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Mastering the Three Spheres of Workforce Engagement

Written By Miriam Connaughton, Chief People & Experience Officer, Simpplr 

A recent Gallup poll highlighted a troubling stagnation in employee engagement, with only a third of US workers feeling truly invested in their work. Poor leadership communication and organizational structure were pinpointed as key culprits. The estimated cost of this lackluster engagement? A staggering $1.9 trillion in squandered potential.

Successfully navigating what I call the “three spheres of employee engagement” becomes a strategically crucial roadmap for nurturing a workplace where individuals excel, teams thrive, and organizational goals are achieved.

Decoding the Three Spheres

To make headway, we must first acknowledge that employee engagement is rooted in the caliber of an individual’s workplace relationships. Picture three concentric spheres, each signifying a distinct but intertwined facet of the work experience:

1. The bond between employee and manager
2. Connections among co-workers
3. The employee’s relationship with the organization itself

At the center lies the employee, whose engagement level is directly swayed by the interplay of these bonds. Our goal is to craft workplaces that truly prioritize people — where the employee experience is front and center. Figuring out what keeps employees motivated and engaged isn’t straightforward; it’s a shifting puzzle influenced by the unique environment of each organization. Even though engagement is only a single component of the overall employee experience, it’s a critical one that needs our ongoing focus.

The Inner Sphere – Employee-Manager Relationship

The employee-manager dynamic forms the bedrock of engagement (beyond intrinsic motivation). When a manager and team member cultivate a relationship steeped in trust, candor, mutual respect, and a grasp of how individual work aligns with organizational purpose, motivation, results, and personal well-being soars.

Conversely, a toxic manager-employee relationship breeds confusion, disillusionment, and dwindling drive, even jeopardizing well-being. The Workforce Institute at UKG found that managers impact employees’ mental health more than doctors, therapists – and equal to spouses or partners. And, this has a ripple effect too of course — extending beyond the individual — influencing the performance and well-being of those around them. Highly engaged employees radiate positivity to those they interact with; the reverse also holds true.

The Middle Sphere – Co-Worker Connections

The second sphere represents an employee’s relationship with colleagues. Here it becomes clear that positive employee interactions and relationships are critical — leading to an uptick in morale that not only makes people more productive and engaged but also means fewer folks are likely to quit.

Co-workers with trusted relationships and a robust sense of belonging have lower turnover risk, stronger job performance, fewer sick days, and higher employer satisfaction ratings – potentially saving a 10,000-person company $52 million annually in reduced turnover. On the other hand, loneliness and isolation are major catalysts for voluntary resignations. This can become a rather expensive problem for organizations, as lonely workers cost U.S. firms up to $406 billion yearly through higher turnover, diminished productivity, increased absenteeism, and poorer work quality. Feeling connected to colleagues matters.

In addition, DEI – i.e., diversity, equity, and inclusion, are crucial across every level of an organization — especially when it comes to how co-workers interact. DEI helps to create a workspace where everyone feels respected and heard. A workplace where differing viewpoints are embraced – which leads to more creative problem-solving and better decisions.

The Outer Sphere – Organizational Connection

The outermost sphere signifies the employee’s bond with the organization itself. It’s the felt sense of moving through the organization, shaped by strategy, processes, technology, policies, culture, and more. This is why consistently delivering an outstanding EX proves challenging.

When there’s a chasm between the intended and actual day-to-day experience, frustration mounts, performance dips, and disengagement rises. Working to lift engagement naturally addresses those broader EX-influencing factors.

Weaving it Together – A Holistic Approach

A new report from SHRM really digs into how complex employee engagement is, and it lines up with this idea of looking at three key areas: how employees and managers get along, the vibe between coworkers, and how connected everyone feels to the company. It points out that you need to look at both the big picture of how employees feel about their jobs and how engaged they are to really get what’s going on at work. Paying attention to and improving these aspects, it reiterates, can make a big difference in how happy people are at their jobs and whether they stick around. ​

The truth is, there’s no magic formula that works for everyone. However, as it often is, a growing part of the answer can be found in innovative technology solutions. Tools like employee feedback platforms, surveys, analytics, and communication apps can give us a peek into how our team is feeling, let us get their thoughts in real time, help us all work together better, and make it easier to give shoutouts for great work. When we make the most of these tech tools, we can build a workplace that’s more in tune, open, and quick to respond to everyone’s needs.

Yet, only 9% of global companies report strong alignment between their technology and delivering a robust EX, per Willis Towers Watson. Most workers try to juggle too many tools — breaking focus and lowering productivity. The average worker navigates as many as 35 apps daily, per the Microsoft Work Trend Index, causing “digital friction.” Context switching erodes our ability to stay engaged. In fact, Qualtrics found inefficient processes and systems to be a top driver of burnout.

While technology isn’t a cure-all, the right EX platform can empower employees to:

– Connect more easily with each other and the organization
– Find greater purpose by understanding how their work fits the big picture
– Share ideas and feedback, feeling heard and valued
– Find what they need, accomplish tasks efficiently, and get on with their day
– Equip managers with team analytics to better understand their people, build trust, and engage productively
– Provide simple ways to recognize one another, express appreciation, and fortify connections

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that organizations are about people. For companies to really tap into what every employee can do, they’ve got to strengthen the key ties – how employees relate to their bosses, the connections between colleagues, and everyone’s bond with the company as a whole. Behind every metric and model are human beings yearning for purpose, belonging, and the ability to thrive through valued, appreciated work.