By Abdullah Habibzai, Assistant Professor of Kabul University, Former Mayor of Kabul, Fulbright Scholar, Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MSCE), and Certified Project Management Professional (PMP). Connect with him on Linkedin at @Abdullah J. Habibzai
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
Numerous studies have found that even when the best professionals are grouped together, productivity still depends on their being motivated and engaged. This article reviews employee engagement, signs of disengagement, methods of assessing employee engagement, and ways to keep employees engaged. It explains how a six-step model to create strongly engaged teams, manager-employee relationships, strong workplace cultures, and employee growth opportunities can result in increased employee engagement.
Based on HBR (Harvard Business Review), when it comes to engagement, employees are categorized as:
- Engaged employees: Employees that are satisfied, committed, and motivated at the workplace.
- Disengaged employees: Employees, that are either unhappy, unmotivated, or both.
- Pseudo-engaged employees: Employees that are often satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and happy to recommend the organization to another person. But when observed more closely, are often found to be disengaged.
Employees can be satisfied without delivering on the expected job. On the other hand, engaged employees are happier, more productive, and more satisfied team players. The intended aim is to create strong, positive engagement.
Increased employee engagement leads to improved productivity, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction and retention, and greater profits.
Engaged teams feel emotionally connected to their job and organization. The study suggests that engaged employees are nearly twice as likely to stay with the organization than disengaged employees. Their increased commitment results in higher personal gains, productivity, and job satisfaction.
Studies show that about 70% of US employees feel disengaged in the workplace. Globally, the lack of engagement is approximated to cost the world economy hundreds of billion dollars annually. Improving workplace engagement therefore represents a huge opportunity for the global economy.
“Increased employee engagement leads to improved productivity, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction and retention, and greater profits.”
Six Reasons Behind Employee Disengagement:
There could be many reasons for employee disengagement. Here are the seven most common reasons:
- A negative relationship with management:
Employees work within hierarchical structures. Negative line manager behavior can lead to disengagement with even the most self-motivated and committed employees.
- Recruiting ill-fitting team members:
No matter how many resources organizations pour into programs aimed at improving workplace engagement, HR (Human Resources) and recruitment still remain key to ensuring a good fit for both employee and organization.
- Problematic leadership assumptions:
Managers or leaders are often very engaged – and can assume employees are engaged too. That assumption can be a big mistake. Consulting employees regularly for occupation satisfaction levels can be an effective way of identifying and addressing dissatisfaction and disengagement.
- One size fits all:
Many organizations create one set of employee engagement programs and apply them to all employees, regardless of their specific needs and challenges faced. Understanding different stakeholder groups’ specific requirements are crucial, in order to offer more tailored company programs and incentive packages.
- Lack of teamwork:
Encouraging teams to work as a cohesive whole can help to build a community at work, creating a sense of belonging.
Corrupt employees will not usually be attached and committed to their work and organization.
Seven Warning Signs of Employees’ Disengagement
The impacts of employee disengagement can be psychological, behavioral, and financial.
Psychologically, disengaged employees and teams can feel isolated and without purpose. This results in unproductive behavior and often translates into a financial burden to organizations.
We compiled seven frequent indicators of employee and team disengagement:
1. Increasing operational costs
2. Poor employee retention
3. Rising absenteeism and/or employees arriving late and leaving early
4. Increase in the level of employee grievances
5. Increase in the number of internal conflicts
6. Decreased rate in workplace opportunities eg. promotion
7. Loss in employee overall confidence in management
The best approach to manage workplace disengagement is to avoid creating the conditions for it in the first place. Managers should watch for the warning signs, bearing in mind Benjamin Franklin’s famous maxim: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Three Proven Strategies to Engage Employees
There are many factors that can improve employee engagement. Creating the conditions for positively engaged employees requires consistent effort from senior management and leadership. If carefully planned, low-cost strategies can be implemented with far-reaching consequences. A simple three-component framework for improving employee engagement is presented here. It categorizes all the major countermeasures that support employee engagement.
