ELI Blog

Engagement Starts With Them

|October 9, 2014|3 Comments

recent Gallup survey foundisengagedd that 70% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces. These findings are troubling because high levels of engagement translate into better productivity, creativity, retention, and reputation, the not-so-secret-sauces of excellence and competitive advantage. The report includes suggestions on how organizations and leaders can turn these scores around, a top-of-mind mission for many human resource and other business leaders.  Overlooked in this and other analyses is what employees themselves must do to contribute to the engagement of their team members, which ultimately leads to their own engagement. Organizations failing to recognize this are missing a key piece of the engagement puzzle.

We often analogize our workplaces to battlefields — we talk about winningbeating the competitionmarketing blitzes, and campaigns. And while going to work is not literally going to war, its demands can be challenging and brutal.  What happens on the military’s front lines — surely the most challenging of workplaces — should be considered by any organization striving to build engagement and peak performance.

Several years ago James McPherson, a noted Civil War historian, wrote Why They Foughta study detailing what motivated rank and file Union and Confederate soldiers to battle selflessly, courageously, and devotedly through years of bloody fighting to further their missions.  In part, he concluded that soldiers’ mutual attachment to their buddies often motivated them as much as and sometimes more than the reasons their sides went to war. Unit cohesion is a term often used for this finding.

After reading these surveys, I thought about jobs I have had during my career. The work, the benefits, the hours, and the pay were important. But when I remembered my best work experiences, my co-workers came to mind.  My favorite jobs included: selling women’s’ shoes and accessories, guiding tours through an upstate New York brewery, investigating or litigating cases at the EEOC, and representing employers in investigations and litigation as a management attorney. In each instance, the bonds I had with my co-workers — the shared challenges, pressures and responsibilities, our inside jokes, the personal problems we advised each other on, the periodic frustrations we dealt with caused by this leader or that, and how we worked through them together — made my jobs memorable. These bonds played a big part in determining why I, and most of my coworkers, liked our job and felt attached to our workplaces and committed to what we did. We weren’t at war in any of these jobs, of course, but in our own way we worked as cohesive units.

Whether it’s the military, government service, or any sort of collective work activity, if we want to increase engagement, we need to consider actions that help team members bond and work effectively with their co-workers, apart from the relationships they have directly with their supervisors.

Relying on posters, slick videos, and emails to build these employee ties is not the answer.  What’s required is a process where work ties are built among colleagues who trust one another. Leaders can have a critical role – how they act will set the tone for others and make a large measure of work purposeful, if not enjoyable. But building engagement is not solely a leadership responsibility. In fact, even when leadership is less than ideal, strongly engaged teams can still achieve high levels of excellence, build their own cultural performance standards, and remain committed to their enterprise’s mission and values.

Employees should be given responsibilities to build communities and team effectiveness. They need to know that as part of their job, employees’ core professional responsibilities are to:

  • Treat one another respectfully and inclusively in all routine and daily interactions. These phrases need to be defined specifically, and each individual should recognize his/her behavioral responsibilities are linked to obtaining personal and organizational objectives.
  • Develop skills to talk about divisive issues, work through their differences, apologize or accept explanations for misunderstandings, and then move on.
  • Know who the organization’s internal resources are for getting help, and go to them when problems can’t be resolved amongst themselves.

All of the above should be seen for what they are – parts of a commitment to improve organizational effectiveness that thrives when employees are engaged with their jobs — and with one another.


3 Comments
  • Bob Gately says:

    Hello Stephen,

    Too much effort is spent trying to get employees to be engaged.

    Employee engagement is what employers get in return for doing all things well.

    Doing all things well is very hard work for most of us.

    Empowering a workforce is easy to do; have all executives, managers, and supervisors do their jobs well all of the time. The hard part is getting the executives to do their jobs well, the next hardest part is getting managers to do their jobs well, followed by supervisors doing their jobs well. Employees will be doing their jobs well if everyone above them is doing their jobs well. Look out, employee engagement is about to take hold. Some employers want to skip the executives, managers and supervisor parts and go right to the employees, but that is not how employees get engaged.

    Employers have tried all sorts of things to create successful employees who don’t need to be managed. Teaching/preaching leadership has been replaced by employee engagement. That won’t work either until managers learn how to hire and manage employees who will become engaged if managed well, treated fairly, and paid accordingly.

    If we want engaged employees, then we must not hire managers who will prevent employee engagement.

  • Julie Parker says:

    I couldn’t have put it better! I agree that employee engagement follows when leaders actively involee employees in each process. Some of my best results have always come from talking to staff, explaining what’s next and why, and allowing them to have some ownership of what is next! Yes there are times when as a manager you listen but still have to go with the plan you first decided on, but with good communication back to the workforce they begin to understand the bigger picture of why we are moving in a certain direction. However often they come up with great ideas that can be incorporated into the overall plan, to enhance the process even more feeling part of the overall scheme – thus producing a happier workforce who are commited to the same goal as company!

  • Thomas Lavenir says:

    I particularly appreciated your reference to the Gallup survey and some of their findings. This notion of engagement is especially important as it is becoming such a buzzword.

    What I question the most about ‘engagement’ is whether individuals even know and/or want to engage at an age where technology makes it so convenient to remain in our own comfort zone?

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