How engaged are your employees?  And why should you care?  These two questions are tackled in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Management’s Dirty Little Secret.  As to the first, the answer is a striking “not very,” as demonstrated in the Global Workforce Survey conducted by Towers Perrin, an HR consultancy.  The study — which sought to measure employee engagement around the world — polled over 90,000 workers in eighteen countries.  The results: only 21% of employees are truly engaged in their work.  The remaining 79%, in other words, would not “go the extra mile” for their employer.  The Wall Street Journal article puts it bluntly:  “There’s no way to sugarcoat it — this data represents a stinging indictment of the legacy management practices found in most companies.”

The author describes the empirically-proven connection between employee engagement and the bottom line.  This direct and causal relationship between enjoyment and profitability — borne out by another Towers Perrin study — warrants management attention, particularly in a lagging economic climate.  The critical point is that success depends largely “on a company’s ability to unleash the initiative, imagination and passion of employees at all levels — and this can only happen if all those folks are connected heart and soul with their work, their company and its mission.”

So how do employees become engaged?  They must have the opportunity to learn and grow continuously.  They must be in an environment that seems worthy of commitment; e.g., a company committed to making a difference in the world or exemplifying the kinds of values employees can feel good about.  And they must be surrounded by leaders whom they respect and want to emulate or learn from.  Without the presence of these three factors — which are indisputably management issues — employee engagement is low.

 What is the answer for management?  First, take a cold, hard look at your management style and the priorities that are communicated to the rank and file.  Second, assess your managers.  Have they been trained to emulate your corporate values down the chain of command?  Don’t assume that simply because your managers are good at what they do, they are good managers.  As the above statistics evince, more often than not, they aren’t.  Take the time and energy to focus on  and communicate your corporate values, and then to live by them.  Your bottom line demands no less.