Are You Killing Employee Engagement?

Here are some statistics that should get your attention if you are a leader:

  • Actively disengaged employees are 9 times more likely to leave an organization than actively engaged employees – Corporate Leadership Council
  • Highly engaged workers are 26% more productive than disengaged workers – Towers Watson
  • Highly engaged employees take 20% fewer sick days than disengaged employees – Towers Watson

Paul L. Marciano provides these great statistics in his book: Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT.

This is really exciting.  You might be thinking “My team is engaged.”  Are they?  Many well-intentioned leaders are killing the engagement of the people on their teams.  Here is how they are making people miserable – and some tips to avoid these common traps.

1. Make decisions that seem arbitrary

Decisions that seem random, unfair or based on favoritism will kill the engagement on your team. Explain your rational to those impacted by your decision.  Be consistent!  People may not like what you decide but most will respect your decision if they understand it.

2. Take away control

Find a way to help your employees succeed without taking away their independence.  Whenever possible, give people control of how they accomplish their work.  Autonomy is one of the most significant drivers of engagement.  Sometimes it is tempting to clamp down in on high visibility projects or in times of uncertainty. Get involved but don’t micromanage if you want great engagement.

 3. Let stress make you “snarky”

We all have bad days.  But it is critical that you treat people with respect.  Nothing kills trust in the workplace, or any relationship, like the feeling that you don’t know if you will meet “nice Sue” or “angry Sue”.  Don’t address the people on your team when you are angry.  Cool down, take a walk, wait to send the email.  You won’t regret it and you will have higher employee engagement.

4. Assign stretch tasks without adequate support

Don’t set people up to fail.  If you know you are about to assign someone a task or project that they can’t complete with success, define how they will be supported from the beginning.  Don’t wait to see the person struggle before you jump in.  And if you just suspect there could be an issue, monitor closely.  Be ready with additional help.

 5. Pay people significantly different amounts for similar work

Do what you can to make sure people are paid fairly – to market and to each other – if you want a high level of engagement of your team.  It turns out that pay doesn’t have to be at the top of the range to keep your team excited to come to the office every day.  But if they think it is unfair, you are going to have engagement issues.

6. Adopt the engagement “flavor of the month”

Do what’s good for your people, not what’s trendy.  In April, I heard Marcus Buckingham speak at the AZHREF (Arizona HR Executive Forum).  He described a manager who used, among other things, a whistle to energize his team.  His successful techniques were described to other managers, who got whistles. The whistles fell completely flat in many of the other locations.  This happens all time.  As a leader, you must get to know your people and then find the ways to connect with them as individuals.

7. Focus on the day-to-day at the exclusion of the big picture

If you want your people to be engaged, you have to connect them to the big picture.  Help them see why they are there.  We all have a lot on our plates every day and it is easy to lose sight of this.  Make the time, sometimes, to talk about your vision for your group.  Make sure they know where you are taking them next month, not just the 10 things they need to do today.

8. Exclude people from the change process in an effort to move quickly

Take the time to involve people who will be impacted by the change in the change process.  Change is hard.  It is even harder if it is being done “to you” instead of “with you”.  It is tempting to make decisions, to even make changes, with a core group that can help you move quickly.  The resistance you see to your decisions will slow things down considerably during implementation.  And you will see your people on job sites at lunch time.

9. Overlook recognition because “you don’t need it”

We all have different needs around recognition.  You may not need a weekly “thank-you” from your manager.  You may not feel a gap when recognition is slow to arrive but the people who work for you may feel differently.  Take the time to make people feel appreciated.  This doesn’t have to be a gift card or cash bonus.  Personalized, genuine recognition makes a huge difference to the level of engagement on your team.

10. Create a competitive environment

Complex organizations require collaboration – every day.  Sometimes managers believe that people work harder when they are competing against each other to “win” and they purposefully create a competitive environment.  Other times, it seems to happen by accident.  Successful people work together to get things done.  Focus your competitive energy on winning in the marketplace and create an environment of collaboration and trust on your team.

Keep an eye on the level of engagement in your organization.  The people you manage will appreciate your for it.  Even better, they will stick around, be more productive and help your whole company reach even greater levels of success.

What do you think?  Participate in this quick poll.

©2012 Melissa Lanier – All Rights Reserved

Photo Credit: iStock Photo

15 responses to “Are You Killing Employee Engagement?

    • Your book does a great job of helping people get a clear grasp of engagnement. I love your description of an engaged employee and how that connects to the RESPECT module.

  1. Especially during the Q4 rush to drive revenue when long term game plans often get exchanged for seemingly short term or ‘arbitrary’ decisions. On-going, committed engagement provides the fuel to drive results year-round. Voluntary turnover doesn’t show up in “the numbers” until it’s too late. Disengagement starts way before the numbers turn south.

  2. Have seen all of these – often they come together. Leaders who have no sense of what it takes to create engagement or build a great culture tend to display these behaviors across the spectrum. Sure some leaders may just have a blind spot that needs to be addressed but if they care they will learn and change. Those who don’t care or just don’t see the importance will not only display these behaviors but often will not see why they matter. Great list. For those who do care about engagement it is a great checklist for self assessment.

  3. Reblogged this on elumn8 and commented:
    Having observed these behaviors on more than one occasion and seen the damage they can do I thought this was a great post for those who want to build a strong culture and engaged workforce. Use this as a checklist for a self assessment. Ask others on your team if they see these behaviors in you and act on what you learn.

  4. Pingback: Are You Killing Employee Engagement? | Improving Employee Engagement | Scoop.it·

  5. Pingback: Reblog: Are you killing employee engagement | Completely Free Sales Advice·

  6. Spot on. I’ve seen all of these behaviors have a very negative impact on businesses, from reduced productivity, to loss of valuable employees. As a Manager, I’m mindful of this every day, and am constantly developing new ways to improve engagement. For me, it’s the foundation of a team’s success.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. I agree. The focus on engagement leads to so many of the things managers need – great culture, teamwork, process improvement. I am sure your focus on keeping your people engaged pays dividends.

      • It surely does. It never ceases to amaze me, watching my teams be so productive. I often see them going above and beyond, and enjoy doing it, for which I’m very grateful. Another key to engagement for me, is for people to trust that their Manager has their best interests at heart. That really goes a long way.

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