Employee engagement is the holy grail for every business leader. It’s described in a variety of ways but generally defined as when employees fully invest emotionally, mentally, and physically so they focus on achieving the organization’s objectives. Getting commitment is an elusive aspect to managing people. As easy it is to obtain it can also be lost. Gaining or losing employee commitment, from one day to the next, happens quickly.
Engaging employees is key, but what is less obvious is how to keep them connected and focused. Various employment surveys continue to show that job satisfaction and employee engagement are at record lows. This is partly a result of the economy, but also it results from deteriorating organizational culture and poor communication. Declining engagement is on the rise for business and individuals alike, with studies revealing specific personal and health concerns.
The term engagement is often misinterpreted. Managers tend to misread engaged employees. They confuse a worker’s commitment to their job with a passion for their work or what they’ve chosen do for a living. Recently, a colleague experienced in production efficiency told me he really enjoys solving client problems. A business leader may misinterpret his behavior as highly engaged. What that leader might not take into account is that this person has worked for four different employers in six years. So, while he is “engaged” with passion for his work, that does not make him a committed or engaged employee. Yes, passion for work is essential, but a business leader’s primary concern is an employee’s commitment to achieving the organization’s objectives.
Having fully engaged employees is ideal but unrealistic. In good times, employees are usually more committed, but the need grows as economic conditions deteriorate. Whether you are a manager or employee, being engaged is worth the effort. When things go well, employee engagement leads to employee retention and balancing behavior-reinforcing performance rewards. During economic distress business leaders are concerned about commitment and managing negative employees expectations (such as concerns about job security). In either case, here are four simple tips to help you build or be part of a more engaged workforce.
Do what’s right, not what the numbers say
Chances are you’ve conducted or participated in some type of internal survey and the results were just that—only numbers! Survey results are notoriously unreliable for many reasons, but we continue to conduct them incorrectly and base our decision on invalid results. Here’s the problem with employee engagement surveys:
- Not everyone responds to a survey. Survey validity is based on a qualitative sample of the population. This is great for product focus groups but not addressing employee needs. So, if you receive a 10-percent employee response you are not addressing the concerns of the other 90 percent. And their concerns could be very different from your 10 percent sample.
- Employees, for a variety of reasons, will not dedicate the time to answer diligently. (Don’t believe me? Observe your own behavior next time you are asked to complete a survey.) Why is this relevant? If people do not take the survey seriously, it will skew the results and, more importantly, will provide inaccurate results.
- Results might be extreme or of little value. Even if employees take time to respond to the survey, they may over compensate the response or worse, provide an average or neutral response. Again, think about this point during the next survey you fill out.
- Surveys are often designed poorly, in part because too many business leaders place little effort on survey design. The attitude is simply to write up some questions and add a rating. There is a science and process to designing an effective survey. So, if you are not going to put effort into the survey then why would your employees place any effort responding?
- The nature of a survey is to ensure anonymity, leading them to be impersonal. While employees don’t want to be identified, they also believe their comments will remain unaddressed, or worse, lost in all of the other feedback. Make a personal connection with your people and colleagues. They know exactly what is required to make them more effective and committed to the organization. They are also are in the best position to provide ideas on making things better. Ask them through an independent third party so they are honest and not intimidated.
Ask the right questions the right way
Getting employees passionate about their work, like my colleague, makes the organization look good with clients. Most employers, however, need more than passion to succeed. They key is to ask your employees what do they need to be more effective in their roles? Their participation will provide insight into how you can get them more committed to the task and organization. And as an employee, your actions speak louder than words. Ask the right questions and make things happen. People will take notice and you will enjoy your work more.
Adapt strategies for your specific audience
The workplace is a complicated place. Not only are you managing individual needs but you are also managing and working with multigenerational attitudes and multicultural values. The perception of engagement varies within the three generations and various cultures in the workplace. Always adapt your engagement strategies for each need while balancing perception differences. As a worker, be clear as to what will make you more committed. For some, it’s more pay while for others it may be more time off.
Communicate and implement
Finally, clearly communicate and take action on the issues and concerns impeding worker commitment. State the priority issues, what will change, what is expected to improve, and how employees will be part of the changes. The biggest issue here is that most leaders simply sit on the information believing that employees will read into their intentions. This will not work. Clear and direct communication is essential to making engagement happen. The more you listen, the more you’ll learn.
Whatever your role, your goal is to better understand the value of workplace engagement and be able to commit to specific objectives. The advice provided is not meant as a panacea to the employee engagement dilemma but simply a starting point to developing or being part of a more engaged workforce. Being part of an organization means that it is everyone’s responsibility to make things better and to resolve issues. There is no one solution to get people more committed. Engagement is about ongoing dialogue and continuous improvement. Do not assess engagement unless you plan to do something about the results. If you’re a business leader, then engage with employee needs. If you’re an employee then engage to improve and grow success. Alternatively, do nothing and decreasing morale may be the consequence.
© 2013 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.