Blog Post

5 Truths DEI and Talent Leaders Need to Know About Employee Engagement

By Laura Sherbin,Michael Rizzotti and Diana Forster
June 20, 2023

Employee engagement can be interpreted as a broad indicator of how motivated an employee is at work, and according to global estimates, only 13 percent of employees are engaged at their current jobs. This contributes to a massive productivity loss. Disengagement costs the global economy around $7.8 trillion every year.

While companies are relatively good at hiring for talent, especially when talent can be equated to hard skills or experience, they have been generally less apt at fostering a culture that ensures a sense of belonging and maintains engagement. This, coupled with the changes that the workplace has undergone over the past three years, has left employees reevaluating the amount of effort they are willing to devote to work. Trends such as “quiet quitting” and “working your wage” are becoming more popular, leaving organizations to fill gaps that result from disengagement.

Seramount’s Employee Voice Sessions (EVS) enable proactive listening that delves beyond a survey to probe into talent challenges and collect meaningful data to set goals and drive measurable progress. Drawing from EVS data, we’ve discovered five truths that many organizations may be overlooking if relying exclusively on employee engagement or inclusion surveys to understand the employee experience:

1. Belief in Advancement Doesn’t Reduce Flight Risk

When conducting surveys or exit interviews, you’ve likely seen that the most common responses to the question “Why are you leaving?” tends to be “To get a promotion” or “To earn greater compensation,” but in fact, we find that people who say they’re planning to leave are no less likely to think that they’re going to get promoted than those who plan to stay. Our EVS data shows that among those who believe they will advance to a more senior role at their organization, 26 percent planned to stay three years or less. Similarly, 30 percent of those who did not believe they would advance planned to stay three years or less. What really keeps employees around are the relationships they have developed at their company, both with senior leaders and with their colleagues through sponsorship, networking, and team inclusion.

2. Employees Feel Most Included by Individuals in Close Proximity

Survey data may tell you the percentage of your employees who feel that your company is “an inclusive place to work,” but do you know how many employees personally feel included? Or who or what your employees feel included or excluded by? Obtaining this type of information from your employees requires a deeper dive into how they are feeling. Our data shows that an employee’s immediate team members (or even direct manager) have the highest ratings of inclusion, whereas the company culture/work environment overall and leadership are comparably lower in terms of perception of inclusion or DEI commitment. When you are further from an employee or employee group, more effort needs to be expended to ensure they feel included. More inclusion by top management will be perceived with increased communication from leadership. 

3. Relationship Capital is Uneven Across Groups

From our EVS data, we’ve seen that the desire to advance in one’s company is consistent across all demographic groups: overall, 30 percent of employees want to advance, and the rates are comparable across lines of difference, such as race/ethnicity and gender. But what is not consistent is the relationship capital across these groups. Relationship capital is not as robust on key measures for women and members of historically marginalized groups, which may be diminishing their chances of advancing. 

Our work has identified having a sponsor as a key driver of promotions. Among participants who want to advance, 49 percent of men believe they have a sponsor, compared with 42 percent of women. Similarly, 51 percent of White employees believe they have a sponsor, compared with only 41 percent of people of color.

4. There Are Many Factors That Affect Employee Confidence

We’ve found that less than half of employees (40 percent) across all demographics believe they will advance at their companies. This figure is only slightly higher when looking exclusively at employees who explicitly indicate that they want to advance (46 percent). While searching for what is stalling many employees, our data has revealed that relationship capital, specific manager behaviors, and certain aspects of team inclusion all affect an employee’s confidence in their ability to advance. Again, sponsorship proves to be key.Forty-five percent of employees who have a sponsor believe they will advance, compared with only 25 percent of those who do not have a sponsor. Direct managers also have an impact: 34 percent of employees whose manager gives them actional feedback believe they will advance, compared with 24 percent of those whose manager does not. Lastly, peer support plays a role: 41 percent of employees who feel their work contributions are valued and respected by their teams believe they will advance—twice as many as those who do not. 

5. The Level of Inclusivity a Manager Exhibits Has Impact

You might know that your employees experience exclusion. You might even have a training program around unconscious bias or a one-size-fits-all inclusive leadership course. But do you know the specific things that managers can do to combat exclusion within your organization? Approximately twice as many employees who feel included report that their manager engages in inclusive manager behaviors, compared with employees who do not feel included on their teams.

Download our latest insight paper, “Designing an Inclusive Employee Experience: A Framework to Bridge the Gap Between Employee Expectations and Workplace Reality” to dive deeper into these truths and our research.

Interested in learning more about how Seramount can help in your employee engagement efforts? Contact us.

About the Authors

Laura Sherbin
Managing Director, Consulting
Michael Rizzotti
Head of Research, Measurement, and Insights
Diana Forster
Director of Qualitative Research