Jason Gottschalk headshot
Jason Gottschalk

Employee engagement, and the myriad tools surrounding the topic, has become a business buzzword of the 21st century. But what exactly is engagement, and is it really the panacea for everything from customer satisfaction to profitability? And if there is a direct correlation between employee engagement and overall business success, then how do organizations enable and promote engagement?

According to a recent Gallup “State of the Global Workplace” report, 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. Gallup estimates the cost of this disengagement at $7 trillion in lost productivity. The United States is slightly better, with 31% of the workforce engaged, but clearly, vast room for improvement exists.

Gallop research also highlights the results of this disengagement. Organizations that score in the top quartile for employee engagement have almost double the success (composite financial, customer, retention, safety, quality and absenteeism metrics) than those in the bottom quartile.

So it would appear that the evidence is pretty clear. Engaged employees are essential to the success of any organization. This is most critical in the current healthcare environment, where a lack of engagement could lead to increased turnover, burnout and customer dissatisfaction.

Technology’s role in supporting meaningful work

Enabling employees to do meaningful work — by offloading routine tasks, for example — creates opportunities for workers to apply themselves to aspects of their jobs that are uniquely engaging, such as connecting directly with residents and guests. Supporting meaningful work, however, requires the right systems and tools to be in place. Technology can accelerate this process by removing the obstacles that often stand in the way.

Unfortunately, many organizations still use legacy systems that are slow, antiquated and inefficient. Other organizations have adopted new technology, but it has been borrowed from other industries and forced to “work” in an environment in which it was not intended or optimal. Both of these situations encumber employees with unnecessary complexity and inefficiency.

Organizations that provide the right technology for their employees can increase their efficiency, reduce frustration and make their tasks more manageable, ultimately increasing employee engagement. So what technology will have the greatest effect on employee tasks? Organizations should focus on offloading mundane tasks, providing enhanced data or information, and supporting a more agile workflow.

Offloading mundane tasks

The right technology can increase employees’ efficiency by speeding up or completely eliminating routine tasks. Employees often spend a significant amount of time working on things that they weren’t hired to do, such as fact-checking spreadsheets and reports, activities that technology could perform more simply.

Automating simple tasks creates the space that allows employees to focus on what they were hired to do: think critically and engage with residents and guests. Automating aspects of a job often will increase productivity by complementing worker skills with machines and computers. This also can enable employees to focus on aspects of the job that most need their attention.

By embracing automation technologies, organizations can provide more rewarding experiences for their employees, who now can spend more time on skill-based, experience-heavy tasks that lead to greater employee engagement and, ultimately, a better customer experience.

Providing enhanced information

Employees do not just want instant access to reliable information; they expect it. Yet, according to the Workforce Institute’s new report on workplace trends, unlike what employees experience at home as consumers, when they arrive at work, good, valuable information across their organization can be difficult to access and nearly impossible to process to make an informed decision in the moment. Employers increasingly are expected to provide a consumer-grade technology experience in the workplace with one-touch access to information that helps employees — both laptop-toting and frontline workers — work smarter and work their way.

Organizations that improve staff access to accurate and timely information are able to enhance staff self-determination. Information directly affecting residents or guests provided in real time to staff members empowers them to make more informed decisions in a timely manner. Real-time accurate information empowers staff to use their intelligence, creativity and empathy to the fullest.

Supporting agile workflow

Collaboration and communication may be two 21st-century buzzwords, but they are critical to an agile workflow. Technology that enhances employees’ ability to interact with their coworkers continuously and intuitively creates the foundation for smooth and efficient execution. These tools must be agile enough to change as the organization’s and the customers’ needs change, without adding complexity to the employee experience.

By consistent inclusion in communication with their peers, staff members problem-solve better, learn from one another and ultimately share their “front-line knowledge” with each other and leadership. This, in turn, affects staff engagement and the customer experience.

Employees who are empowered to function at their greatest capacity without being bogged down in mundane tasks, who are provided with accurate and timely information so that they can be self-directed, and who are provided the tools to seamlessly collaborate and communicate with their coworkers are more likely to feel that they can be their authentic selves at work, leading to higher engagement and performance.

Updated biographic information, January 2023: Jason Gottschalk is the founder of Vibrant Aging, a company devoted to helping older adults age well. Prior to Vibrant Aging, he co-founded a technology company that developed voice-first technology for seniors and was the executive director of a large life plan community in suburban Washington, DC.