Employee Engagement Levels Drop Among High Performers

In an online article for Human Resource Executive Online, Propping Up Employee Morale, author Lin Grensing-Pophal shares new research showing that engagement levels among high-performing employees have decreased at a higher rate than average performers during the recent downturn in the economy.

The 2009/2010 U.S. Strategic Rewards Survey by Watson Wyatt and WorldatWork found that “employee-engagement levels for all workers at the surveyed companies dropped 9 percent since last year — but the number was nearly 25 percent for top performers.”

In addition, “more than one-third (36 percent) of top performers said their employers’ situation had worsened during the past 12 months and the percentage who would recommend others accept jobs at their companies had declined by nearly 20 percent.”

Although HR leaders may be limited in what they can do financially, the article recommends getting creative in looking at other ways to help high performers feel valued.  While money is important, and high performers need to feel that they are being treated fairly in this area, there are other factors to consider including reward, recognition, and growth opportunities.

Ryan Johnson, vice president of research at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based WorldatWork, says that “one of the easiest things to do in an environment like this is to sit down with someone and have a discussion about their career development and where they’re headed in the organization.”

Johnson also suggests that, “simply letting high performers know that their performance is recognized and that they’re important to the company can be motivating.”

For more ideas on how you can let your high performers know that you care about them during tough economic times, be sure to check out the entire article.  For more information on other factors that lead to increased levels of engagement, also take a look at Employee Passion: The New Rules of Engagement on The Ken Blanchard Companies website.  Both of these resources can help you identify ways to build (or rebuild) engagement levels in your organization.

6 thoughts on “Employee Engagement Levels Drop Among High Performers

  1. Hi David,

    This is a great post – thanks for sharing it.

    As you describe in your note, it is important to know the customer – in this case – the star performers.

    Not doing the right things OR doing the wrong things is a certain way to demoralize, frighten off or anger star performers.

    I remember when I worked for one of the Big-5 some years ago, we had an all hands rah-rah session that was designed to boost morale and encourage team building.

    Myself and others had to get permission from the clients to leave in order to travel for this event. The event was mandatory and my client and my company required a CEO-CEO conversation in order for my client to be convinced that I needed to be there.

    When I traveled across the country (literally) to attend this, the well-intentioned folks in HR were quite excited to see me. As a senior person in the organization, I would be a team lead for all of the team building exercises that we were doing.

    What did we do?

    Two events:

    1. Pin the tail on the donkey – literally.

    2. The “who can build a helicopter with Legos the fastest” contest

    For a day of travel each way, this mandatory meeting of the star performers was two hours long.

    The kindly HR folks were thrilled with our attendance. I wish I could have seen what was on the evaluation forms. 🙂

    Of course, being mandated by corporate made it easy from a decision standpoint – we had no choice.

    Wasting two days of travel was pretty expensive.

    Upsetting clients was even more expensive.

    The number of us who had one-too-many rah-rahs that bored us, insulted our intelligence and thus caused us to leave the organization was EXTREMELY expensive.

    What turns my crank as a peak performer are helping others get excited, get passionate and have opportunities to shine (clients, corp, team, etc).

    Wasting money, upsetting clients and wasting time / talent of passionate people who are living on purpose is a sure fire way to build up the team of your competitors. 🙂

    Take care, David, and create a great day!


    • Hi Harry,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. That reminds me of the importance of checking in with people on a regular basis to make sure that events designed to increase engagement don’t end up doing the exact opposite.

      • Hi David,

        Thanks for the kind comment.

        I want to stress that I don’t mean to send any disrespect in the direction of those well-intentioned HR folks. They felt the need to create something to help us execute more effectively and we were grateful for that.

        However, since we were the target audience and we were the ONLY people whose opinion wasn’t solicited, it makes such a venture hit or miss.

        Events like that have the opportunity to bring “family” together or to reinforce the notion that “those guys in corporate don’t know us in the field”.

        One builds collaboration and trust – the other kills it.

        Take care and create a great day!


  2. Very intriguing post. I definitely see a lot of change related to Employee Engagement (EE) these days.

    For an employer to engage their staff, they need to address the current needs of staff, rather than going off of outdated theory. For example the highly acclaimed Q12, published by the Gallup Organization in the late 90’s has ever since its inception been considered to be the basis of EE, certainly the most valid way of measuring EE in organizations. However, if EE is about meeting needs of employees, we need to understand what the trends are today related to employees, rather than assume that employees of today have the same needs as those ten years ago. EE is the reciprocal relationship between an employee and their employer – meaning that an employer can only expect to receive input from the employee at the level to which they are willing to give (in ways such as dignity to the role, praise and recognition, clarity, etc.). While the needs of employees are changing, our response to these needs (what is given to employees) needs to change as well.

    So, is it that the engagement levels of high performers has changed? Or could it be more accurate to think that the needs of high performers has changed?

    • Hi Scott,
      Thanks for your comment. I think that one of the most underreported aspects of today’s engagement literature is the personal nature of engagement. For example, most practitioners are aware that engagement levels vary from individual to individual within the same organization, but this isn’t usually highlighted in articles and papers. People experience the world in different ways. I’m hoping to make this the subject of an upcoming post soon. Stay tuned.

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