The phrase Employee Engagement has been popping up everywhere. It’s replacing the old terminology of job satisfaction and employee commitment. Before you dismiss Engagement as the latest HR buzzword, consider that in a tough economy it’s a concept worth reviewing. Bad experiences in the workplace impact the level of employee engagement. Today’s economic downturn is creating a whole cadre of survivors who witness their colleagues exiting the workplace, and then stay behind and suffer emotionally. On top of that, some leaders are reportedly using people’s fear of job loss to scare up increased productivity. This short-sighted approach may spawn longer hours and verbal commitments to unrealistic deadlines, but it damages sustainable productivity. Younger employees, schooled in less authoritarian systems, especially will resist coercion and either push back or withdraw. The concept of engagement provides practical application in tough economic times.
Many research firms have developed models to isolate the drivers of employee engagement, and they will also give you survey tools to measure engagement. Let me share some thoughts about how you can easily boost the level of employee engagement to get the best work done well.
Be aware of factors that impact engagement levels. Don’t expect your new recruits to start work busting with the same level of enthusiasm you brought to the job 25 years ago. Generational research tells us that each new 5 year cohort is coming into the workforce with lower initial engagement. Generally speaking, leaders tend to be more engaged than staff (likely because of the level of decision-making and information they receive). Recognize this difference and don’t punish staff that aren’t as engaged as you are. Engagement levels decline over time, so pay attention to re-energizing your long service employees. The oldest group (those over 60) tend to be most engaged – use them to mentor others.
Get re-excited about the business you are in. Engagement is impacted by positive attitudes about the organization’s mandate and products. Don’t leave this for the trainer at formal Orientation programs. You, the leader, must talk with enthusiasm about the work that your team is engaged in. Although you may not be saving the world, most legitimate businesses make a socially responsible addition to our world. Banking and insurance companies give financial security to many; manufacturers provide goods that people want and need; government services make life safer and easier. Don’t become a corny walking billboard but make the link between the work of each individual on the team and the customer.
Use actions more than words. Even as a word, Engagement is more active than its passive sister Commitment. I can be committed to something intellectually, and never lift a finger to impact it. You want action: Employees who are engaged will want to dive in and get involved in their work. As the leader, you model engagement when you are active in their success. Pay attention and intervene to provide the resources and training they need. Don’t just provide the computer, line-up access to a software specialist who can answer frustrating questions when people are stalled. Open up shared drives, databases and other information files. Ensure training continues even when budgets are tight. Invest in people and they will invest in the work.
Increase each person’s hands-on involvement in the business. Look at your calendar for the next month. Too many meetings – right? Now decide who on your team is going to go instead of you. At a minimum, start to take others along to listen and learn. Engagement means being in the fray, not sitting in a protected office all day. Take your team to visit clients, partners and senior leaders. Expose them to the very things that keep you interested and on your toes.
When change is coming, ask people’s opinions and listen to them. Many leaders mistakenly believe that they mustn’t open a conversation or ask for input when a decision is already made, or change is pending. Actually, a large part of feeling engaged is the ability to voice opinions and talk about the business. More Extroverted staff will appreciate sharing thoughts out loud with others, and this may encourage those who are Introverted to reveal a hidden sense of disengagement. Make it a practice at team meetings to talk about what is happening, and listen to the views of the staff. You may not be able to change a particular course of action by talking about it, but the team will feel more involved and ready for the change when they have anticipated and prepared for it.
Don’t overlook Health & Safety. Research says that engagement drops dramatically for those who have an accident or injury at work. Take steps to ensure your workplace is safe. Don’t allow short-cuts that put people at physical risk. A gentle interest and firm leadership on policies of health and safety will demonstrate that you value your staff and their wellbeing. In the area of personal wellness, you don’t have to pry or be a mother hen. Small gestures can go a long way. If you notice an employee who always works straight through lunches, gently remind them that you’d like them to leave the work space and get some food and fresh air. If someone comes into work with a cold, thank them for their commitment and then send them home to rest (others will thank you for keeping them healthy).
Use the annual performance conversation to increase engagement. Employees who have a formal development plan and an annual performance discussion, have significantly higher levels of engagement than those that don’t. Of course, this depends on the skill level of the manager in delivering feedback, since management harassment has a negative impact on engagement. So – do it right. Schedule one hour to have a focussed conversation about each person’s performance. Focus on their engagement. Talk about how they specifically impacted the business. Point out areas where they can take more accountability, and where you are ready to delegate more decision-making authority. Talk about the meetings you will be sending them to. Ask them to consider how the two of you can work together to make the job more meaningful. Demonstrate your care for their health and well-being, and ask about training and equipment needs.
Jill Malleck has earned the designation Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the International Coach Federation. She has 25+ years as an HR Consultant, Facilitator and Coach. Jill works with organizations, groups and individuals to accelerate positive change and improve results.
Integral Coach™ is a trade-mark in Canada owned by Integral Coaching Canada Inc. and licensed to Jill Malleck.
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