employee engagement.
3) Monitor managers.
If there are specific teams that consistently underperform, it is important to look at the performance and test results of the managers who lead them. Personality tests can easily identify managers who corrode employee engagement. Behavioral red flags include, but are not limited to, tendencies to blame mistakes on others, overestimation of one’s competence, lacking team loyalty, ignoring commitments, bending rules, and disregarding others’ concerns. Managers who regularly exemplify these behaviors fall under the “bad bosses” label. Unfortunately, bad bosses tend to be the rule and not the exception ¾ the base rate of bad managers in the corporate world is between 50% and 75%.
Remember when we talked about employee engagement being a moral issue? The quality of life for employees with bad bosses is so poor that eight in 10 workers admit to crying at work, and almost half attribute their tears to bad bosses. In contrast, our data show that employees who describe their bosses as calm, organized, skilled at listening, and business-focused are three times more likely to be engaged.
When organizations hire and promote bad bosses, they alienate and undermine their financial interests by risking employee disengagement. When a bad boss is identified, the situation should be remedied as quickly as possible to protect employee engagement.
4) Set a companywide vision.
To succeed, CEOs must craft a vision that appeals to employees’ values. When a CEO succeeds in communicating an attractive vision, employees are more willing to set aside their personal interests and mobilize to pursue organizational goals.
Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom and 2020’s businessperson of the year, is a great example of a leader with an attractive vision. Yuan has carefully crafted Zoom’s vision to reflect his altruistic values, often saying that Zoom’s focus is on “delivering happiness.” Zoom’s heartfelt approach — inspired by Yuan’s desire to see his wife’s face while she was away at college — led to it becoming the videoconference tool of choice during the COVID-19 pandemic for both professionals and people seeking human connection. Zoom’s employee ratings on Glassdoor make it clear that employee engagement is high within the organization and that Yuan has succeeded in engaging his employees.8 This engagement paid off when employees came together this year to defend Zoom from malicious hackers.
As Zoom’s success shows, employees will happily follow the lead of bosses who make a strong vision that appeals to their values. Without shared aspirations, though, leader-follower relationships and employee engagement will likely trend downwards. Leaders who need to fine-turn their vision should start by crafting a company-wide call-to-action, or only statement.
Let’s Get Engaged
People are the most important components of their organizations. Isn’t it time that organizations truly commit to maximizing their potential? If you’ve been thinking about how to grow employee engagement, closing the gap between employer efforts and individual personality is the key.
- Clifton, D., & Rath, T. (2004, July 8). The Power of Praise and Recognition. Gallup. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/321965/employee-engagement-reverts-back-pre-covid-levels.aspx
- Abel, A., Levanon, G., Li, A., & Rong, C. (n.d.). Job Satisfaction 2021: Job satisfaction remains high even in the midst of the pandemic and economic chaos. The Conference Board. https://conference-board.org/research/job-satisfaction/job-satisfaction-2021?mkt_tok=MjI1LVdCWi0wMjUAAAF80KUm7sd6Z0BJuD7-ZuCZ9NBtt5iEw_E6n7m1XRunyWhgZ5NAQLVVVogQ2fIQBnSiflNg9lj_HqRRn7pAoVwCetLHNfIVv56878F3KtN2WOo
- Harter, J. (2020, October 16). U.S. Employee Engagement Reverts Back to Pre-Covid-19 Levels. Gallup. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/321965/employee-engagement-reverts-back-pre-covid-levels.aspx
- Hogan, R., & Winsborough, D. (n.d.). Bad Managers. Hogan Assessment Systems. https://237jzd2nbeeb3ocdpdcjau97-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Bad_Managers.pdf
- Picchi, A. (2019, August 15). Crying on the Job? You’re Not Alone, with 8 in 10 Workers Shedding Tears. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/crying-on-the-job-youre-not-alone-with-8-in-10-workers-shedding-tears/
- Hogan Assessment Systems. (n.d.). Engagement. http://www.hoganassessments.com/sites/default/files/Engagment_NL_June_12_R21.pdf
- Chow, A. (n.d.). Businessperson of the Year. Time. https://time.com/businessperson-of-the-year-2020-eric-yuan/
- Glassdoor. (2021, May 14). Zoom Video Communications Reviews. https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Zoom-Video-Communications-Reviews-E924644.htm