Keeping employees engaged is a challenge for many learning leaders, but if an organization makes employees own their own engagement, the game may change.
The co-ownership begins when an organization states from the recruiting process that it wants and expects its employees to be engaged and to own that engagement.
According to Don MacPherson, president of survey technology and services provider Modern Survey, a company may further dialogue with new employees at this point, learning what recognition and personal accomplishment mean to them and how they want to be developed, then tailoring the engagement process to these preferences.
“This is where the empowerment comes in,” MacPherson said. “When your leader is not fulfilling the things that you’ve agreed on, you need to call them on that.”
From this process, the relationship between leader and employee turns into more of a partnership.
“This is a big shift in how engagement is talked about,” MacPherson said.
Kevin Sheridan, chief engagement officer of HR Solutions International Inc., a human capital consulting firm that specializes in employee engagement, said employees not co-owning their engagement is one of the core problems in employee engagement.
“There has never been a solution in place to get the employee to privately see how engaged they are and get tips on what they could do to become more engaged,” Sheridan said. “We’ve created this lopsided look where it’s always up to the management team.”
In addition to inspiring their employees to co-own their engagement, organizations can do more to ensure employees are engaged. If a company has a clear set of values that is known to all of its employees, it is more likely to have engaged employees.
“The reason why values [are] the most important is it’s almost an enabler for engagement,” MacPherson said, adding that if a company doesn’t have it, it’s almost impossible to engage the employees.
Modern Survey surveyed 1,000 working adults in February, releasing the results in a report titled “Employee Engagement in the U.S. Workforce.” The survey found that people who responded yes to the question “Does your company have a clear set of values that people know about and understand?” are 17 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who answered no.
“When you’re aware of the company values and you know them and live them and breathe them, it’s much easier for you to give yourself to that company and to be engaged,” MacPherson said.
What often happens, MacPherson said, is a company will have written values but act out different values. “That can be a very disengaging practice,” he said.
Those values need to be introduced during the recruiting process, not just in the interview. “You ought to make those things known in the different vehicles you’re using for recruiting and then speak about them again during the interviewing process and say, ‘Here are our values. We ask our employees to align with these values and support these values,’” MacPherson said. “Also, they should be incorporated in the performance management process.”
Once an employee is on board, an organization should consider if the employee’s work is up to par and whether or not it fits into the framework of the organization’s values.
Values may be the most important, but there are other practices that need to be put in place to enable engagement, MacPherson said. Companies need to make sure they communicate customer satisfaction and quality, train employees and conduct performance appraisals.
It’s also important to recognize the drivers of engagement. “Historically, the drivers would be recognition, sense of personal accomplish, career development and the fourth would be confidence in the future of the organization,” MacPherson said. But now, people’s confidence in senior leadership and the company’s future are taking precedence. “Now the organization is much more important,” MacPherson said.
While getting engaged employees is a challenge, a larger threat to companies is, as Sheridan calls them, the “actively disengaged” employee. This is the employee who will bad-mouth the organization, seek out the active employees and want to drag them down, Sheridan said.
Both Sheridan and MacPherson agree the only solution is to transition actively disengaged employees out of the company.
“I spent years coaching actively disengaged people hoping for a wonderful outcome and it never happened,” Sheridan said. “Essentially I was wasting my time. There are a lot of managers and organizations out there that are needlessly wasting their time.”
Natalie Morera is an associate editor at Chief Learning Officer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.