We've known for years that companies with happy, engaged workers tend to produce more, while companies with unmotivated workforces bleed profits by the billions.
What we've missed is any sort of defining characteristics exhibited by engaged workers. A new book seeks to change that. In "The Employee Engagement Mindset," Dr. Timothy Clark and his team reveal six habits of engaged employees, none of which are surprising when viewed through the lens of common sense:
- They tend to choose activities that advance their goals.
- They act opportunistically in seeking new work.
- They tend to learn fast and adapt accordingly.
- They seek challenges beyond their stated areas of expertise.
- They revel in the intrinsic rewards of achievement.
- They help others improve and create organizational value as a result.
Manufacturing executives reading this might conclude that "engagement" is a white-collar word irrelevant to those on the factory floor. Maybe, but you also can't have good results without strong engagement -- and "results" is as blue collar a word as you'll find.
Every worker wants to achieve results. In a study of some 64,000 workday events chronicled by 238 workers over the past decade, Harvard University researchers found nothing engages workers more than making progress in meaningful work.
You'd think that would be good news for employers. Instead, when the same Harvard team asked managers to rank the top five employee motivators, efforts to support progress came in last. That's an unacceptable disconnect, especially when we know just how expensive widespread disengagement can be.
So how about this: instead of wondering why so many employees are unengaged and unhappy, why not talk with them about what needs changing? Here are five ideas for engaging the unengaged:
- Walk around! Though an old practice that dates back decades, the idea of managing by walking around has several timeless benefits. You'll know more about your operations. You'll see first hand what's working and what isn't. And you'll very quickly find the engaged leaders Clark refers to in his book.
- Eat with the staff. Getting to know operations is one thing; getting to know your employees is another. When it comes to increasing engagement, both matter. Eat lunch with your staff from time to time. Host a Friday afternoon gathering with snacks and beverages. Use these sorts of unguarded opportunities to find out what's really working and what isn't.
- Organize off-work activities. Breaking bread together can go a long way. Mixing in the occasional opportunity for families and their employees to gather and enjoy a company-sponsored event can add a deeper touch in that the expense -- even if it's just a half-day at the local bowling alley -- demonstrates appreciation.
- Embrace regular experimentation. Soft benefits such as company-sponsored boondoggles can only do so much. As the Harvard study proves, workers also need to benefit from actions that remove obstacles to getting great work done. There's no greater motivator for the employee that hungers for genuine engagement.
- Reward the behavior you want. Finally, embrace modeling. Show employees what you need by publicly rewarding those who exhibit the behaviours that lead to higher engagement and performance.
Whatever strategies you choose, remember that the goal is to cultivate and keep as many engaged employees as possible. Do that and profits will follow.
John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a provider of employee rewards and recognition programs.