Employee Engagement Is Not a Business Issue

Disengaged cropped
Hang on. I don’t mean companies don’t feel the effects of engagement. I just mean it’s a human issue – before it’s anything else. Business is easily the most incentivized place to address engagement since it costs them $450-$550 Billion annually (Gallup), but trust me, we all pay a price. No one spends 8 hours disengaged at work and comes home to be an engaged parent, spouse, or citizen. It affects our world far more than we realize.

To make progress in the workplace, two fundamental shifts need to happen.

1. Structural

Company StructureThis is a representation of the most typical company structure. Guess what it’s good for? Decision-making in the course of delivering products and services. Guess what it’s NOT good for? Winning hearts and minds. When you realize that engagement is won, not prescribed, it’s clear to see top-down is a horrible way way to address it. In the engagement arena, you can’t imply that some thoughts & opinions are worth more than others. That’s why the typical engagement plan, no matter how earnest, feels condescending, and almost offensive, by the time it reaches the troops. When you stoop down annually, as many engagement surveys do, or launch an initiative from “on high” to ask what employees think, game over. You’ve already lost. Employees own their own level of engagement. Your system has to design for that.

2. Philosophical
If a company’s leadership believes they can get peak performance by demanding employees suspend all other dimensions of their lives, good luck in the modern economy. People are multi-dimensional. Period. If you want their best, they have to feel like giving it to you, and bring more of who they are to work, not less. With the advent of services like Glassdoor and ubiquitous social networks, your company reputation precedes you more than ever. If you domineer and churn through people, good luck getting anyone other that those who just need a job, i.e. minimum commitment until something else comes along. Companies need to intentionally & honestly address their culture and employee value proposition as earnestly as their outward-facing efforts. It’s all connected now anyway.

Turning these perspectives into reality is the work we fill our days with. As everything in business and the workplace is seemingly being re-written faster than ever, being human, respectful, and listening are still timeless and break through the noise. These elements attract trust, and the best people have to give. Scale and pace of change do not have to de-humanize your workplace, unless you let them.

Posted on November 3, 2014 in Employee Engagement

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