How managers can help teams and individuals enhance engagement and improve corporate culture
Recently, I spoke with a longtime employee of a large healthcare organization after she attended what was promoted as an employee engagement event. The event was spread out over several days to accommodate the 1000+ employees. It was fashioned to resemble an outdoor carnival where employees could walk around and see people painting faces, making balloon animals, and visiting activity and information booths. Employees received a card when they entered, and they could collect prizes for the number of punches they received on their cards. Punches were earned by going to the various booths and listening to the “performers” share information intended to educate employees on engagement, safety, and other work-related topics. Based upon feedback gathered by this employee from her peers, Toni assessed that the event was an enormous failure. Toni heard three key themes from her coworkers, which indicated the event had likely mitigated not improved employee engagement. They were:
- The event was juvenile.
- The event was a waste of my time.
- They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this event instead of taking the time to listen to our needs and concerns.
Employee engagement is more than activities and events designed to boost morale and create camaraderie amongst coworkers. One event or even a series of events does not constitute a corporate strategy for increasing engagement. And like Toni’s situation, doing the wrong thing can be demoralizing and ultimately, diminish engagement. Done correctly, employee engagement should be infused into your organization’s culture, if it is going to be effective and sustainable.
Employee engagement is the degree to which employees feel emotionally, physically, and cognitively committed to an organization. These individuals put discretionary effort into their work. In his seminal research on personal engagement and disengagement at work, William Kahn also observed that engaged employees’ commitment manifested in what he referred to as the, “Expression of a person’s ‘preferred self.’” Meaning, engaged employees were authentic. I view employee engagement as those individuals who are aligned with the company mission and excited to show up to support operational goals using their strengths and unique intangible assets.
Employee engagement should not be confused with employee satisfaction. Too often, organizations tout the results of satisfaction surveys, and do more damage to employees who feel dismayed, disconnected, and disgruntled. What leaders at these organizations fail to understand is that employees can express job satisfaction because they are getting paid, and other reasons that do not address motivation, passion, emotional commitment, or effort.
Gallup has categorized the levels of engagement as Engaged, Not Engaged and Actively Disengaged.
- Engaged employees make up approximately 15% of the global workforce, and 17% of the Sub Sahara workforce. Engaged employees feel emotionally, physically, and cognitively connected to the work they perform and to the companies in which they work. Engaged employees also feel comfortable carrying out their duties as their authentic self. Another way of stating this is, they feel they can bring their personality, and natural expressive style to their work. These employees are likely the drivers of innovation, and they energize the environments in which they work, helping to move their team and organization forward.
- Disengaged (Not Engaged) employees make up approximately 67% of the global workforce, and 65% of the Sub Sahara workforce. Disengaged employees could be described as “going through the motions.” They may very well be getting the job done, they just aren’t investing the energy, passion, and attention that would cause them to shine or standout. A disengaged employee does not feel they can bring their authentic self and natural style of expression to their job, which results in an emotional, physical and/or cognitive disconnect.
- Actively Disengaged employees constitute 18% of both the global and Sub Sahara workforces. Actively disengaged employees are noticeably unhappy at work and acting out their displeasure in the work. Place. These individuals are best described as toxic. They are intentionally involved in behaviors that undermine the work of others.
Moves to Enhance Engagement
Who is responsible for employee engagement? The employee or leadership? The answer is, both. Managers account for approximately 70% of the variance in engagement amongst workgroups. This means managers must be aware of the significant role they play in an employee’s engagement, and they must be held accountable for outcomes. Employees want to be appreciated for their skills, in addition to being seen for the unique intangible qualities they bring to the workplace. And, they want a comfortable, safe, and supportive environment in which to work. Managers engagement includes providing resources and creating environments that foster engagement.
For many managers, this mean’s making the transition from transactional to transformational leadership so they can model appropriate behaviors effectively. Transformational leaders care more than they criticize, and praise more than they punish. I will look at three factors that impact engagement, and what managers can do to take their influence and employee engagement to the next level.
Managers promoting next level engagement within their teams must be intentional and consistent in their communication, starting with the company mission, vision and operational goals. There should be on going representation and demonstration of the company’s values, so they are reflected within the culture as it is experienced by the individuals. In other words, if the company boast values that reflect a high degree of concern for the well-being of its people, and the individuals within the company do not experience the company’s culture in that way – there is a disconnect that could indicate a problem that needs to be identified and addressed.
Discuss rather than deliver goals. Creating a collaborative experience with an employee throughout the goal setting process is another opportunity to establish trust and get buy-in in an effort to decrease miscommunication and frustration. A discussion about goals provides an opportunity to determine if the employees views the goals as fair, too challenging, or not challenging enough. Having the autonomy to provide input into one’s own goal setting process speaks volumes about the company culture and is likely to leave the individual feeling valued and empowered. Continue the goal setting collaboration by establishing a timeline of touch-points where the employee is scheduled to provide status reports. Go one step further, by making it crystal clear that the employee is invited to schedule time at any point in the process, to discuss problems, challenges, and concerns, or to ask questions.
Praise, acknowledgement, and recognition go a long way. It is also critical that managers communicate praise when an employee’s performance warrants it. Managers who demonstrate their own engagement by being innovative in their approach to communicating recognition, have the ability to bolster intrinsic motivation and increase a sense of competency.
Making employee recognition a part of the company culture, if it isn’t already, might take a while. However, making it a part of your team’s culture can happen much sooner. Making the recognition of one employee public, can improve the moral of other team members. Give recognition in real-time, instead of waiting for annual performance reviews or by-weekly one-on-one meetings. Real-time acknowledgements create an immediate gratification experience that means much more to the individual than if they received it weeks after the success. Be specific and sincere. Even when sending an email, do not make it a blanket thank you to the entire team. Find the nuances that made each person’s effort toward the success possible and thank each specifically by mentioning their unique contribution in the thank you. This is even more effective if it can be done in public so each member can hear the contributions of their peers, as they are identified and appreciated by you, their manager.
Last but not least, provide a way for colleagues to acknowledge each other. Peer-to-peer recognition opportunities can foster a more collaborative environment and help create a culture of recognition.
Learning & Development
Learning and development is directly associated with self-fulfillment, which represents an individual’s ability to flourish. Managers and organizations have an opportunity, and for those who have established a learning and development culture, a responsibility, to aid in the development of their employees. Individuals spend a good portion of time at work and their career role often represents a large part of their identity. When that role is seen as one which enhances an individual develop into their best self, it positively impacts engagement.
One thing an organization can do to provide on-going and relevant growth to employees, is establish a mentoring program. Mentors provide two types of support. First, mentors provide career development support with functions like sponsoring, coaching, protecting, challenging, and exposure. The second, is psychosocial support, which involves functions like role modeling, acceptance, counseling, friendship, and socializing. Psychosocial support is often overlooked because it is not as easy to quantify as tracking a person’s career growth. Nevertheless, psychosocial support is vital, because the functions are so closely related to those behaviors that impact an individual’s sense of inclusion and their desire to engage.
A Team Effort
Focusing on improving lines of communication, providing individualized and relevant acknowledgements, and creating a culture of learning and development are three things leaders can do to create an environment where engagement can flourish to the next level. Engagement is about everyone taking responsibility for the role they play in the employee engagement experience. However, it is the next level leader who willing takes responsibility for leading the way in creating a company culture that fosters intrinsically motivated employee engagement.
Originally published in the curriculum for the 2019 African Business and Kingdom Leadership Summit – Accra, Ghana.
Lisa Summerour, EdD – is Chief Empowerment Officer (CEO) at Summerour & Associates, Inc. She is speaker, author, facilitator, executive and life empowerment coach. Her coaching practice focuses on women, and a few extraordinary men. Dr. Lisa helps clients use their strengths, to increase confidence as they assess and take accountability for where they are, identify where they want to be, and create the changes necessary to move forward. Dr. Summerour is also Sr. Vice President of The Learner’s Group, a solutions-based consulting firm focusing on employee engagement.