- Equitable, robust employee-manager relationships
- Positive work culture
- Employee growth opportunities
Each of these countermeasures is expanded in the following section.
1. Equitable, robust employee-manager relationships
Employee engagement begins and ends with their relationship with the organization’s leader.
Leadership styles directly impact organizational engagement. A central cause of employee disengagement is negative and/or dysfunctional relationships with management. In well-performing organizations, most relationships are strong.
Positive relationships with management stimulate sustained motivation, strong employee loyalty, and commitment to an organization. Forging a great relationship is complex.
A quick review of each component is given here:
- Building trust:
Trust is built by matching words with deeds and leading with integrity. Trust provides stakeholders with an important level of support and confidence in management, policies, and procedures, thereby de-risking the process of workplace innovation and advancement.
- Leveraging the power of positivity:
Employees are often motivated by management leading with a positive, glass-half-full attitude.
- Fostering equitable work environments:
Equitability – or fairness – is another major factor in building resilient, mutually trusting relationships. Conversely, perceptions of inequity and unfairness can quickly undermine employee or team performance by triggering feelings such as resentment and/or marginalization.
- Allowing autonomy:
When employees and teams feel that they have greater levels of freedom to express themselves more authentically, this often fosters an environment that can – amongst other benefits – lead to a more relaxed, loyal, and productive workplace.
- Strengthening the teamwork:
A study in Harvard Business Review has found that three conditions, including a compelling direction, a strong structure, and a supportive context, are critical to teamwork success.
Successful teams today need to follow the 4 D’s: diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic. Team managers need to define and apply clear performance indicators for team performance, both at the individual and team level.
2. Positive work culture
The second foundation of engagement is positive work culture. Three areas are recommended here to build and strengthen a great work culture.
- Modeling desired behavior:
Leaders live in glass houses. That means their behavior is observed and interpreted by employees more than they may expect. Striving to walk the talk is key to setting a high standard. Consistently displaying desirable values and ideals they would like to foster in their organization is invaluable to leading by example.
- Being transparent:
Whilst more sensitive information needs to be kept confidential, sharing information encourages employees to feel valued and part of the team. Employees feel more connected and comfortable with the organization’s decisions when the rationale behind the decisions is shared openly.
- Rewarding great performance:
Appreciating top performance is vital to enhancing engaged workflows. Make this part of the culture of the organization. There are many ways to reward great performance. These can include the appropriate use of monetary rewards to the innovative use of non-monetary rewards, they need to be carefully planned to deliver the intended motivation.
“When employees feel that they are really invested in their career, not just their current position, they feel more personally attached to the organization and their job.”
3. Providing employee growth opportunities
Offering appropriately-timed growth opportunities based on a culture of meritocracy is an excellent way to boost employee engagement, critical to improving organizational capacity, and a sure way to retaining a competitive advantage. Employees appreciate the advancement opportunities made available to them. This is a reason that high-performing employees often stay with supportive organizations, even though they may have other options on the market.
When employees feel that they are really invested in their career, not just their current position, they feel more personally attached to the organization and their job. They are more likely to feel positive and stay for a long time with the company.
Growth opportunities may include short-term training, certification and degree programs, coaching, and mentoring.
Several aspects of motivation were covered, from improved employee-manager relationships, praising and rewarding high-performing team players, to launching exciting, new motivation programs.
Keeping employees motivated and engaged needs to be a continuous process.
Two factors, in particular, need addressing at the early stages of an employee’s career at the organization. The first is the recruitment process: it is vital to ensure the selected employee has a good fit with the position and can improve team chemistry. Second, personality traits should be seriously considered during the interview.
Signs of self-motivation and passion are vital. The more a team possesses those traits, the easier it is to keep them motivated.
This article is presented based on literature reviews from credible sources such as Harvard Business Review (HBR) and the author’s observations of employees at the workplace.