Do Employees Really Want to Be Engaged? By Leigh Branham

26 Jul

I hope you enjoy the following post, written by my friend and colleague Leigh Branham. The second edition of his book The Seven Hidden Reasons Why Employees Leave will be available next week! Check out his web site: keepingthepeople.com.

As I speak and listen to managers about employee engagement, I occasionally hear a manager come right out and say, “employees don’t want to be engaged.” I have concluded that for every manager who expresses that belief out loud, there are many more who believe it and don’t say it. I believe this mindset helps explain why only about 25% of the workforce is fully engaged. Managers (and senior leaders) who don’t believe employees want to be engaged are less likely to try to engage them and more likely to use a disengaging KITA (Kick-in-the-Ass) management style.

It is understandable that managers have this worldview. For centuries, most notably exemplified by the Greeks and Romans and continuing through the Puritan work ethic that is alive and well yet today, work has been seen as a necessary evil to be suffered and endured. It is only in the last 50 years or so that the idea of a job as a vehicle for self-fulfillment has been widely embraced.

And yes, of course, there are still significant numbers of employees for whom the idea of achieving personal fulfillment at work is a foreign concept. They view work as something they do simply to earn a paycheck that allows them to pursue the things they truly enjoy on their own time. Are they engaged? The term I’ve seen lately to describe these workers is “transactionally engaged.”

By contrast, the “emotionally engaged” are willing to give more discretionary effort at work because they feel a strong bond or connection with the organization, manager, coworkers, or the work itself that is often more important to them than pay.

The transactionally engaged, who most certainly comprise a large portion of the 75% that Gallup identifies as either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”, aren’t emotionally connected to the organization to the point that they are willing to go above and beyond what’s minimally required on the job. When some managers say they don’t believe employees want to be engaged, they almost certainly have these employees in mind. Thus, we have a matching of mindsets and low mutual expectations.

The question that intrigues me is “what if we could demonstrate to the transactionally engaged that it is possible and desirable for them to be emotionally engaged, not just for the sake of their being more productive for the company’s benefit, but because it would also enhance their personal well-being?

We know what drives engagement. Gallup, Kenexa, Towers-Watson, Sirota and others have all come to very similar conclusions as Mark Hirschfeld and I did in our analysis of 2.1 million employee engagement surveys. Here are the six universal drivers we identified in our book Re-Engage (McGraw-Hill, 2010) that the best employers have in common:

1. Caring, competent, and communicative senior leaders,

2. Managers who proactively manage performance through clear expectations and feedback,

3. A culture of teamwork, not “we vs. they,”

4. Job enrichment, learning and growth opportunities,

5. Feeling valued monetarily and a dozen other ways, and

6. Feeling the organization and manager care about your personal well being.

When these drivers are present in an organization’s culture, employees feel “given to” and, as a result, they typically want to give back. Put another way, they become “emotionally engaged.” Organizations that score higher on these drivers have fewer transactionally engaged employees and more who say things like “For the first time in my life, I actually look forward to coming to work in the morning.” In other words, their eyes have been opened to the possibility/reality that work can be a source of personal fulfillment. Deep down, I believe, we all want to be engaged at work…if only we knew it was achievable.

This is why it is so important for employers not to “roll out” employee engagement “programs”, but instead, actually start doing all the things that truly engage employees. This means training managers in what really engages employees, giving managers the discussion tools they need to engage and re-engage their direct reports, and holding managers accountable for improving a few carefully selected metrics.

Too many companies are conducting engagement surveys without truly intending to take action based on the results. To be fair, some do intend to take action, but still don’t follow through. This only serves to further reduce employee expectations and raise levels of cynicism. For more on this, see C.V. Harquail’s provocative blog — “Why Employee Engagement is a Scam.

Done well, and not as an exploitive way to get employees to give more effort without giving them something in return, employee engagement is most certainly not a scam. Authentic engagement initiatives inspire commitment, not cynicism.

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The Big Idea Behind Idea Management

28 Apr

Have you heard the term “idea management”?

If you haven’t, take heart, because up until recently I hadn’t either.

Although the process has been around for decades, it has taken on greater interest of late because software has been developed that makes the process far easier to administer to a large group, even a virtual group.

We’ve recently begun a collaboration with Dr. Jerry Wagner on what we think is a novel application of idea management, in this case for employee wellbeing.

