Employee Engagement: Getting
It and Keeping It
Holly G. Green
Bumpy economy makes
employee engagement a critical approach these days
Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the
triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without it.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
recession is good for one thing. Many companies are focusing on
employee engagement, an approach to more consciously value and act
on connecting with passionate employees who truly care about the
company. With businesses failing at a record rate, who doesn't want
to convince nervous workers to remain calm and hang on through the
tough times? At a minimum, engaging with the ground troops is the
most direct way to combat the 24-hour news cycles of business
despair that can distract employees and send business off course.
engagement is important regardless of the economic situation. It's
not something that you turn on or off easily like a new corporate
health plan benefit. So, while the economic situation is bringing
employee engagement into focus right now, consider some facts from a
recent Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study:
Four out of 10
workers are disenchanted or disengaged today. One-third of
employees are looking for greener pastures even in this economy
where jobs are scarce.
Only about 20
percent feel they have full discretion on how to handle their
job. In other words, employee empowerment is still a distant
dream for most.
perception of leadership effectiveness is down significantly,
yet a strong display of leadership is one of the most critical
pieces of keeping a company viable.
of major studies over the last few decades point to similar trends
during all types of economic conditions. In one respect, nothing
has changed since Henry Ford realized his new-fangled industrial
workforce was his advantage. "Coming
together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working
together is success,"
the automaker proclaimed.
On the other hand,
everything has changed. Businesses now suffer at a much faster rate
when employees are not engaged because of powerful outside
influences and the speed of change:
loyalty is harder to create when venerable companies like
General Motors are constantly in the news for eliminating
tens-of-thousands of jobs.
is battered when career skills become obsolete quickly with the
unrelenting technological advancements.
opportunities come and go so quickly that keeping employees
completely informed about business changes is a daunting task.
Is No Longer A Nice To Have:
Add in the fact
that we have four generations in the workforce simultaneously. Each
generation has its own attitudes and behaviors that impact
fundamental issues like the best way to communicate or how to relate
to core employee motivations.
As an example,
younger employees are more entrepreneurial by nature, and believe
they have options beyond a 40-year career at one company. They also
aren't shy to demand a full life beyond work. Meanwhile, many of us
Baby Boomers may have similar desires, but grew up with a "hunker
down and do what's expected" work ethic.
Zappos, an online mega shoe store, have learned how to tap into the
desires of the younger crowd. The result is Zappos continues to
grow even during these rocky times selling products that, for the
most part, are not a necessity. In 10 short years, Zappos has
bootstrapped itself up to $1 billion in sales by creating
The Zappos staff
actually makes less-than-market rate salaries and receive fewer
perks compared to many high-flying midsize companies. But Zappos
employees get something bigger in return. They get access and
complete engagement in the business at all levels. CEO Tony Hsieh's
cubicle is in the sea of other work spaces where he's available to
listen to ideas and/or explain where the business is heading. The
entire team is in shouting distance of invites to frequent impromptu
after-work drinks or dinner.
Annually, all 1,300
Zappos employees are asked to contribute to an essay book to
describe the meaning of their job... now a 480-page tome that the
company willingly shares with the outside world. Those essays guide
Hsieh to focus on what it takes to keep his crew engaged.
companies can turn themselves inside out to radically change their
culture to be a Zappos clone. Nor would it make sense to try...
every company should be true to itself. However, each company must
also realize this employee-obsessed thinking will drive competition
for the best people in the future and drive productivity and focus
Creating It and Keeping It:
When I work with
companies to define an engaging work environment, employees
universally tell me they're looking for five simple (and mostly
The vast majority of people want to make a difference; very few
have a desire to show up and do a bad job. Knowing they can
personally impact the business, even in a relatively small way,
is extremely intoxicating.
Employee-of-the-month awards and recognition dinners are
wonderful. But it's the small, sincere gestures that drive
motivation. Receiving praise for a job well done every week or
so is among Gallup's famous 12 Elements of Great Managing.
The power of a simple "thank you" can't be under estimated.
Most people want to be in charge of something. It doesn't
have to be major program. A priority project or task with real
responsibility to make decisions is an empowering force.
Human nature fuels most people's desire to be involved in
something greater than themselves. Creating this atmosphere,
however, is more of an art than a science because each person
has a different threshold for inclusion. Some employees might
be future managers who hunger for every detail. Others may
simply want to know how their role fits into the big picture.
In either case, they need to know they're a valuable part of the
The right work
and fair outcomes.
up for success is Management 101, but it's an often forgotten
principle. Leaders and managers have to pause long enough to
define excellence up front so that you stage others for success
versus catching them doing it wrong a week from now. Employees
want to apply their strongest skills on the most appropriate
work; they truly want to do a great job. This alignment also is
the base from which a leader can get employees engaged so they
voluntarily want to stretch outside their comfort zones
to make an even bigger impact over time.
Six Levels of
The key to employee
engagement comes down to understanding basic human needs.
Psychologists, philosophers and leadership management research have
articulated these needs in many ways. I find you can boil them all
down to six levels when focusing on employee engagement.
Understand and respect the motivations of an individual.
Discover one's self-identify and how others see you.
beliefs: Know what is most treasured so work tasks are not
unconsciously designed to go against one's natural instincts.
Align an individual's personal idea of his strengths and
weaknesses with the perceptions that managers and co-workers may
have about those characteristics.
feedback on the habits and processes, good and bad, that
intuitively guide each person to make sure actions align.
Create a context for excellence by considering the external
surroundings, tools, and culture that create an effective
atmosphere for one to excel.
The bottom line is,
engaged employees contribute significantly to an organization's
focus. Focus creates energy. Energy creates more engagement.
Employee engagement contributes to a perpetually fueled winning
culture that is impacted less significantly by the economic
Where to begin? Leaders, of course, get the ball rolling to create
a culture of engaged employees.
Read other articles and learn more about
Holly G. Green.
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