Engaging The Unengaged: Part 1 ~

Employee engagement continues to be a critical factor in moving employees to “go the extra mile” in terms of their work effort. However, studies suggest that businesses seem to have a chronic problem in their ability to maintain engagement over time.

Gallup and other polling has shown consistent engagement ratings that hover around 30% among full-time American workers.  In other words, engaged – and  70% of  all U.S. workers are not reaching their full potential. According to multiple studies,  one significant causal factor for employee disengagement is that employee’s hearts are not into their work. This translates into workers “checking out,” mentally and emotionally, doing the bare minimal to stay in their jobs but offering little initiative or involvement. 

This goes to the essence of engagement –  “Employees are engaged only to the extent that they are emotionally available to be so,” which ties directly to their willingness to go the extra mile for their company. This may seem obvious, but it is not—at least not to managers who are still focused on conventional managerial tactics as the solution in their attempt to create engagement. Traditional managers tend to apply pressure when they perceive disengagement, ignoring the reality of emotions and their effect on people’s abilities to be engaged.

Depending on the emotions that are triggered at work, employees will either be less available or more available to be fully engaged in their work.  The feelings themselves determine the path that will be taken.   Emotions are always present…and until the emotional component is addressed, employees cannot fully engage. This is the major missing link in many efforts to engage or re-engage workers.  Too many organizations and managers still go to the old employee perks goody bag to solve long-term problems with questionable short-term solutions. This is not to say that these incentives are wholly ineffective, but without substantive changes in employee relationships and cultural environment, they offer little more than temporary distraction from deeper problems.

What exactly is engagement?

According to Scarlett Surveys, “Employee engagement is a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization that profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work”.

Gallup defines “engaged” employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner.

Using the term ‘sustainable engagement” Towers Watson describes engagement as the willingness of an employee to “go the extra mile” (discretionary effort) and the intensity of their connection to their organization.  Engagement, as traditionally defined, is not enough to give employers the “sustained” performance lift and efficiency they need in today’s high-pressured, technological and global workplace.

 The need for trust is critical

While employee retention depends more on the quality of an  employees’ relationship with their managers – trust in senior leadership and their ability to manage stress on the job is at a low-point. Disengaged employees don’t believe their organization’s senior leaders have a sincere interest in employee well-being. Low trust + low touch + high pressure   = unprecedented stress levels and growing alienation from position, manager and organization.

Most engagement surveys show the root of the problem lies in two critical areas that have become essential to sustainable engagement: the first is effectively enabling workers by providing internal support, resources and tools and second; creating an environment that’s energizing to work in because it promotes physical, emotional and social well-being.  

Drivers of Sustainable Engagement

As I’ve mentioned in many of my articles – business transactions are done through people not machines. The drivers of sustainable engagement fall into two areas: culture and the relational aspects of the work experience.  Creating an organizational culture that encourages employee engagement is essential. A leader’s ability to lead the company in the right direction and openly communicate the state of the organization is key in driving engagement.  While policies, programs and other cultural issues play a major role, they are secondary to the importance and role of relational dynamics.

A Dale Carnegie and MSW ARS Research, Inc. study of the functional and emotional elements that affect employee engagement revealed three key emotional elements that drive employee engagement:

  • Relationship with immediate supervisor
  • Belief in senior leadership
  • Pride in working for the company

All roads lead back to workplace relationships and the people side of business. It is the personal relationship between an employee and their immediate supervisor that is the key ingredient in enhancing employee engagement.

In study after study the message is clear – but what will it take  for organizations and leaders to make the changes necessary to re-engage  the workforce?  We’ll take a closer look in Part 2 at one critical part of re-engagement – relationships.

Thanks for reading.  

George Altman, Intentional Communication Consultants

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