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According to the Gallup Daily U.S. Employee Engagement tracker (Gallup), U.S. employees engaged in their work was about 28% in January 2014 and 32% in August 2017. The inverse, employees less engaged, stood at 72% and 68%, respectively. There are dozens of studies and surveys that demonstrate the challenges companies face in this area.
Companies spend countless resources on improving employee satisfaction and engagement, often with little to show for the effort. The list below, with the possible exception of item 6, requires your time and attention, but a minimal capital investment.
Actions to improve engagement and retention
1. Define and create a magnetic vision. Engagement suggests an emotional connection to something. Clearly and frequently repeating your vision of the city on the hill helps people connect. We strive for a purpose bigger than us, and thoughtful leaders create workplaces where people want to show up. Design and execute a compelling vision as a magnet that draws people toward it. It may change the world, but it doesn’t have to for it to be worthwhile. You decide.
2. Establish values that make YOU want to work here. Create a culture that challenges, respects, strives, collaborates, plays, or whatever values you can consistently demonstrate. Doing this defines a workplace where people want to join and stay.
Questions to consider:
Are you proud of what you helped create?
Is there room to create a better way to engage and lead your team?
Do you want to show up at work tomorrow?
Do you feel compelled to bring your best self?
What would have to change for you to be proud, engaged, and excited?
3. Stop triangulating. Some leaders struggle to disagree with their direct reports. They are asked to mediate a difference of opinion between two people, meet separately with each, and agree with both of them. Then they send each away to work it out. This approach, apart from being frustrating as hell, is manipulative and undermines credibility and relationships. When differing opinions arise, get the parties in the room and have a straight-talk conversation about outcomes, viewpoints, options, and consequences.
4. Abandon indecision. Leaders who frequently struggle to make decisions and support those decisions tend to exhaust people. We expect customers to be a constant source of variety and opportunity. They are the reason firms and leaders exist.
But leaders who manufacture variation by not making rapid, fact-based decisions leave their people feeling like they are running in quicksand. It’s tiring, frustrating, and ineffective. People don’t know what’s next. Establishing some level of certainty is helpful for our teams to stay focused and engaged. There is a cost—often hidden—of indecision, so do whatever is required to improve capabilities in this area.
5. Speak plainly. The people have guessed the truth long before we tell them. Don’t gloss over or hide the truth about current reality. Get it out while it’s a dot on the page, and before it becomes too big to handle. It’s okay not to have all of the answers, and your team can help figure it out. That can only happen if they know the problem they are battling. Plain talk removes obstacles to performance.
6. Set high expectations and provide the tools. Setting high standards is admirable, but employees must have the tools and processes required to deliver outstanding work and results repeatedly. There is a five-star hotel that provides the best of everything to its guests. Its well-trained guest-facing employees have great attitudes and exceptional customer focus. They are also required to use an antiquated, multi-screen, multi-step check-in system that creates a 3-star experience for the guest and a 1-star experience for employees. The best people working with inadequate tools and processes become disillusioned rather than engaged. It’s a leader’s job to identify, acknowledge, and close those gaps.
Takeaway: Creating a workplace where people can do their best work is vital to building a sustainable organization. It’s easy to throw money at the problem, but our leadership behavior has more to do with employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention than any other factor.
Employees leave their leaders, so it’s a worthwhile endeavor to help them stay.