The latest numbers from Gallup’s survey of 150,000 workers are in:
Fewer than 1 in 3 (30%) American workers are committed to the success of their organization and are engaged in their work. Over half (52%) are ‘disengaged’ – defined as ‘less emotionally connected’ and not willing to do any more than necessary to keep their job. Most alarming of all, nearly 1 in 5 works are ‘actively disengaged’ – actually against their organization, their boss, or both. If you only had five people working for you, this would make for a bleak support team!
However you interpret these numbers, they paint a disturbing picture and point to a dire gap between the leadership required in today’s flatter and more pressure-laden organizations and the leadership that people are getting. Given that engagement is indispensable to building competitive advantage and staying the course in an increasingly global marketplace, these numbers are a siren call to leaders at all levels to become more deeply engaged in closing the gap lest it grower wider.
While there are countless theories on fostering greater employee engagement and no one clear solution, my experience working with individuals and organisations across cultures, industries and hemispheres is that the most powerful paradigms are also the most practical. This, combined with my research while writing Stop Playing Safe, helped me develop the adjacent engagement framework, which incorporates three core domains for masterful leadership that deepens employee engagement and lifts organizational performance.
i) Connect – Build Trust: Relationships are the currency of the workplace, and so the stronger your connections, the more influence you wield. To better engage workers in the work, leaders must first better engage with their workers. This starts by building trust, respect and the lines of communication. People respond better to leaders they respect, even though they may not always like them. Being able to communicate effectively with employees to direct and guide their actions first requires making a genuine connection with them. This cannot occur if leaders remain in their polished offices, removed from the shop floors and front line where employees live each workday. It requires, as I wrote in a previous column Why Leaders Must ‘Get Real’ – 5 Ways To Unlock Authentic Leadership, a willingness to lay vulnerability on the line, to engage in open conversation, to share authentically, and to constantly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of those around them (the topic of another recent column). Employees will be far more ready to go the extra mile for leaders they can relate to on a human level, rather than someone whom they perceive thinks of themselves as a ‘little bit better’ than everyone else.
ii) Inspire – Share The Bigger “Why”: In workplaces around the world today, millions of people show up thinking that what they do doesn’t matter beyond the pay-check they get for it. The cost to the human spirit of such widespread resignation and disillusionment far transcends even the vast cost to the bottom line. As human beings we long to feel a sense of purpose and meaning in our work, not just our lives outside it. We want to believe that what we are doing with our time and talents, skills and expertise is being used for a worthy purpose. Sadly, too few people do.
People who don’t view the tasks they do each day as holding any larger utility beyond the obvious will scarcely be willing to put forth any extra effort, more prone to cutting corners, and more likely to cover up mistakes. Which is why it is imperative for leaders to continually strive to ensure employees understand the bigger “Why” – enabling them to connect their actions to a vision – the company’s mission – and how that vision impacts the world around them in a meaningful way. There is little more demoralizing to workers than having a leader who can’t clearly articulate why employees should care about what they’re doing.
As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, ‘While spirituality and business may seem an oxymoron, organizations that can connect employees to a bigger purpose – to a ‘why’ that transcends their pay check – are those that will tap their full potential and inspire employees to continue go the extra mile.’ Leaders must help people see that their role, while it may seem relatively insignificant in the big scheme, is both valued and valuable. More so, that the attitude and spirit they bring to fulfilling it is no less important. In short: it’s a leaders mission to inspire those they lead to do more, learn more, and become more than they otherwise would. As leadership expert Lance Secretan wrote in Inspire: What Great Leaders Do, ‘A leader who does not inspire is like a river without water.’
While I have no data to substantiate this, I suspect that the reason employee disengagement is highest among those under 25 is that they are the ones who still have the burning fire in the belly desire to change the world, yet suddenly find themselves in a ‘job’ doing the mundane tasks young workers tend to be given, and struggling to see any connection between what they’re doing and the bigger problems they see in the world around them (a feeling I can still recall myself at that age.) Helping bridge that gap and connect the role an organization is playing in creating a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable world (all values important younger people) will help to not only deepen engagement but inspire workers to go the extra mile and challenge themselves in new ways, knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves. When people know that there’s something bigger at stake as they go about their work, they will approach every challenge with greater determination, resourcefulness and initiative than they otherwise would.
iii) Embolden – Cultivate a Culture of Courage: Willingness to step beyond our comfort zone is crucial to both our success and that of any organization we’re part of. But in order to do that, we have to know that it’s safe to do so and that we won’t be punished if our efforts fall short of the mark. In Stop Playing Safe, I wrote extensively about the importance of leaders at all levels in cultivating a ‘Culture of Courage’ that encourages innovative thinking and makes it ‘safe’ for employees to take risks, make ‘smart mistakes,’ challenge status quo thinking, and provide candid upward feedback. When employees feel that their contribution is truly valued, and are challenged to push the boundaries of possibility, experiment, and express their opinions openly (though constructively), it triggers greater ownership of their own success as well as their commitment to the larger mission of their team and organization.
When leaders are committed and actively working to connect, inspire and embolden – they unleash untapped potential and raise the bar not just on productivity, but on the value their organisation contributes to all it’s stakeholders. Not only that – and of no less significance – they nurture and embolden an entire new generation of leaders to take on the yet seen challenges of tomorrow, clear in the knowledge that while what we do each day at work matters, it is the attitude we bring to what we do that matters far more.
Margie Warrell draws on her background in business, psychology, and executive coaching to help people live and lead with greater courage. She is the bestselling author of Stop Playing Safe (Wiley 2013), and Find Your Courage (McGraw-Hill 2009), and a sought after keynote speaker and media commentator.
You can also stay connect with Margie on Twitter, Linked In, or Facebook, For more ‘courage-building’ resources and information, please visit http://www.margiewarrell.com
Employee Engagement: Connect, Inspire & Embolden (Copyright Margie Warrell from Stop Playing Safe – Wiley 2013)