Employee Engagement: Every Leader’s Imperative

I had to call my technical support contact last month about a simple billing question. When I finally got a live person, after enduring five minutes of Yanni’s greatest hits, her boredom just radiated through the phone. I guess I caught her mid-yawn. When I told her about my issue she asked me to wait while she pulled up my records. The silence between was broken only by her quiet sigh. Then I said, “Thank you for your help.” And something amazing happened – she warmed up. She said, “You’re welcome” and we quickly got to the bottom of my issue.

The exchange was significant for two reasons. First, this was definitely a disengaged, disinterested employee. Second, when I expressed my appreciation for her efforts, she instantly became more engaged and her performance improved.

According to a recent Gallup poll, over 70 percent of American workers are either actively or passively disengaged from their work. This is a troubling statistic. Not only is the human cost immense, the U.S. economy takes a $370 billion hit from this army of the disaffected. The message is clear: leaders have to do better at building employee buy-in and job satisfaction.

Luckily there are new tools in the kit for accomplishing this crucial mission. Social media and enterprise tools can help a company build a workforce that feels empowered and appreciated. At its heart it’s about building community, giving people a sense of being part of something greater than just their job descriptions. Some of the exciting tools for accomplishing this include Yammer, Newsgator, Jive and IBM Connections among many others of course.

The goal with all of these is to give people a voice, a way to share their ideas and know they matter to the organization. It allows long-term employees to mentor new hires, sometimes across global locations where collaboration is needed. This builds strong internal relationships, boosts morale and improves the performance of both the mentor and the mentee. The mentor’s skills are refreshed, and she gains the satisfaction we all feel when helping someone. The mentee, of course, learns the ropes not only from a leader, but from someone who lives them every day.

These networks also enhance the flow of information — people can access what they need quickly and efficiently. They allow for personal expression in the form of communities based on shared passions and interests. All of these increase engagement as people begin to see their jobs as part of a larger, organic whole – the company – of which they are an important part. As people become more invested, their pride in doing a good job soars. The result, in addition to improved performance, is increased personal happiness and fulfillment.

The other piece of the puzzle is recognition. Yes, people will become more engaged and their performance will improve, but the organization must recognize this in concrete ways. We all thrive with praise and acknowledgement. When someone does great work reward them with public recognition, and a monetary bonus or a prize. It’s a great feeling to earn something extra, something tangible that can be shared with colleagues, family and friends.

To build an engaged and productive workforce, start by building social-media enabled connections and communities, and add a continuous program of recognition and reward.

This combination works. I’ve seen it. Why are these statistics so high still? 70%, Really? We can do better than this.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com


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