As a manager, leader or business owner, do you want staff that are satisfied, highly engaged, and excited to come to work?
One way of upping your game is to learn from the challenges and mistakes of others – listening to what dissatisfied and disengaged employees state as the reasons they jumped ship, then embody the opposite.
My years in the recruitment industry were so fascinating – interviewing people from all walks of life across industries and professions, from CEO level to front line customer service, and hearing every story under the sun about why people became disengaged, dissatisfied and then wanted to leave their jobs. Clear themes emerged.
1. If you’re a manager, leader or business owner, below are 10 ways you can directly and practically bridge any gap, guiding employees out of a disengaged state, into engagement.
2. Or, if you’re an employee, please read on to “health check” your own work environment and relationships, as to how your manager/leader is supporting you.
“Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention” – Deepak Chopra
1. Treat them like people, not robots
“Leave your personal life at the door” – this statement is outdated and out of place. Don’t expect your employees to leave their personal life at the door. If people are bringing their emotions to work, it’s no shock horror, because they’re human beings.
It is unreasonable to expect people to be human outside of work, and then to compartmentalise who they are when they arrive at the office door, and behave like robots during work hours.
Rather, when it appears someone’s personal life is overflowing into their work and affecting their outcomes, treat them like a human being by sitting down face to face with them and asking if they are okay. Check in regarding what is going on at work and outside of work that is causing them disruption and discomfort. Directly ask what support they might need in order to manage and meet their work commitments while dealing with whatever personal matters might be pressing upon them at that time.
Often businesses don't want to delve into this realm of supporting the emotions of their employees… that territory looks unpredictable, messy and is often preferable to ignore!
Ignoring this is a big oversight. If you help people clear their blocks efficiently and effectively, you are clearing your businesses blocks to productivity at the very same time. They are the same thing. There is no separation.
2. Ask them what their #1 requirement is for work satisfaction then deliver on it
Do you want to help your employees be happy at work (and thus more engaged)? Then just ask them what makes them happy at work and deliver on it.
It’s not rocket science obviously, but often individual leaders and managers (and thus businesses culturally) are too afraid to ask this question in case they can’t deliver upon the expectations. Which, by the way, is a brilliant reason why this question should be included in any interview before hiring someone to join your business. If you can’t deliver upon the #1 thing that contributes to that person’s work happiness (and thus higher engagement) in the natural course of your business operations, then you’re setting yourself and the potential employee up for failure from day one.
Every employee has different values and motivators, so their non-negotiable factors for work happiness will differ. It might be that they require regular challenging tasks, it might be work-life balance is essential, it might be money and an incentive driven remuneration structure, or it might be that training or mentoring are highly important to them.
As a business committed to employee satisfaction and engagement, yourself and other leaders/managers around you want to be extremely interested in what each employee says in response to this question, and then tailoring the leadership/management for that person in order to get the best results (and those best results include both employee satisfaction AND optimal productivity and performance).
Vertical layers of management exist within businesses for reasons other than operational delivery and profit management. Those layers serve a purpose for engagement. Each manager is assigned the extremely important task of being the champion for the people directly reporting to them, by knowing what makes them tick and partnering with them to get win win outcomes day to day, for the employee and the business.
3. Let them share their voice, and not just when you want to hear it
If you ask for feedback or ideas, you better listen. If you don’t ask for feedback or ideas, you better prepare yourself for dissatisfaction.
It’s one of the biggest gripes of employees… “The business doesn’t care what we say, what we think or what we want. They only ask in order to appear like they care and then they do whatever they want anyway.”
Whether it’s employees believing that a change process has been pre-determined and consultation is a farce, or whether it’s employees tired of the one-way process of performance review from the top down – people want a way to be heard. In fact, this has nothing to do with work or business, this is just human nature. We all desire to be genuinely seen and heard.
You’re running a business, employees get that. They’re not suggesting they know how to run your business better than you do. But letting employees have a voice, and genuinely taking it on board, shows you respect them. Silencing them or treating their feedback as meaningless, is a behaviour that says, “We don’t care about you”.
