According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report from 2017, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. From these, 18% are actively disengaged, and 67% are not engaged in their workplace. Obviously, this is the largest group of your workforce. They may not be bad performers, but they are indifferent to your organization. They give you the eight hours a day, but not their best effort. They won’t go above and beyond.
These people are actively searching for a new job or are at least passively willing to talk to a recruiter when being approached. However, simple math tells you that even if they leave their current employer, they will join a company that will be pretty much the same in the way it does business and treats its employees. Sooner or later they will be again in the same negative frame of mind.
As Jacob Morgan wrote in The Employee Experience Advantage, employee experience as the intersection of employee expectations, needs, and wants and the organizational design of those expectations, needs, and wants.
If you are in a lower or middle managerial position, you may not have a significant impact on company mission or the global processes that might be in place. However, complaining about these doesn’t help. What you have total control over is how you communicate towards your team. The good news is, that the way you behave, the way you talk, the topics you select, and the language you use play a huge role in employee satisfaction and engagement. They might be doing the same job for the same company, but you can dramatically shift their view of the world and their perspective of the work they are doing.
Focus on experiences rather than things
Professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich, Dr. