A decade or so ago the biggest challenge was convincing leaders of the importance of employee engagement. Today, most leaders in our research interviews say, of course, employee engagement is important to their business. Yet research from the Metrus Institute, Gallup, and others say that between 50% and 80% of employees are not fully engaged, which has shown to reduce performance and customer satisfaction while increasing turnover. Worse yet, your best talent—those with lots of options—are most likely to leave.
At hire, most employees are fully engaged as these fresh hires are excited to begin a new life experience. And yet, according to Metrus Institute, engagement levels drop considerably during the first few years, and often far more than you would expect after a honeymoon period. Here are four actions you can take to minimize this degradation of engagement and reboot it to formerly high levels.
- Change Work-Life Balance to Work-Life Integration. A major contributor to reduced engagement levels is the stress often caused by work-home conflict. Today, work and home are not separated by an impermeable boundary as many employees work from their homes. A large majority of workers today respond to texts or e-mail at night or on the weekend, and yet many are frightened to address personal issues that come up during their workday. This pressure detracts from their engagement because it feels one-sided. In our interconnected lives, good or bad issues traverse all spheres of our lives—work, family, friends, hobbies, health. Constant tension leads to debilitating stress and burnout, which can be avoided by updating policies and educating leaders on how to help employees integrate different sectors of their lives. For example, smart firms are focusing on results, rather than time, and reviewing workloads frequently to ensure that people—especially the high performers—are not becoming overloaded to the point of burnout.
- Help Employees Build Resilience. Developing resilience to setbacks or grit to push through barriers is increasingly important in a multitasking, rapidly changing world. As we cope with a relentless increase in demands to remain competitive, it is more important than ever to develop these compensatory strengths. Roughly 95% of people interviewed in a recent Metrus Institute study had major setbacks at some point during their lives and many intermediate ones more frequently, but very few had great coping mechanisms to quickly recover and get re-tracked in their lives. Over time many discovered techniques to accelerate the process of recovery. For example, those who had mentors and a deeper network of good friendships—not simply Facebook friends—were able to weather storms better. Another technique that companies can use is a ‘pull the switch’ option, an employee friendly and open way for someone to say “enough” and that they need support. This was an approach that was employed quite successfully in high performance safety environments for years—why keep the line or individual going when they are becoming less and less effective? It does not mean they are not good employees, but rather that they need support—guidance, resources, information, skills—to continue moving forward.
The best managers were those who got close to their people and helped their team and individuals achieve their goals.
- Empower Your People to Take Charge. Research on happiness and fulfillment has shown that we control 60% of our own happiness. But over time, many employees develop learned helplessness, often at the hands of leaders who have constantly said ‘no’ or taken control away to manage actions and performance. Employees often just give up attempting to change things because they feel defeated trying to make an impact when they just keep hitting barriers. Resilience is one thing, but repeatedly running into the same wall is the definition of insanity. Try passing more authority and accountability to employees—but also empower them to take actions to accomplish the results.
- Train Engagement at the Leader and Employee Level. Engaging others comes naturally to some, but to many new and even experienced managers, it is difficult. Few were given engagement training when they took oversight responsibilities. And for managers, one of the biggest culprits is sameness. It is far easier to assume that everyone should be treated the same—something HR has dictated for years. You can’t get into trouble when you treat everyone alike. But that assumes people are robots (who knows, robots may even resent it!). When we studied great leaders in restaurants, for example, we found that the best managers were those who got close to their people and helped their team and individuals achieve their goals. Not just their work goals, but their life goals. They knew who was dealing with child or adult care, who attended school, who had challenging commutes and so forth, and they formed their teams to engage people by accepting and leveraging their differences. They treated people as individuals—the way most of us want to be treated. Employees too can be trained on how to take greater control of their engagement. What are they passionate about? What saps or fuels their energy? What elements of the workday can they control better?
Try these suggestions and I think you will find your leaders on a far better road to creating a high engaged workforce.