When I'm out and about in the business arena discussing "things employee", the issues that are fast becoming big topics of conversation are employee disengagement, the increasing numbers of people in the workplace who are underperforming and the effect this underperformance has on the bottom line.
Underperforming and disengaged employees impact and infect the entire organization and many of those within it in a variety of ways, all of them negative.
For one thing, underperformers are usually nay-sayers, bad-mouthing the company whenever they can. They also tend to make up the core of the gossiping group, the bullying group or the critical group, affecting morale just as an insidious cancer which destroys the body dell by cell.
Moreover, the disengaged adversely affect productivity simply because it takes them longer to produce – and time, after all, is money.
Finally, the disengaged adversely affect the organization because of the way they interact with clients and customers. More often than not, they are the first to bad-mouth their organization to others, with all the consequences this has on client satisfaction.
Yet curiously, the vast majority of employees seem to enjoy a six-month honeymoon period when they first start a job during which they are actively involved and engaged with their team and their organization. Then the thrill begins to evaporate.
The critical question, of course, is why?
For one thing, reality sets in. The picture that was painted during the interviewing and hiring process turns out to be just one rosy corner of a much larger – and more blurred - painting.
Why the Blur? What's the Truth?
Behind the gloss, the truth is that, leaders, managers and supervisors are often too busy to take an active role in learning about and supporting their direct reports, viewing them more as functions than people. The emotional distance that ensues fosters disengagement and underperformance.
Likewise, in failing to support the growth and development of their direct reports and help them in their career advancement, managers are creating a sure-fire breeding ground for disengagement.
It's a similar story, too, with the opportunities for growth, development and involvement in the creative process that were promised in the recruitment process but then fail to materialize. When employees are regarded as drones with few opportunities to branch out, learn new skills or contribute in new ways, they tend to back off.
A lack of information-sharing has much the same effect. Keeping individuals in the dark and refusing access to knowledge that would support them to be more productive and engaged Is a sure-fire way to erode trust and build resentment and disengagement.
To make matters worse, in many organizations it is unclear whether what gets rewarded is friendship or productivity. And when advancement comes from knowing the right people, others will tend to withdraw and contribute less.
A culture of favoritism is also damaging because it leads to an absence of real accountability. Once-enthused employees will quickly become resentful when they see others escape from being held accountable because of who they know.
Feedback is another critical factor. Employees feel stranded and abandoned when they don't know where they stand. They need to be clear on what they are doing right and what's wrong or else they will start to run on cruise control to get by. When employees lack clear goals or are not stretched by challenging, they soon become discouraged.
What all these highlight is that disconnects between employee expectations and organizational expectations lead to confusion. When an employee performs and produces and the organization fails to do so, employees become disillusioned and tend to settle for a less-is-more mindset when it comes to work and working. Disengagement results.
Disengagement - What's the Solution?
The panacea for disengagement is, well, engagement. So, what can mangers actually do on a day-to-day basis to build a more engaged workforce.
They can show mutual respect, for a start. When leaders, managers and supervisors honestly and openly respect one another as human beings rather than as functions, they begin to build passion and positivity. And passionate folks are engaged folks.
Holding one another accountable is another way of fostering mutual respect and trust. Mutual-accountability leads to pride in ones self and the team, increased enthusiasm and a willingness to go the extra mile, especially when the going gets tough.
Likewise, ask folks to contribute and participate. Empower your direct reports. Ask everyone to be involved in decision-making when it involves their immediate work and their team. Ask folks to share with others what they do best. Empowerment results in commitment, which results in engagement.
- What keeps the thrill alive for you? It is alive, isn't it? If not, why not?
- Are you proactive in providing feedback and mentoring on a consistent basis, not just when HR says "it's time" or just when it's convenient for you?
- How do you feel/react/respond when it comes to taking a "heart-felt" approach to people?
- Does everyone hold everyone else accountable for their piece of the work as an open policy? If not, why not? Fear? Politics? Confusion?
- Do you actually live your organization's values on a daily basis? What would others say about you?
- Do you ask folks to contribute, engage and participate on a consistent basis?
- Do you empower folks as a practice of your management style?
- Do you publicly recognize and reward folks on a regular basis?
- Are you publicly recognized and rewarded on a regular basis?
- Do you feel you are respected by your bosses, peers, and direct reports?
- Do you tend to hoard information? If so, why? What would others say?
- Do you have a tendency to "play favorites?" If so, how do you justify that behavior to others?
- If the thrill is gone for you, what one baby step can you take this week to get it back? You do want it back, don't you?
Discover and nurture employees' hidden talents and aptitudes. Morale will soar and a can-do mindset will start to permeate the workplace culture. Why? Because when managers invest time, interest and energy in their people, their people in turn become engaged in their work and the well-being of their organization.
Recognize and reward effort. Do it early and often. Provide timely and constructive feedback. Mentor and coach proactively and consistently. Help folks help themselves by giving them the tools, skills and support they need to do their best work. Provide opportunities for personal and professional growth and development. Personal and professional growth point to engagement.
Live the values. They are more than words on a poster. Shared values are infectious and lead folks to move in a common direction. Shared values that are lived communicate commitment and foster engagement.
Finally, leaders, managers and supervisors need to relate to others from their heart as well as their head. Focus on a people-orientation as well as a task-orientation when dealing with employees and you'll soon discover a cadre of engaged folks.
So, want to keep the honeymoon aura alive? Want to keep employees engaged? Take a conscious and consistent interest in others and they'll take an interest in you. Translation: they'll become engaged. Show people they are valued, and have a sense of worth over and above the functions and tasks they perform. And above all, listen.
That way, you'll create a climate where folks consciously want to come to work and do their best, where doing good work just makes good sense to everyone. And the thrill will still be there long after the first six months is over.