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Updated 26 Feb 2020

Keep employees engaged

How do you ensure your best employees don’t leave you in search of greener pastures?

Joe Robinson, Entrepreneur, 23 September 2013  Share  0 comments  Print

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We see it every day at the office: The ‘I’m-in-pain-because-I’m-working-so-hard’ face. It may look convincing, but it’s not a metric for effectiveness.

It’s an illusion that the harder and faster we work, the better our solutions will be. The mindset is that more is better. These employees are not thinking that effectiveness is more productive than quantity.

It’s a focus that can lead to a major dysfunction: Disengaged, burnt-out employees, simply going through the motions.

Diane Fassel, author of The Addictive Organization and Working Ourselves to Death discovered that an addiction to busyness drives a contagious loop in which company leaders model bravado behaviour that actually undermines productivity and engagement.

To break out of this counterproductive reflex, leaders must gather information about how people work — and how they feel about their work.

Valued working style

Engaged employees are more energised, dedicated and committed to their tasks and to the company than folks operating by rote. The oomph they provide, or ‘discretionary effort’, has been shown to increase performance and profits.

Employee engagement is a major concern among large companies and human resource professionals. But in the entrepreneurial realm, there’s little thought paid to working style; instead, it’s a flat-out, unconscious frenzy, a reaction to what’s incoming all day long.

Engagement is the X-factor entrepreneurs would be wise to harness. The key is in making people feel valued and trusted.

“Feeling valued means that the work culture supports employee growth and development, removes obstacles to getting the job done and allows employees to use all of their gifts in the service of the organisation,” Fassel says. “If they don’t feel valued, they typically burn out quickly. But if they feel valued, they tend to work hard and cope well.”

Driving motivation

Recognising value requires effort from leaders to find out what people really think, by taking time to dialogue solutions and showing a willingness to communicate beyond mouse clicks. That means offering positive feedback, looking employees in the eye and affirming that they’re doing a good job.

Recognising a good idea or dedication to a project fuels engagement, particularly when it goes to a person’s sense of competence, rather than just results. (“I like how you handled that.”)

A sense of competence is a core psychological need that drives intrinsic motivation and a continuous interest in the work at hand.

A personal touch can go a long way to building an engaged team. Fassel points to hand-scribbled thank you notes from supervisors: “It’s not just, ‘What a great job you did’, but ‘When I saw you solve this problem, I realised what a wonderful asset you are to the team, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.’ These people keep these notes for years. If that’s all it takes, we’re really missing the boat.”

The Secret Recipe

The Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study measured 32 000 people in 29 global markets, focusing on engagement brought about in the following areas:

  • Leadership. Leaders show sincere interest in employees’ well-being and earn their trust and confidence.
  • Stress, balance and workload. Stress levels are manageable, there’s a healthy work-life balance and enough employees to do the job.
  • Goals and objectives. Employees understand how their jobs contribute to achieving company goals.
  • Supervisors. Managers assign appropriate tasks, coach employees and behave consistently.
  • Image. The company is held in high regard by the public and displays integrity in business practices.

The study found that companies with the highest engagement levels had an operating margin of 27%, while those with the lowest were at less than 10%. At disengaged companies, 40% of employees were likely to leave in the next two years; at the most at engaged firms, the number was 18%.

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About the author

Joe Robinson, Entrepreneur

Joe Robinson is author of Don't Miss Your Life, on the hidden skills of activating life after work, and a work-life balance trainer and executive coach.

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