In 2011-2012, a Gallup study revealed that just 13% of workers were actively engaged in their work places. There are many reasons to worry about sliding employee engagement — it’s bad for employees, it’s bad for output, it’s really bad for the bottom line. What worries me most though is that this situation is unnatural; it goes against our fundamental wiring.
Cast your mind back to being a young child, determined to learn to tie your laces or write your name. Life was a lot easier when your parents simply did everything for you, but from an incredibly young age children crave independence. They want to take control of their own lives.
We don’t lose this instinct as adults. Most of us work out or volunteer or try to learn new skills, not because anyone compels us to, but simply because being engaged affords us a deep human satisfaction.
So why isn’t this coming out in the workplace? Not because employees don’t want to be engaged or don’t care to make the effort. For proof, just take a look at your new hires. They’re excited to be there, firing out ideas, eager to learn. The key to employee engagement is channelling that natural impulse into long-term engagement and satisfaction.
The three key strands in this process are trust, communication and rewards, which I’ll discuss in turn.
Our society seems to have an anxiety disorder. Individually and collectively we’re irrationally worried that small problems can spark huge crises. To return to my childhood analogy, while many of us were permitted to roam free and test limits when we were young, today’s children are constantly monitored and regulated. This can mean that they don’t learn important coping skills.
Similarly, micromanagement is something of a workplace plague. It erodes employees’ feelings of being trusted team members, which prevents them from taking full ownership of their work. If you loosen your grip on the reins there may be a few mishaps, but a strong team can weather those. What’s more, team members’ increased engagement and feeling of control over their work will more than make up for the losses.
As a manager, you’re not only responsible for offering advice and information to employees, you also need to listen. While you have an unparalleled view of the big picture, those at lower levels of the company are seeing a side of your business that is often invisible to you. While the board might have facts and figures regarding customer satisfaction, that can’t replace the intuitive understanding of those who engage with customers every day. Building effective channels for this kind of communication ensures that the unique expertise of low-level staff members is recognised and utilised, enhancing their feeling that they are valued contributors.
Rewarding employees is about much more than occasionally sending a complimentary group email. An individual employee will become engaged if her specific talents and contributions are recognised. Instead of simply saying “I’m really glad we won this account,” say “Laura, I’m really impressed with how your read this client’s situation. It made the difference in achieving the outcome we wanted.” Based on the second statement, your employee feels that she is an integral part of the process, which will tap into her natural urge to achieve.
Of course, employee engagement is a complex field and there are plenty of other factors to consider. But by seriously thinking about and applying the above principles you’re sure to make some progress.
Till next time,