As an employee, it’s pretty easy to feel your engagement levels going up and down. When you’re engaged, you’re purposeful, productive, and passionate, driven by an inner sense of meaning and self-sustaining energy. You know your engagement is waning when you start to question, judge, make excuses, lose interest, care less. At its worst, low engagement looks like cynicism, hopelessness, helplessness, sabotage and burnout.
Why does this matter? High work engagement is linked to higher productivity and improved organisational performance. Gallup’s 2018 survey found a rate of only 34% engagement, and these figures have been pretty consistent since we’ve been measuring it. That’s a pretty grim and costly scenario for both workers and organisations. Imagine if your fancy new iphone only worked properly 34% of the time!
At its heart engagement is about the relationship between the employee and the employer, and like any healthy, productive and sustainable relationship, I believe that both the worker and the organisation have a responsibility to understand, manage and build engagement.
As a worker:
- Reconnect with why you do what you do – what was the reason you got into this work, why was that important, what do you need to do to re-kindle that purpose?
- Set yourself some goals for development – can you take on a new project, learn a new skill, stretch yourself in some way so you feel like your continuing to grow and learn?
- Get connected – if you’re becoming disengaged, chances are you feel isolated or unsupported, so who can you ask for help, who can you collaborate with, what can you do to build stronger relationships with your team, your clients, your external stakeholders or even those outside of work?
- Monitor your engagement, if your commitment, energy or interest drops for more than a short period of time, get some support from your manager, your EAP or an external coach.
As a manager
- Take a real interest in your staff – care about them as people, find out what drives them, and look for ways that work can meet their needs as well as well as the needs of the organisation
- Help your staff to grow – teach them, mentor them, help them identify and achieve learning and development goals that give them a sense of progress
- Give constant feedback – reinforce what they’re doing well, recognise improvement, acknowledge accomplishment, celebrate success
- Aim to make yourself redundant – maybe not literally, but figuratively! If your staff have the skills, motivation, tools and confidence to do the work that’s needed, they’re more satisfied and you’re now free to focus on the bigger picture
- Learn to coach – using a coaching style of leadership rather than an authoritative, coercive or telling style empowers staff to try, to experiment, to learn by doing, to take responsibility, to be accountable and to drive their own success
And if you’re part of the leadership team
- Your people management policies, processes and systems must be robust – that means the way the organisation recruits, employs, supports, develops, rewards, manages, and exits your people must be fair, transparent, aligned to organisational strategy and grounded in contemporary best practice
- Devote the time and resources needed to develop your managers to be outstanding people leaders
- Ensure employees have a voice – how do they give feedback, input ideas, get involved, raise concerns and be part of the growth and success of the organisation?
- Shine a light on organisational integrity – this is about organisational reputation and credibility; it’s how you’re perceived internally by your staff, and externally by your clients, your stakeholders and the public; and its foundation rests in the values and behaviours of the senior leaders and the culture they create.
I’m not sure we need large and complicated engagement surveys any more – I think we know enough to be able to identify disengagement when we see it, and to do what’s needed to turn it around. HR might take responsibility for driving the initiatives, but it’s the buy-in from the leadership team, the managers and the staff across the organisation that will drive the success of an organisational engagement strategy. What part will you play?