Gallup is Wrong. It's Not All About Employee Engagement

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Everyone agrees that going to work is better when people work well together. While healthcare is becoming more challenging, the real issue is that focusing on engagement isn't enough. Moving from feelings to action enables us to focus on a process that fuels the individual, inspires the team and transforms the organization. Which means that the only way to make a significant impact is to talk about rolling up our sleeves and getting involved. How? By investing in our sphere of influence.

We’ve been focusing on engagement for years, but over half the workforce is still disengaged

Despite years of effort to improve engagement, the Gallup 2017 State of the American Workforce reports that disengaged employees still cost $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.1

The discussion, to date, has focused on four different levels:

  • Active Disengagement: “I’m going to take this place down!”
  • Passive Disengagement: “I’m telling everyone that this is a lousy place to work.”
  • Passive Engagement: “I’m just here for the paycheck.”
  • Active Engagement: “I like working here, and I’m here to do my job.”

What is engagement?

Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace”.2 However, if we dissected the Gallup Q12, their instrument to measure engagement, we find that this is not exactly what they are measuring. At least seven of the thirteen items (yes, there are 13 questions) focus on how people feel at work:

  • Q0 Addressing overall satisfaction
  • Q4 Addressing recognition?
  • Q5 Addressing anyone caring about you?
  • Q6 Addressing encouragement
  • Q7 Addressing if your opinions are valued
  • Q8 Addressing if the mission makes you feel important?
  • Q10 Addressing if you have a best friend at work?

Only two of the items have anything to do with what people do at work:

  • Q2 Addressing if people have what they need to do their job.
  • Q3 Addressing if people get to do what they do best.

Consequently, some people conclude that “culture” is how we do things around here and “engagement” is how we feel about how we do things around here.

While there is a significant amount of research that shows that engaged employees (as defined by the Gallup Q12) impact profitability, productivity, and customer satisfaction3, I believe that we need to take the conversation to a new level if we are going to make a significant impact on healthcare.

Beyond Feelings: Investment

It is possible to show up at work feeling good about where I work but still not contribute to the success of my team or my organization. I’ve previously written about the power of mindset the power of mindset that I witnessed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Some people became unstoppable because they had the mindset of an empowered giver. Despite their tremendous loss, they approached the situation with the attitude that they had the power to make a difference and it wasn’t all about them. They didn’t care who got the credit; they were willing to give. Their barrier-busting generosity made a tremendous difference in the lives of the people they helped.

In applying lessons learned from disasters around the world, I’ve come to believe that there is another level beyond engagement: Investment - the people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do something to make a difference. I’ve identified three levels of investment.

Invested: Personal

People with the Thriver’s Mindset of empowered giving approach their work with a commitment to be at their best so they can contribute to their team. For example, there is a wealth of data showing that gratitude is helpful to prevent burnout. However, if the hospital administration declares that everyone will be required to take classes in gratitude, they will have a revolt on their hands. In contrast, when an individual becomes invested they start looking at how they can give more to their team. In the process of self-improvement, suddenly it becomes a reasonable idea to seek out the opportunity to learn more about gratitude.

Invested: Team

Donald Clifton first described that "change happens most efficiently at the local level, at the level of the front-line….” If we are going to make an impact on healthcare, it will have to start at the team level. Team Invested people believe that they have the power to make a difference and their goal is to make their team members successful. They don’t care who gets the credit. They take the time to understand the issues of their team, and they lean in and invest in the success of others.

Invested: Cross-Team

Organizations begin to change when teams adopt the Thriver’s Mindset of empowered giving. When a team considers what they can do to make the teams around them successful, gaps are closed, and the entire organization is better off.

Get a Spherical Perspective

So my call to action is this: Consider the impact that you can make in your sphere of influence. As an empowered giver, what can you do to improve your self, contribute to your team and impact the teams around you? Ask your team (and the teams around you) three questions on a regular basis:

  • What’s keeping you up at night?
  • What are you celebrating?
  • How can I (or my team) help?

Move beyond engagement and become invested.


  1. http://news.gallup.com/reports/199961/state-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx# ↩︎
  2. http://news.gallup.com/poll/180404/gallup-daily-employee-engagement.aspx ↩︎
  3. http://www.gallup.com/services/191558/q12-meta-analysis-ninth-edition-2016.aspx ↩︎

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