At the very least provide a clear channel for employees to voice their input and then a) openly recognise their feedback and show how it has been incorporated into decision making, or b) explain why it cannot be incorporated, so they can better understand the business drivers and direction.
One of the most empowering ways to allow employees to have a voice is via an Upwards Feedback Program, where they can provide constructive suggestions and feedback on management, leadership and business direction through an agreed process, one which is always open. The only reason a business would not allow for an Upwards Feedback Process (which is simply the reversal of the Employee Performance Review/Appraisal) is if the business doesn’t want to hear. If that’s the case, you've got more to worry about than employee dissatisfaction and disengagement!
4. Turn your workplace into a work-family
People who play together stay together. Cliché but true. If that advice is good enough for families and couples, it’s good enough for business. I have personally experienced a stunning example of this approach in business and am still in awe to this day of how powerful this type of work-family culture is. It is priceless!
Incorporate fun and camaraderie into the work environment, no matter what type of business you’re in. All aspects of life are meant to be fun and the majority of people thrive on connections and interactions with others.
Humans want to enjoy their experiences in life and given your employees spend a large proportion of their waking precious life hours in your business, it’s your duty to help them have fun. Ernest Hemingway said, “When you stop doing things for fun, you might as well be dead”. This will resonate only too well with many dissatisfied employees.
Our work life is just one way we express who we are, to have fun, to gain personal satisfaction and to exchange our energy, time and ideas in return for monetary and non-monetary benefits. It is completely appropriate to have fun while doing your work. Fun and professionalism are not mutually exclusive. Fun is not about clowning around and being inappropriate. Fun is merely a term for a level of enjoyment you experience in your workplace, with your work colleagues, and while executing your work tasks.
If you focus on ways to make enjoyment a priority in your workplace, you’ll feed the feeling of satisfaction for your employees and thus engagement. Happy employees are also productive employees (it’s not the other way around).There are plenty of easy, zero-cost or low-cost ways to introduce greater fun and camaraderie into the workplace, be it optional social or sporting group activities, lunchtime walking or running groups, quizzes, baby photo competitions, pot-luck “bring your own baking” morning tea, provision of space for yoga or meditation, or for a Foosball or ping-pong table (low cost, and great outlet for stress relief and fun on a break). Show your employees that their enjoyment is your priority.
5. Treat them like grown ups
Respect – do your employees have to earn it, or will you give it to them from the outset?
You thought that they were good enough to hire, so why not treat them with respect and trust from day one? You don’t need to monitor and micro-manage adults, unless of course they behave in ways that directly cause a lack of trust.
So, outline the boundaries, expectations and deliverables and then give them the space to be who they are and do what you hired them to do. Treat them as grown adults who are doing a job you considered them capable of delivering upon, unless they prove otherwise.
There is nothing more dis-empowering, frustrating and belittling for an employee than feeling like you consider them incapable of performing their role, for absolutely no reason and through no fault of their own. Managers with micro-managing tendencies, perfectionist traits and a penchant for control may find this difficult. If that is you, then I hear you loud and clear – I used to be the ultimate perfectionist and control-freak, and it took conscious effort on my part to grow into the role of a manager over a number of years where I was able to empower employees to evolve and contribute, instead of stifling them by trying to do my job and theirs.
6. Challenge them
It doesn't matter what type of position someone is in, if they are performing beyond the level of their role and they lack challenge, you ignore this issue at your own peril.
Don’t wait for people to get bored, instead have mechanisms in place so you can check in and challenge them. The challenges you provide them with might be core to their role, or project based, or completely unrelated and extra-curricular.
Explain to them that you recognise their level of achievement, their knowledge and that you want to help extend them and keep them engaged. Make it a two-way conversation. At the very minimum, show them you are aware. It may require you to consider if they have in fact completely outgrown their role, and to then deal with the consequences of that for the business and for them. Ignoring this issue for many businesses results in losing brilliant employees who go in search of greater challenge somewhere else.
Never ignore an unchallenged employee, sometimes that unexpressed energy becomes restless – they can be like demented and hungry tigers who just escaped their cage i.e. something you don’t want to encounter!
