Why aren’t employee engagement levels across the world increasing? Only 32% of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2015, compared to 31.5% the previous year, as reported in the latest Gallup Organization employee engagement survey.

Are we not listening to what people are telling us on surveys? Are the surveys measuring the right things? Are we focusing employee learning in the appropriate directions? These are all questions I’m asking myself when I’m consulting and talking with people inside organizations.

According to Gallup’s January 2016 article, The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis, there are serious and potentially lasting repercussions for the global economy.

The Gallup Organization has published many annual reports based on their global workforce surveys. Everyone assumes a shared meaning for the concept of engagement, but there is little agreement in how to improve it. Let’s look deeper.

David Mizne of 15five.com defines employee engagement as “proactively and passionately adding value while aligning with the company mission.” In his opinion, this can be hard to quantify. He goes on to say that, “an engaged employee wears it on their face, demonstrates it in their work and in their workplace communication.”

Mizne feels that the exact definition of employee engagement remains elusive, and becomes even more problematic when one considers Gallup’s somewhat ambiguous subcategories of “not engaged” and “actively disengaged.”

Companies and leaders worldwide certainly recognize the advantages of engaging employees, and many have instituted surveys to measure engagement. Yet, the statistics on employee engagement have barely budged in well over a decade.

Gallup sees a clear divide emerging within the engagement industry. On one end of the spectrum are scientifically validated approaches that lead to changes in individual and business performance. When surveys are supported by strategic development and performance solutions, organizational cultures shift. These approaches require more intentionality and investment, however companies that use them are more likely to see increases in employee engagement.

At the other end of the spectrum are unvalidated, unfocused annual surveys. Much like a traditional employee satisfaction survey, this type of survey usually measures a multitude of workplace dimensions with limited alignment with business objectives. Thus, it can be difficult to develop action plans for employee improvement based on results.

I’ve seen this happen in my work in organizations. Technology makes it easy to create an “employee survey” and call it an engagement program, which allows a company to fulfill an apparent organizational need and “check a box.”

But metrics on their own don’t drive change or increase performance. Many of these survey-only approaches measure employee perceptions and provide numbers instead of improving workplaces and business outcomes.

What’s going on where you work? Have you participated in an employee engagement survey? And have you been involved in engagement programs? Give me a call, let’s talk. I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.