EmployeeEngagement1

Employee Engagement I : Linking Managers to Workers

“Employee engagement is often viewed as a ‘soft’ HR sort of subject, but the hard reality is that flawed management practices contribute significantly to employee disengagement – and disengaged employees are unproductive employees. With a vast financial impact.”
Victor Lipman, Forbes

Imagine waking up, dreading the start of another work day. You get ready, leave and arrive at your place of work with a sense of resignation… again. As you go through the motions, completing your tasks and responsibilities, the end of the day can’t come soon enough. This is what needs to be done to pay the bills. You adapt and persevere. You will reluctantly get up and do it again tomorrow, and the day after, and, the day after that. You are disengaged.

Research conducted by organisations like Gallup, AON Hewitt, Towers-Watson, Deloitte and PriceWaterhouseCoopers consistently show that more than 70 percent of the workforce is disengaged (some studies show an even higher level of disengagement). That means 7 out of 10 employees are just “calling it in”; that means most employees are fairly miserable; and that means most employers don’t fully grasp what occurs when employees are disengaged.

Managers need both technical and non-technical expertise. Hiring and training practices must be aligned to support this crucial balance. Until this truth is recognised and strategically implemented, detached and uncommitted employees will continue to dominate the workforce.

Surely, if they understood the cost to their productivity, their reputation as a company, and their bottom line, they would be motivated to make changes. It seems logical, but these surveys show just the opposite: most companies don’t get it.

Disengaged employees eventually leave. This costs a company lowered productivity, overworked (remaining) staff, lost know-how, lost engagement and training costs, to name a few. The Center for American Progress reports the cost to replace an employee ranges from 16 percent to 213 percent of an employee’s annual salary:

  • 16 percent of annual salary for high-turnover, low-paying jobs (earning under $30,000 a year). For example, the cost to replace a $10/hour retail employee would be $3,328;
  • 20 percent of annual salary for mid-range positions (earning $30,000 to $50,000 a year). For example, the cost to replace a $40k manager would be $8,000; and
  • Up to 213 percent of annual salary for highly educated executive positions. For example, the cost to replace a $100k CEO is $213,000.

Managerial relationships are crucial

One of the key elements that drives employee engagement is a caring manager.

A recent study by MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training, “What Drives Employee Engagement and Why It Matters”, states,

“The attitude and actions of the immediate supervisor can enhance employee engagement or can create an atmosphere where an employee becomes disengaged. In addition, employees said that believing in the ability of senior leadership to take their input, lead the company in the right direction and openly communicate the state of the organisation is key in driving engagement.”

A manager’s ability to build strong relationships with employees creates an environment in which employees are motivated to perform at their highest level. Employees want their managers to care about their personal lives, to take an interest in them as people, to care about how they feel, and genuinely support their well-being. Employees need to understand and identify their unique role and career path in the company. Within the scope of their position, they need to know their significance to the organisation. Strong managerial relationships connect employees to this understanding of significance.

The Challenge

Most managers are hired for their technical abilities and expertise. Some are promoted solely based on seniority or industry experience. Unfortunately, many of them aren’t evaluated as closely when it comes to their ability to lead employees. This usually ties back to an organisation not understanding the value of an engaged workforce. So, they recruit, hire and promote managers that also don’t understand or value an engaged workforce.

Once a certain ‘average salary’ threshold is reached, money as a motivator moves down the list. People seek meaningful work, a balanced life, genuine appreciation and the opportunity to grow and develop.

Communicating change, delivering specific approval and constructive suggestions, collaborating, listening, problem solving, laughing with employees – all of these interactions build mutual respect and trust. Effective communication skills can turn a faltering employee around. The ability to coach an employee through a challenging situation can strengthen their contribution to the company and salvage their position. It sets the stage for an employee to feel ‘invested’ in the success of the Company. They become central to that success.

Managers need both technical and non-technical expertise. Hiring and training practices must be aligned to support this crucial balance. Until this truth is recognised and strategically implemented, detached and uncommitted employees will continue to dominate the workforce.

Discover what works

Companies that succeed in creating dedicated employees know that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. In addition to skilled managers, what does it take to make an employee love their work environment?

Options vary according to industry and resources, but a few low-cost or no-cost ideas might be: redesigning jobs, offering telecommuting, job sharing, flexible schedules, recognition programmes, creative workspaces, volunteer groups, mentoring, or fine tuning the feedback process. The choices are endless.

We tend to think more money is always at the top of the list for employees. However, pay level is only marginally related to job satisfaction. Once a certain ‘average salary’ threshold is reached, money as a motivator moves down the list. People seek meaningful work, a balanced life, genuine appreciation and the opportunity to grow and develop. If organisations can find a way to connect with those basic, intrinsic employee needs, they will see a much higher degree of involvement emerge, which will, in turn, affect their bottom line. Highly engaged employees = highly innovative employees = highly productive employees.

“Ultimately the most successful and enduring organisations in business are those that have a common sense of mission, a deep respect for their employees (and customers of course), and put time, energy, and money into building a highly engaging environment. They carefully select the ‘right people’ with lots of hard work, and once people join they take the time to make sure they have development opportunities to move up the value curve.”

Josh Bersin, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

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Simply conducting an external engagement survey without addressing internal issues won’t work. The effort to engage employees must be genuine, from the inside out and the top down. Those with power to affect real change must examine and identify their true convictions about their workforce. We need to ‘see’ the employee as a person — not a hired hand, a means to an end, or a person in a slot. Everything within the culture needs to center around building the people so they can build the business.

They will engage.

This article, Employee Engagement I : Linking Managers to Workers is the first of a three part series of articles on Employee Engagement. Employee Engagement II :  Linking Workers to Significance and Employee Engagement III : Linking Significance to Transformation will follow in coming months.

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