It’s not surprising in this highly competitive labor market that the top concern facing CEO’s in organizations that employ large numbers of frontline employees is their ability to hire and retain staff. As a result, employee engagement has become a key strategic initiative with leaders and managers at all levels devoting more of their time and focus to create a positive and engaging experience for employees. Being more intentional about what leaders and managers need to do to drive higher engagement levels, represents a needed and critical step forward.
According to Gallup, 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager. This is a compelling statistic and one that supports our premise that the single greatest lever to improve engagement is to improve the effectiveness of the management process at the front-line level. In a 2017 study by Dale Carnegie, just 26% of the managers surveyed said that employee engagement is a very important part of what they think about, plan, and do every day. It’s no wonder that only one-third of employees surveyed by Gallup say they are engaged at work. The other two-thirds are putting in their time, but little energy or passion into their work. These disengaged employees tend to do the minimum required to keep their jobs, and will quickly exit their company for a slightly better offer.
You can find varying definitions of engagement, but the common thread that runs through most of them is the emotional connection that an employee feels for their job and the organization when they are engaged. When employees take stock of their overall experience at work, they are likely to be asking themselves two questions: “Do I feel I am valued?” and “Do I feel connected?” When an employee feels valued, it acts as a catalyst for other positive emotions, like confidence, inspiration, enthusiasm, and empowerment. On the other hand, if an employee doesn’t feel valued, it’s likely to produce disengaging and negative emotions like feeling apathetic, vulnerable, insulted, or anxious. The employees’ perceptions and feelings about their overall workplace experience result in a range of emotions that directly influence their level of engagement at any given moment, or on any given day.
It’s up to the manager to accept responsibility for the employees’ workplace experience - to establish trusting relationships and carry out the practices that touch the hearts of employees. Managers need to take the time to know their people – to take a personal and genuine interest in each of them as unique individuals – their passions, strengths and aspirations – and to show empathy for the things that are going on in their lives. Without meaningful relationships, it’s impossible for managers to emotionally connect with their people. Bottom line is that managers need to show their human side, which means being authentic, appreciative, and empathic. These are the qualities that generate trust and positive feelings in others - qualities that cause employees to feel an emotional connection and become engaged.
Maya Angelou may have said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”