Statistics show that 88% of employees don’t feel passionate about their work, and that this level of employee disengagement is costing the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Employee disengagement is a huge problem for businesses looking to get the most out of their employees and to retain them in the long term. This makes engagement the number one priority for many managers.
It’s easy to leap in and try to make changes in search of better engagement. But the best starting place is to acknowledge what’s already there.
Productivity often comes from finding and using the different personalities within a team, turning each of them to their best use. The old-fashioned way of doing business was to blot out an individual’s personality and creativity, to try to get him or her to match what the business expected. But though that approach has thankfully been left behind by many, the way that we move on and work with individual personalities matters.
There is much talk of toleration in our society. Tolerating differences. Tolerating others. Tolerating the things that affect us. And so it is with the personalities of employees — we often tolerate their quirks.
But just tolerating isn’t enough. None of us wants to just be tolerated. To really engage staff we need to recognize and encourage their individual personalities, to connect with them and make use of their strengths, to embrace rather than just accept them.
Recognize The Need To Belong
The need to belong is fundamental to human happiness, and so, like so many of our psychological rather than physical needs, it can be very powerful in creating employee engagement.
There are all sorts of ways in which we can foster a sense of belonging, most of them revolving around building connections between people and dealing with behavior that leaves some excluded. But the most fundamental part of all of this is recognizing and acknowledging that need to belong, seeing it not just as a nice extra but as something that is fundamental to a well-run team.
If someone feels excluded that will soon become apparent. Look at what is causing the feeling, and face the painful truth that it may come from your own behavior. Then look for ways to make that person feel more welcome. Because when employees aren’t struggling against situations in which they don’t feel they belong, then their energy will be freed up for positive engagement.
Recognize The Fear Of Freedom
Freedom is a fantastic thing, for businesses as well as for people. Freeing staff up to make decisions for themselves, to take responsibility for their work, to decide their own working patterns, this can unleash their creativity in ways that nothing else can.
But freedom, and the need to make endless decisions, can also be scary. This doesn’t mean that you should let staff retreat from that freedom, or that you should do so yourself. But it does mean that, if you want them to engage with that freedom and with making big decisions, then you need to be there to support them. Recognize the fear, however small it might be, however absurd the cause might seem to you. Accept it rather than judging it, and acknowledge that it affects you too. Then help the person to make his or her decisions and move on past. The more employees do that, the more they will engage with the work and the less fear will dominate.
Better engagement takes action. But getting that action right means recognizing the circumstances in which it is built, and embracing even the most awkward of them.
About the Author: Mark Lukens is a Founding Partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm and Tack3, a mid-market and not-for-profit focused consultancy. Most of Mark’s writing involves theoretical considerations and practical application, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity.