Employee engagement is becoming critically important as a driver of retention and promotion of a corporate brand. Disengaged employees are far more likely to depart an organization and speak poorly about it. 

It's particularly important in a digital workplace where workers may be spread across many locations.

The importance of engagement as a business strategy
Engaged employees are also more likely to work harder, be more productive, have stronger workplace relationships and have more satisfied customers. A recent study of Canadian employees found that 69 percent consider employee engagement to be a problem in their workplace, with dysfunctional work relationships (29 percent), lower productivity (25 percent) and an unwillingness to go beyond the job description (17.3 percent) being the three most oft-cited consequences of disengaged employees.

The study indicated that employees considered managers (50 percent) being primarily to blame for disengagement, followed by senior leaders (34.9 percent) and employees themselves (15.1). Part of the problem is that most organizations (55.8 percent) do not measure employee engagement using standard instruments such as surveys, focus groups or external assessments.

A recent article aggregated research from multiple studies to illustrate further what Gallup calls the "worldwide employee engagement crisis." Here are 5 statistics about employee engagement and business strategy that are eye-opening:

1. Disengagement is expensive
Disengaged employees cost U.S. businesses alone more than $500 billion annually.

2. The passion is gone
A staggering 88 percent of employees and 80 percent of managers have no passion for their work.

3. Employees are overworked
Two-thirds of employees describe themselves as "overwhelmed." Fifty percent of employed adults work more than 40 hours per week.

4. Time (off) is money. So is happiness
Eighty percent of employees would like to work fewer hours, with 36 percent willing to give up $5,000 in salary annually to be happier.

5. Employers don't have the right tools
Nearly four out of five employees believe their employee retention and engagement problems are "significant." Among business and HR leaders, 86 percent do not believe they have a good leadership development program.

While the data may seem bleak, there are ways to turn it around. Gallup suggests employers consider the following to turn around lagging employee engagement numbers.

    • Measure properly. Using a scientifically validated tool to measure engagement is crucial. But using a survey that isn't properly vetted may cause employers to focus on issues that are not truly relevant to engagement.
    • Make it a strategy. Employee engagement cannot be considered complete with the occasional survey and a few training sessions. Engagement needs to be infused into a broader human capital management strategy that has the support of business leadership, a communications strategy, and support.
    • Know where you're going. Employee engagement works best when it is backed by a clear understanding of where the organization is today and where it wants to be in one, two or three years. Every workplace starts from a different baseline, and knowing that benchmark helps to plan.
    • It's everyone's priority Engagement can't be lumped in the "other tasks and duties as assigned" section of a job description. It needs to be aligned with other priorities for managers, department heads, and senior leadership. Engagement works best when it's a continual process that is evaluated and refined.
While the numbers may appear bleak, there are ample opportunities to turn a workforce into an engaged, productive and happier group of employees.