A short time back I interviewed a slew of senior executives as well as professionals with about five years of experience under their belts. My goal was to get a handle on how they felt about the most overused two words in leadership lexicon today: Employee Engagement.
Broken Engagement: Leadership and Employee Engagement
I wasn’t trying to create a scientific survey on engagement. That’s been done to death. We pretty much know the drill:
-At any given time, 70% of the people at their desks right now would just as soon be sitting at a different desk tomorrow
-Employees want to feel valued, get feedback, have ownership, be challenged……
Instead, I wanted to hear the uncensored words that people used in place of the now ubiquitous jargon of “engagement” when they talked about their companies. I wanted to feel their emotions. To hear if their voices rose with excitement when they talked about their companies or became intense with frustration.
Essentially, I wanted to make sense out of how it is that we can know so much about what drives employee engagement and still struggle so much to improve it.
Clearly, there is no silver bullet to upping engagement in organizations or it would have been fired by now.
Instead, I’m just going to share what I heard, felt, and saw when I talked to people about how “engaged” they were with their companies.
Upfront, let’s just get it out on the table. “Real” people don’t use the word engagement. That’s important because the words they do use give some great insights into what makes them give it their all and what makes them rue the day they ever filled out their W-2 forms.
“people have my back”
“they live by their word”
“people fit in”
“I can learn from them”
“there is a promise of growth”
“ideas and thoughts are taken seriously”
“knowing how my job impacts the company”
“they are great examples that I can follow in my own career”
All of these phrases make a lot of sense. Ultimately,the most interesting part wasn’t the words. It was the emotion tied to the words.
There was excitement and passion for those who were on the winning end of engagement. For some, there was a real sadness because as much as they loved the company they worked for based on one reason or another, they didn’t feel that the company was loving them back. And there was downright anger for some.
Interestingly enough, the anger seemed most prevalent among people who felt their company talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk when it came to employee engagement.
Specifically, if you’re going to do a survey or have a committee to improve employee engagement, people will watch closely to see if you live and breath the follow up 365 days a year. And if you do a survey year after year and things don’t improve, watch out for the lunch room chatter at that company!
To balance things out, here’s some of the phrases that the sad and the angry…ok, let’s call them frustrated, it’s more polite… use to describe engagement at their companies:
“what are we doing here? Nobody knows”
“there’s a lot of waste”
“it’s forced rather than organic”
“why do they let this go on”
“bosses are checking the box”
“don’t ignore people”
“how can I get their attention”
“We don’t see him (our boss)”
There’s no line in the sand as to what the tipping point is for sticking it out or bailing when engagement just isn’t there.
What is clear is that leaders role in engagement is critical. From modeling engagement themselves, to being visible and interactive with employees, to clearly defining why “the heck are we here.”
Based on my highly unscientific conversations, if these three things aren’t happening, it’s tough to get engagement no matter how many surveys you do.
Focus on the leaders if you want to improve employee engagement.
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