Engagement is an interesting state. It occurs at a psychological point where the employee chooses to give their extra effort. But a lot of small decisions will have preceded that choice, as the employee has come to the conclusion that it will be worth their giving extra effort and that their decision will be the right one.
They will have decided they can and will:
- achieve a good result,
- be allowed the freedom to contribute effectively
- trust their manager and company to recognise their efforts,
- get help when they need it
- be treated fairly if things go wrong
- trust the colleagues they work alongside
But what happens if they then discover that their trust or belief was misguided? What happens if they learn that the ‘promises’ of the engaging environment that they bought into either did not exist, or no longer exist?
I have recently observed a situation where this has occurred. The client has created for his employees a picture of an enlightened organisation where high performance teamwork is valued and all individuals included and involved with equality across roles. In this, he has allowed team members to believe that autonomy and self management are expected and rewarded, and mature, open communication channels exist.
Imagine the impact of his apparently sudden change in approach, where individuals find themselves working not to these high quality ideals, but to less positive work practices. Team members’ efforts now meet with the resistance of scrutiny, differing objectives and increased cycles of communication, causing frustration, conflict and negativity. Moreover, they are beginning to question their earlier judgement in choosing to give their extra effort. Each team member is responding differently, but all in their own way are pulling away from the situation, ‘taking their marbles home’.
In a situation like this, the employee can be confused and unhappy and feel justified in stepping back enough to reduce the level of difficulty in the role until the situation resolves itself, or remove themselves altogether.
In the current commercial environment, many organisations continue to face challenging times. In engagement surveys in the UK, almost 50% of staff report that they will look for alternative employment as soon as the environment begins to improve. They are saying they are sufficiently disenchanted with their organisation to move themselves away from the situation and choose a different team to give their contribution to. They are expressing enough frustration with the organisation that they would prefer to work somewhere else.
Not only will that be costly for their organisation in conducting the replacement process, it is also unnecessary. At any one time, up to 20% of people will be looking to move to new employment, for a variety of positive personal reasons such as career advancement or personal relationships. The other 30% would probably be willing to stay if conditions were right for them. Managing the environment in a way that attracts and engages them will save considerable resources in the medium term.
As a manager or business leader, how can you be sure you are doing enough to create and maintain an environment employees want to buy into?
Here’s a quick self check of the priority issues:
- Are you being consistent in the expectations you set for all people in the team?
- Are you ensuring an equal, two-way communication to achieve clarity and agreement on objectives and approach?
- Are all team members included equally, despite your personal views?
- Are you publicly recognising the efforts employees are making in achieving their work?
- Are you supporting individual team members in the approach they are taking to their work?
- If they are not meeting your expectation, are you discussing a clear and workable performance improvement route with them?
- Are you enabling people to achieve their objectives with autonomy wherever possible?
- Have you set and agreed clear written performance standards the whole team can understand and achieve?
It is not enough to espouse engagement principles. It is critical that your day-to-day behaviour demonstrates your understanding of those principles and absolute commitment to ‘living’ them within your own work practices and those of the people you manage.