In our previous study, we focused on the drivers of employee dis-engagement by looking at the statistical differences between the bottom 10% (most disengaged) employees and everybody else. The logical next step was to look at what motivates employees at the other end of the spectrum. This time, our research focuses on the most engaged employees and how the things that motivate them are a bit different from everybody else.
The three lists below show the survey questions that are most highly correlated with overall engagement for all employees compared to the top 20% (most engaged) employees and the top 10% (most engaged) employees. We have included three lists in order to illustrate the progression of the key differences between the groups. As our focus on the most engaged employees narrows, the differences become more distinct.
The key differences between the most engaged employees and everybody else are highlighted in bold.
To clarify what these lists are showing... the first box lists the items that are most highly correlated with overall engagement for "all employees" - that is, everybody who completed the survey across more than 150 companies. In the middle box, we looked at the same correlations, but we only included employees who had overall engagement scores that placed them in the top 20% of all survey respondents. In the third box, we included just the top 10% of employees.
The first thing to note is that the three lists are more similar than they are different. The themes of fairness, respect, teamwork, values, etc. are important to everybody, including the most engaged employees. For the sake of brevity and clarity, we have only listed the top ten items on each list, but where there are differences that are not highlighted, the items generally fell just outside the top ten.
However, the highlighted items are distinct to the most engaged employees. These items are well below the top ten drivers of engagement across all employees. To confirm this finding, we included the third list, which indicates that accountability and empowerment become even more important as we narrow our focus.
Lastly, the prominence of the Personal Expression item for the most engaged employees is worth noting since it is at the top of second and third lists. This same item is still in the top ten for all employees, so it is an important driver of engagement for all employees, but it does appear to have a potentially more important role for the most engaged employees. We have chosen not to focus on this area because the result is less conclusive and distinct than the differences noted within engagement and accountability.
(Research Note: We also looked at engagement drivers for the top 5% (most engaged) employees. Accountability and Empowerment rise to the top two positions on this list. This suggests that the trend continues, but the statistics are less reliable because the group size is smaller, and because it is likely to contain a higher percentage of "outliers" - people who gave unusually high scores on the survey without really answering the questions in a thoughtful manner. Therefore, we have not included these findings.)
We make an assumption when we look at the most engaged employees - we assume that these employees are, by and large, also top performers. This assumption is supported by the survey questions that stand out among these groups. Top performers want to be empowered so they can perform at their best, and they want to see themselves and others held accountable for achieving results.
On the other hand, in companies that do not empower employees or hold people accountable, it is reasonable to assume that some of the most talented employees would be more likely to be disengaged.
For companies that are interested in driving engagement to the highest levels, our research indicates that the way to do this is by empowering employees and by making sure that all employees are held accountable for achieving results. Moreover, these areas are important for attracting, retaining, and motivating the most talented employees. People who value empowerment and accountability will be discouraged in companies that do not promote and support these things. By contrast, poor performers might enjoy the safe haven of a company that does not demand accountability. These are employees who might have high levels of "satisfaction", but they are likely to be adding little or no value, and even worse, discouraging the talented people around them.
Empowerment, autonomy, and accountability must be addressed from several angles in order to be effective:
And finally, let's not forget the similarities on the three lists of engagement drivers. Empowerment, autonomy, and accountability stand out as uniquely important to the most engaged employees, but higher levels of engagement cannot be achieved through these things alone. The things that motivate all employees and the most engaged employees alike are just as important.
Fairness stands out as a top item on all three lists, which indicates that this area is an especially important driver of engagement. Respect, values, trust, teamwork, personal expression, and communication (openness) are also areas that matter to all employees, including the most engaged employees. Engagement won't happen without these things, and the steps noted above can be applied to these areas as well.