Remember Steven Slater? He may have been privy to Carey’s joke. Slater was the JetBlue flight attendant who made headlines in 2009 after he cursed out passengers, grabbed two beers and slid down the emergency chute in one of the most famous resignations of all time. Slater dominated cable news headlines, became the fodder for Leno and Letterman monologues, and received 182,000 “Likes” on Facebook as the world debated, was he a hero or felon?
Slater’s antics captured the attention of so many people because he tapped into a common career reality, one learning leaders know from hard statistics: Fewer than one in three employees is engaged at work, according to Blessing White’s 2011 Employee Engagement Report. Only 45 percent of workers are even just “satisfied,” according to a 2010 Conference Board survey on job satisfaction. Job satisfaction is at the lowest level since the survey began more than 20 years ago.
Engaged employees provide better service, are more productive and stay in their jobs longer. This leads to happier customers, which drives growth and profits and ultimately shareholder value. A 2009 study from the Kenexa Research Institute showed a five-fold difference in total shareholder value over five years between the companies with the most and least engaged workforces.
The impact on personal lives is even more surprising. Psychologists call it the spillover and crossover effects; work emotions spill over into employees’ personal lives, and cross over to those around them. Employee health may be one of the first things to go. A 2009 Swedish study reported that dissatisfied workers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.
While there are many variables that can drive engagement, and every organization is unique, according to Kenexa’s survey pool of more than 10 million workers in 150 countries from 2009, combating engagement issues generally comes down to three things: People want growth, recognition and to be able to trust their leaders.
As business continues to globalize and become more complex, managers have become more task focused and less people focused, managing work, rather than leading people. Growth, the first driver of engagement, should start with a focused conversation between the manager and his or her direct reports about their skills, career goals and what knowledge has to be attained to reach them. Instead of expensive, formal training programs, development can happen through mentorship, job rotations and informal developmental experiences.
Recognition isn’t about annual award dinners and plaques, but rather feeling appreciated on an ongoing basis. Managers should give “thank yous” often, as long as it’s legitimately deserved. Say thank you with specifics — mention the accomplishment or activity when praising, and how that behavior ties to the company’s goals, values or standards.
The foundation for all engagement building is trust and confidence. Employees need to feel their leaders are not intentionally lying or cooking the books, but they also need to trust that leaders are capable of guiding them safely where they need to go. They need a sense of confidence in the future, which can best be achieved by over-communicating a company’s mission and strategic plan and ensuring each person knows how he or she fits into the big picture.
The engagement crisis requires that we all act as leaders. Whether someone has direct reports or is an individual contributor, we should be mindful of how daily behaviors impact not just company metrics but also the personal lives and families of those around us. Creating a climate of growth, recognition and trust will ensure any team reaches full engagement.
Kevin Kruse is the co-author of We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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