7. Deliver on what you commit to
The trust you have with your employee can be instantly broken if you don’t behave in alignment with your word.
Integrity and authenticity are critical. If your employees don’t trust you, nothing you do will make any difference. Nothing you say will be taken on board.Having said that, business priorities and needs change constantly. In the ever evolving and dynamic markets we operate within, it’s not uncommon to have to change direction and shift your commitments in order to stay relevant, profitable and competitive. But it’s how you deal with the flow-on impact of that situation that matters.
If you can’t keep your word regarding what you have promised your employees upon hiring them, or what you promised them through the course of doing business (whether it be pay rises to pay reviews, training to promotion, or time off through to extra resources) – you need to go into immediate and honest communication as to why you can’t deliver on what you committed to doing. Your job is to communicate the gap, and close it, before your employees make up their own minds about what your inability to deliver upon your commitment means to them.
Never sweep it under the carpet, hoping they will forget what you promised. Employees are like elephants… they have long memories.
8. Behave beyond reproach
For anyone who has children or has observed children closely, you’ll know that nothing escapes their attention. They soak up everything they see and hear like a sponge, even though their parents might think they don’t. Word to the wise – your employees are the same.
They see everything you do and everything that goes on. They have eyes and ears everywhere in your business, your buildings, your customer sites and so on. If you want satisfied employees, you need employees who respect you. Actions speak louder than words. So, behave beyond reproach.
As you go about your daily routine as the business owner, a leader or manager, everything you do and say is seen and heard. Employees notice how you behave, they notice what you do and don’t do, they notice who you speak to and who you don’t speak to, they notice when you tell them one thing and tell someone else another, they notice when you preach a message and then don’t live it yourself.
Employees pick up on nuances, they sense tension, they foresee change, they notice who is part of the management’s favoured ‘in crowd’ and who is not.So behaving beyond reproach 80% of the time and knowingly exhibiting poor judgement 20% of the time isn't good enough. It’s definitely not about never making mistakes, as employees will see you’re human if you make mistakes and they will respect your ability to recover from such bumps in the road. But if you choose to behave poorly 20% of the time, don’t be fooled into thinking only a few people will notice.
Employees have particularly effective networks for sharing that information and looking out for each other, as any work-family would. Just like your management and leadership teams have closed door discussions… so do employees. Yes, it’s true. They may not be formal meetings, but nevertheless, water-cooler conversations and passing chats in bathrooms, hallways and lunch rooms are essential employee opportunities for discussing insights into how the business and management are conducting themselves.
9. SEE them
There is nothing worse than working a job when you’re pretty sure no one would notice whether you were there or not. In order to make your employees feel valued, and therefore interested in being there, simply notice and acknowledge them.
This isn't about just recognising and celebrating achievements (which, by the way, is also key). Rather, this is even simpler. This is about frequently seeing and acknowledging their presence. It’s you caring about who they are and what they’re doing. It’s you fulfilling a basic human need they have – to be seen and to feel like their existence makes a difference. Say hello to them in the morning, ask them how they are (not how their work is going – but how they are personally).
10. Remember that managers/leaders are ultimately what disengages or engages employees
It is not policies, services or products, workplace environment or the employment offering that ultimately disengages most people. It is the delivery of all of those things through your managers and leaders into the workplace that really creates employment satisfaction or not.
Businesses are created out of the genius of people. They are delivered into the world through the genius of people. They are beloved by the people, or not. They become prolific because of people, or not.
You can have the worst workplace environment, with a lack of employee benefits and below market pay rates, and if the employees are engaged by a charismatic and capable manager who genuinely cares, they may still experience job satisfaction.
You can have the best workplace environment, with great benefits and above market pay rates, and if the employees are disengaged due to an autocratic manager who lacks integrity, they may still leave.
Managers and leaders are not necessarily born, they are bred. Technical brilliance often sees people promoted into management and leadership roles they are not always (yet) capable of performing. Supporting managers to be great ‘people people’ is critical to ensuring a happy and engaged workplace for all.