“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs
We all want a job where we are engaged and where we have a greater sense of purpose. However, research still shows that most employees are not engaged. According to a Gallup study, only 15% of people consider themselves as engaged at work. Study after study shows that the majority of employees battle just to make it through a day.
What is employee engagement, and how does it impact the business?
Employee engagement is a concept that describes the nature of the relationship between the employee and the organisation. Most people think that engaged employees are happy employees. It is more than that. A happy employee is not necessarily fully committed to the work they do. An engaged employee is fully engrossed by their work and has an emotional commitment to the organisation and its values. An engaged employee does not only work for payment. They work for a purpose greater than themselves. They have a positive mindset and take action to further the company’s goals with their team and the organisation’s best interest in mind.
The engaged employee will present the following behaviours:
- They won’t allow setbacks and challenges to become an excuse for their ability to perform well.
- They proactively seek ways to function at their best by taking accountability for their performance instead of blaming others when it becomes a challenge to reach goals.
- They are self-aware and know what their strengths and development areas are. Therefore, they have plans ready to enhance their strengths and work on their development areas continuously.
- They are intentional about everything they do. Knowing what their purpose is and planning accordingly improve their engagement. They do not wait for someone else to improve their engagement.
- They are innovative and regularly think about new ways for the company to move forward.
Engaged employees lead to improved productivity and quality of services. This leads to higher customer satisfaction which then, of course, leads to increased profit due to improvement in sales. As Doug Cognant, the former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, said: “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”
And what about the disengaged employee?
On the other hand, a disengaged employee could do the bare minimum, or it may be as bad as an employee that actively damages the organisation’s brand and output. According to the American Medical Association, disengaged employees cost businesses $150 billion a year in lost revenue and employee turnover. A disengaged employee is less likely to work hard or meet expectations, and they make 60% more mistakes.
Disengaged employees are removed from the organisation’s vision and objectives. They will not think of new ideas to move the business in a specific strategic direction because they are not aligned with the values or the purpose of the business. In an ever-changing world, businesses are forced to be on the forefront of thinking out of the box and innovation. With no new ideas, the business will stagnate and fall behind. It is essential to understand the reasons for poor employee engagement and to invest time and resources to improve it.
What can be done to improve the engagement of employees?
Improving employee engagement is a big part of a manager’s job. According to a Gallup study, 70% of the reasons for disengagement and the variance in engagement are due to management. Managers are not solely responsible for employees’ engagement. Still, managers have the authority to create conditions that promote the behaviours of engaged employees or conditions where engagement is destroyed.
The relationship between a manager and those who report directly to them should be characterised by trust and psychological safety. This means that the employee should feel free to ask for assistance and take risks, and they should be empowered to do their job well. Due to the trust in the relationship, constructive feedback can be provided to enable high performance. It is the responsibility of both the manager and the employee to work on creating relationships where behaviours of engagement can be nurtured.
Employees need to own their engagement. However, traditional managers often do not allow for this freedom and flexibility to empower the employee. Employees must learn to face their challenges by planning and taking accountability with the support of the manager. The manager should not intervene and take over the role of the employee. In such a relationship, employees will never fully understand their strengths when engaging in their role. Managers should take the role of coach, individualising their time, effort and support in a unique way to best suit each employee.
To ensure that you do not become the manager that destroys engagement in your team, consider the following key ideas:
- Refrain from creating tension: Managers unknowingly create unease when they expect their team to behave like they do, rather than allowing their team to be their authentic self. When employees are allowed the flexibility and freedom to be themselves, to take risks and to make decisions, they will be empowered to fully engage in what is expected of them. Engagement improves when employees do not feel restricted to an environment of limitations.
- Identify the positive tendencies in your team: Managers often spend a lot of time being overly critical about the mistakes employees make. Rather recognise the things toward which team members gravitate naturally. Those are the things that will get them energised and improve their engagement. Allow them to explore how they can best contribute in their role.
- Build confidence to discover potential: Stop micromanaging and start empowering your team to understand the true depth of their capability. Create situations where they can move beyond their own boundaries to build their confidence and increase their self-trust. This might sound simple, but it requires you to let go, step back and observe. Allow them to fail and support them to stand up and try again.
- Allow them to influence: Provide employees with the opportunity to lead and collaborate with others. It will make them feel trusted and valued for the independent decisions they are permitted to make. Employees’ engagement improves when they feel a sense of responsibility towards others.
- Share your achievements…and your failures to initiate drive: Rather than enjoying success on your own, share success with the team and allow them to experience it with you. If employees know and feel that they have played an important role in the team’s success story, it will automatically enhance their engagement. Employees don’t want perfect managers. They want managers with whom they can relate and from whom they can learn. Being genuine and sharing your own setbacks drives engagement and creates an environment of significant trust for everyone in the team.
- Consistency is key: When managers are inconsistent in their approach, they create an environment where they cannot be trusted or relied on. Your team might think that there are hidden agendas when they experience inconsistent behaviours.
Employee engagement is often thought about but not talked about enough. Encourage conversations and actions to improve your team’s engagement and allow them to discover their full potential and true passion in their roles. As Betty Bender stated: “When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.” Employees provided with the opportunity and environment to put their heart into their work will go beyond expectations for the business.
By Ilana Bischoff