Paying closer attention to staff satisfaction and engagement

Any successful organization knows full well that its people are its primary resource when push comes to shove. While employees can (and sometimes must) be replaced at times, engaging in staff shake-ups on a regular basis isn't an optimal strategy for developing consistency and strong culture in the workplace. Managers, HR department heads and other company leaders should pay close attention to their employees' levels of engagement and overall satisfaction, and use these observations as inspiration for initiatives that can improve the overall culture and experience of staff.

The national picture: Strong overall contentment and a focus on meaning 

Working in conjunction with SurveyMonkey, CNBC released the results of its inaugural Workplace Happiness Index April 2, 2019, at the news station's @Work Talent + HR summit in New York City. About 85% of the survey's 8,664 respondents – all of them American businesspeople, across multiple industries – claimed they were "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with their current jobs. Five key criteria, each worth 20 possible points, contributed to the measurements: Meaningfulness, autonomy, contribution, opportunity for advancement and pay earned 17, 15, 15, 11 and 13, respectively, which led to a score of 71 out of 100 for the inaugural index.

These findings paint an instructive picture for management. Creating or maintaining a culture in which workers feel that their jobs serve a meaningful purpose beyond their paychecks can be highly conducive to greater engagement and happiness. For example, a marketing agency could devote a portion of its efforts to charitable, nonprofit clients. If it's not feasible for employees' day-to-day responsibilities to have that sort of direct social impact, the organization could partner with local nonprofits and offer days of paid time off for workers wishing to volunteer. 

Recognizing signs of disengagement 

The CNBC-SurveyMonkey study did find a few potential trouble spots that employers should carefully consider. Most notably, professionals interviewed for the report felt least positive about opportunities for advancement within their workplaces. Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey, noted the multifaceted nature of the survey's responses.

"Our study clearly reveals that workplace happiness is richly nuanced," Cohen said in a statement to CNBC for the news provider's story summarizing the index's findings. "While a big majority of U.S. workers are at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs, there are a lot of negatives when it comes to how people relate to their work." 

A significant share (27%) of the survey's respondents said they didn't consider themselves well paid, and even more of them (30%) said they'd seriously considered leaving their current jobs at some point in the last three months. All told, only 9% of the study's interview subjects gave perfect 20-point ratings across all five of the aforementioned happiness categories. 

The warning signs of possible disengagement differ to some extent among organizations, but the study's findings indicate there are common red flags for which you should be on the lookout. An employee who asks a supervisor about a salary review or possible promotion and doesn't receive a clear answer – or is rebuffed without reasonable explanation – is likely to diminish in engagement as a result. This may cut into productivity and sour their interactions with co-workers. Clear declines in quality of work with no other obvious source (like difficulties with a new type of assignment) also indicate a strong possibility of disengagement, as do cynical statements or nonconstructive criticisms regarding the organization.

Working to maintain and regain employee satisfaction 

You and your fellow company leaders must recognize signs of disengagement quickly to have a chance at maintaining a productive and satisfied workforce. Supervisors must be as attentive to workers' personal well-being as they are to key indicators of the company's bottom-line performance. Immediately after recognizing trouble or discontent in their teams, these managers would be wise to meet with employees one-on-one and as a group to discuss any problems and work toward meaningful solutions. It's imperative that you clearly tell team members they won't be penalized for any negative statements in these feedback sessions – and follow through on that commitment.

Once you've put a finger on the pulse of your employees and gauged their satisfaction, you'll know whether you need to maintain and improve current practices (if workers seem generally satisfied) or revamp certain aspects of the work environment. This could mean allowing staff to work from home semi-regularly – as 43% of U.S. workers do, according to Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report – or even something as simple as establishing regular team outings in which staff can socialize and converse about non-work subjects. Whatever engagement measures you implement, it'll be critical to stick with them even if they don't garner immediate results.