Have you ever caught an employee, eyes glazed over, mindlessly scrolling through Reddit in the middle of the workday? Before you write the members of your team off as a bunch of thankless slackers, consider that their disengagement from work might actually have nothing to do with them personally and everything to do with your employees' professional role. It's the $687 billion dollar question for a reason! Understanding what they are not getting out of work is the first step toward making sure they are both productive and fulfilled.
More Than Just a Catchphrase: Employee Engagement is Big Business
In January, Forbes predicted that this would be the year of employee experience, defined as the means to the end goal of employee engagement. Their argument for this trend is mostly an economic one: In terms of competitive advantage, businesses have reached what is, for all intents and purposes, parity with respect to customer experience. Employee experience is the final frontier, and right now, that frontier is pretty barren.
A recent survey from Gallup reported that the majority of U.S. employees are not engaged with their work and haven't been for quite some time. Performance management is at all an time low. Why are workers so checked out? Employee engagement specialist Jim Hauden, in his book on the subject, discusses six key reasons for the chronically disconnected workplace as denoted by six of the chapter titles in his book:
• I can't be engaged if I'm overwhelmed.
• I can't be engaged if I don't get it.
• I can't be engaged if I'm scared.
• I can't be engaged if I don't see the big picture.
• I can't be engaged if it's not mine.
• I can't be engaged if my leaders don't face reality.
These points demonstrate that while organizations may see employee engagement in, as organizational development specialist Hawley Kane says, "the framework of a contract between the employee and the organization," employees view - and feel - this connection with much more depth and nuance. It's a difficult connection to make and even more challenging to maintain, but the investment can return benefits on an exponential level: Increased work product is perhaps the easiest to measure directly, and companies with positive levels of engagement report 22 percent higher levels of productivity.
Employee Engagement is About Winning Hearts & Minds
So you want your team to have a sense of purpose, and you also want that boosted productivity and the other benefits that come along with increased engagement. How do you capture the elusive lightning in a bottle that is boosting employee engagement?
The process begins with one word: Why. Ask yourself, then encourage your employees to do the same. You need to get clear on what your why is as a company - what your purpose is, not esoterically, but literally. With that knowledge in hand, encourage your employees to evaluate their why as it relates to their careers … are they in it for the 401k? Because your company operates in a vertical that's important to them? Because they're hoping to realize some work-life balance if they make it to the next rung on your corporate ladder? Then see how you can satisfy their whys within the framework of your why. There you have it: employee engagement.
Obviously, driving employee engagement is about more than just doughnuts in the breakroom on Fridays - but the good news is that the rewards are much greater, too. You and your team are stakeholders together in your work product. Ask the big questions, and make the conversation a comfortable one for all involved. Once you gain insight into your employees' individual drivers, you're equipped to respond in ways that will be deeply impactful on a targeted basis, as opposed to just laying out a bunch of cash for that breakroom spread. You'll find it's that impact that makes all the difference.