Actively disengaged employees in the United States cost businesses $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity, according to Gallup estimates.
For small businesses, the loss can be crippling, especially if they don’t realize they have a problem. That's why it’s critical for employers to find ways to measure worker motivation and happiness, say experts.
“It’s something you need to have your finger on the pulse of in your organization,” said Randi Busse, president of Massapequa-based Workforce Development Group Inc., a customer service training and employee development firm.
And it shouldn’t be something only looked at once a year, because worker attitudes and motivation are “fluid and dynamic and could change almost daily,” she said.
Luckily for small businesses, there are simple steps that can be effective.
In fact, it can sometimes be easier to get direct feedback in small firms because there are fewer layers, said Rick Gibbs, a performance specialist at Texas-based Insperity, an HR solutions provider with offices locally in Melville and Manhattan.
“The more employees you have, the less organic communication there is,” he said.
Still, before you even start measuring engagement, you must first define what it means to your organization.
And be clear with employees so they know what the company’s measuring, said Monica Cruz, HR director at Seattle-based TINYpulse, which offers measurement tools.
“Companies without an HR function can measure employee engagement by ensuring that first-line managers are accountable for their direct reports and that they have a commitment to their success,” said Cruz. Managers can show commitment by having ongoing feedback and coaching moments, she said.
When trying to gauge worker attitudes, it’s best to ask employees open-ended questions rather then ones that garner a yes/no response, said Busse.
She suggests questions like: What makes this a good place to work?; What could I do as a leader to make this a better work experience for you?; What would make you recommend to friends and family to work here?
If your firm is small enough, you can take employees out to lunch and have conversations one-on-one, said Busse. But it shouldn't just come out of left field.
“You’ve got to build a relationship and have rapport with employees before you start asking questions,” she said.
It might be a good idea to let them know beforehand that the company is interested in what they have to say and may be asking some questions, Gibbs said.
You may also decide to utilize online survey tools.
For example, TINYpulse offers tools that ask employees anonymous survey questions weekly, every other week or monthly. Questions in TINYpulse’s database cluster around work-life balance, training and leadership/management.
Insperity also has an online survey that allows for confidential employee comments, said Gibbs, noting that with the results of those comments, Insperity can help companies come up with an action plan.
“If you give a survey, you should be prepared to act on it and be definitive and formal in communicating the results,” he said.
At the end of the day, communication is key, said Jeremy Ecker, president of Glen Cove-based Rest Easy Pest Control.
The company has frequent communication with staff, but also implemented a review tool via a custom app where employees can ask customers to leave feedback and can earn extra compensation based on the feedback. There’s also a leaderboard based on customer responses.
This can help measure engagement because if they start seeing poor feedback or lack of feedback on a particular employee, it can signal that perhaps a manager needs to talk with that employee to uncover any opportunities for improvement.
“If something’s wrong, we want to know,” said Ecker.
In 2019, 74% of organizations will use formal, large-scale surveys to gauge how employees feel about their jobs and workplace, according to Gartner Inc., a Connecticut-based global research and advisory firm.