Employee engagement is often considered the heartbeat of an organization. It shapes culture, influences the rise and fall of productivity, and measures employee happiness. Our internal compass influences our behaviors and actions based on our personal views, beliefs, experiences, and feelings. People are easily influenced by the actions of others and employee engagement is no exception. An individual’s happiness or unhappiness at work can spread like wildfire, making or breaking successful teams and leaders. Think about the extent this can have on organizational performance, turnover and reputation. It is no wonder engagement continues to be a critical priority for leadership and organizational success.
With the rapidly changing environment it is becoming increasingly difficult for organizations to attract, retain and engage today’s workforce. We are seeing the exit of a generation that represents an end of an era. The tenure, loyalty, and longevity of these employees is one that will rarely be seen again in this capacity. This makes it clear that previous strategies and approaches are not sustainable for the future. The expectations are different, the landscape is more competitive and the dominance of social media challenges personal views and beliefs 24/7. Organizations need to recognize that they can’t afford to operate repeating the same mistakes. In an effort to drive engagement and influence sustainable change, leaders need to shift their mindsets and avoid making these 4 common employee engagement mistakes.
Leadership’s typical reaction is to “fix” the engagement problem. They begin planning picnics, team building outings, make commitments to changes that they really don’t understand, and spring for an increase in catered lunches and donuts. If success was based solely around intention, then most leaders and organizations would knock it out of the park! The unfortunate reality is these “activities” are meaningless to an employee’s long-term engagement and often drive more contentment and disengagement. Appreciation is quickly overshadowed by the belief that these are initiated for the wrong reasons, short lived and seen as “check the box” requirements. The perception is that leadership “has to” do this, versus, they genuinely want to. Perception is reality, right or wrong, and leadership needs to make changes to influence both.
What motivated and made an employee stay at an organization for years, does not hold the same weight today. Personal value, making a difference, and connecting the impact of work to the organization’s strategies and successes are essential in today’s workplace. One of the top reasons employees leave an organization is the lack of investment in development and future growth. They receive limited conversations about career path, performance, and learning and development resources. Leadership approaches feedback with the motto, no news is good news, meaning if you don’t hear from me keep doing what you’re doing. The lack of interaction and disregard for feedback comes across as uncaring, inconsiderate and
unappreciated. The recruiting process, on-boarding experience, company benefits, and leadership interaction hold merit in determining the extend of value placed on individuals. This can leave a lasting impression that is difficult to overcome and erase.
A leader’s inability to manage poor performers, lack of accountability and fear of conflict ultimately costs them more than a few minutes of uncomfortableness in a tough conversation. They pay the price of lost trust, disengagement, decreased respect, and high turnover. There is nothing more frustrating than to watch someone on the team not pull their weight and for leadership to stand by and do nothing. Unfortunately, this is all too common in today’s world and the sensitivity that comes with difficult conversations. Combined with micro- management, favoritism and the other drivers that influence an individual’s engagement it is no surprise employees are unhappy. Leaders need to set clear expectations, provide feedback on a regular basis, and hold their teams accountable to the same degree of outcomes and consequences. Failure to do so results in a disengaged team with little hope for re- engagement.
There is a distinct difference between communication and good communication. Most leaders believe that if they tell their employees what they think they want to hear or just enough to pacify them that is good communication. Employees want to be treated like adults, with respect, trust and confidence to hear all the information. A successful leader is not afraid to share reality and confront employee reactions head on. Talking to them, accepting feedback, engaging in a conversation and listening to their thoughts and opinions makes a successful leader. Not communicating, lack of direction, and not sharing organizational strategies and performance is perceived as hiding something, disrespect and lack of trust in their employees. Today’s workforce is seeking personal investment and opportunities to add value and support the bigger picture, leaders need to demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity, even if that makes them uncomfortable.
Engagement does not need to be as complicated as we tend to make it. It involves investing time and energy in behaviors that drive trust, respect and value on a regular basis. It is like exercise or going to the gym. Working out on occasion is great, but it will not produce the results needed to achieve your goals or get you in shape. The same goes for development – buying donuts, giving an occasional high five, and having a performance conversation every so often will not drive sustainable engagement or productivity. Leaders must make a conscious effort to change behaviors, demonstrate vulnerability and make a commitment to their teams. Engagement will occur organically when leaders do the right thing, demonstrate authenticity, empower others and lead with integrity. Sometimes, it is the littlest things that create the biggest impact.
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