What struck us most about the process and software were the results, the generation and implementation of ideas driven by employees that are making a significant difference in retention and wellbeing. Many of the ideas cost little if any to implement and many can be started by employees themselves.

Employees are more engaged. They’re excited. They’re more hopeful. They’re more committed. The cultures of the organizations have changed, and they are more productive as a result.

On the site you’ll see testimonials from four employers with whom Jerry has worked to generate and implement ideas to improve wellbeing. Here are a few of their comments:

“I’ve heard from employees who want to take a financial planning class. Others want to take advantage of our tuition reimbursement benefit. Others want to get more involved in the community—they feel like they want to give back. You get the conversation started, and you’re helping to create a culture where everyone is expected to be always improving.”

“It was exciting to learn some new things, and also be reminded about wellbeing and how we could be more proactive in wellbeing activities. The process brought excitement to the organization and also brought some cohesiveness. It’s planting seeds of change for us as a community in trying to help us focus not only on our physical wellbeing but our emotional and mental wellbeing.”

“What I thought was exciting was brainstorming and coming up with ideas that would improve our work environment. What especially got my attention was the physical piece… one’s physical wellbeing has an impact on how they do in the workplace.”

“It was wonderful being able to create ideas with co-workers from other departments. I’m excited about the future and what we’ll be doing with the wellbeing ideas.”

“That feeling that you know you are part of something, part of a movement where you change people’s lives for the better, is very exciting.”

Wow.

It’s crystal clear to us– idea management is a big idea.

Want to know more about using this process to improve wellbeing where you work? Let’s talk.

Wellbeing at One World Community Health Center

16 Apr

The following video was provided by our colleague Dr. Jerry Wagner about the experience of One World Community Health Center and the wellbeing idea management process:

Wellbeing at The AIM Institute

15 Apr

The following video was provided by our colleague Dr. Jerry Wagner about the experience of The AIM Institute and the wellbeing idea management process:

Wellbeing at Midwest Geriatrics

14 Apr

The following video was provided by our colleague Dr. Jerry Wagner about the experience of Midwest Geriatrics and the wellbeing idea management process:

Wellbeing at Policy Studies

13 Apr

The following video was provided by our colleague Dr. Jerry Wagner about the experience of Policy Studies and the wellbeing idea management process:

The Ten Wellbeing Elements

12 Apr

Wellbeing is a big topic–very big.

But thanks to the work of Dr. Jerry Wagner, the idea of wellbeing is much easier to understand. Jerry is currently the Director of the Institute of Wellbeing Management at Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska. He is also the designer of a unique software program that helps organizations uncover and evaluate employees’ ideas about how the organization can improve wellbeing.

Dr. Wagner has identified ten elements of wellbeing:

Employee Benefits  Physical Health and Nutrition  
  Job and Career Growth  Recognition and Rewards  
  Communication  Social and Recreational  
  Environment and Place  Community Service  
  Financial  Work Policies

A few thoughts about the elements:

  • Some of these elements overlap and also work in concert with each other.
  • Some of these elements might be extremely important to you or your organization, others less so.
  • There is a growing body of evidence about the importance of these elements.

Dr. Wagner has consulted with a number of organizations that have seen the benefit of working together to improve wellbeing. They’ve engaged in a process using the idea management software specifically tailored to wellbeing to identify and rate ideas their organizations could implement. Here are comments from employees who participated in the wellbeing process and how they felt about the experience:

“It was exciting to learn some new things, and also be reminded about wellbeing and how we could be more proactive in wellbeing activities. The process brought excitement to the organization and also brought some cohesiveness. It’s planting seeds of change for us as a community in trying to help us focus not only on our physical wellbeing but our emotional and mental wellbeing.”

“What I thought was exciting was brainstorming and coming up with ideas that would improve our work environment. What especially got my attention was the physical piece… one’s physical wellbeing has an impact on how they do in the workplace.”

“It was wonderful being able to create ideas with co-workers from other departments. I’m excited about the future and what we’ll be doing with the wellbeing ideas.”

“That feeling that you know you are part of something, part of a movement where you change people’s lives for the better, is very exciting.”

“I’ve heard from employees who want to take a financial planning class. Others want to take advantage of our tuition reimbursement benefit. Others want to get more involved in the community—they feel like they want to give back. You get the conversation started, and you’re helping to create a culture where everyone is expected to be always improving.”

You see, when it comes to wellbeing, we don’t have to go it alone. We can work together. We can make a difference for ourselves and folks we care about.