I have been following yearly surveys focused on the topic of “Workforce Engagement” for the last fifteen years. These surveys have varied in their methodologies and organizational authors. Some focused exclusively on the United States, while others offered a global perspective. The results have varied but only slightly. The core trend has essentially remained the same. Specifically, these surveys have consistently indicated that roughly twice as many members of our global workforce routinely report that they are “actively disengaged” on a daily basis, compared to the number of those who claim that they are “actively engaged”.
Now we can argue about these findings all we want and many managers do. I have listened to many attacks on the various survey methodologies and to many managers who claim that while disengagement is perhaps true in other organizations, it is not so in theirs.
Asking subordinates directly about their level of engagement is more likely to draw out some sort of affirmative reply, than one that is verifiably the truth. Few of us are willing to be so openly critical by telling our boss that under her or his stewardship, we feel disengaged from our jobs.
But I find it hard to dismiss a long-term trend that suggests all managers should wrestle with the engagement issue on a regular basis. Almost all of these engagement surveys conclude that effective management of subordinates is an important key to engagement, and that engaged employees and their organizations outperform their less engaged competition.
True, not everybody responds to or is motivated by the same things. In an earlier article in this series entitled “The Power Of Psychic Pay”, I addressed some of the many ways skilled managers can motivate their subordinates beyond adding extra dollars to their pay checks. But in my experience, there are a few core elements inherent in almost any job which when fully understood, lay a firm foundation for engagement. Although not an end in themselves, these elements are within the control of every manager and the best of them use them effectively.
What is the purpose of this job? Obvious isn’t it? But it is shocking how many employees have difficulty answering this question. If a manager cannot explain why any job needs doing, then why is he or she asking someone to do it? No matter how small a part of the whole organization’s raison d’être any specific job is, an employee should know the purpose of his or her specific job.
Who benefits from this job? Perhaps it is an external customer or somebody within one’s own organization who can not do their job effectively without the contribution we make by doing our job well. Job interdependencies are a part of most organizations so it is important to know who benefits and how from what we do.
Why is the job important? The answer to this question involves connecting any given job to the overall purpose of an organization. Again, the connection is usually a small part of a larger picture but most of us want to know that our contribution matters in some way and that we are making a difference. Moreover, seeing how their daily efforts contribute to the overall purpose of an organization motivates a workforce and reduces the number of people who see their daily efforts as simply “a job for a pay check”.
These three things may seem simple and obvious but just ask around as I have and see how many folks have a hard time answering them. I call that a management failure.
The best managers make certain that their subordinates understand the purpose and overall value of their work and remind them of that value frequently. The best managers worry about employee engagement and seek evidence of it frequently. The best managers do this because they understand that an empowered, fully engaged workforce allows them to create a workplace environment where creativity, innovation, productivity and high quality customer service is most likely to flourish.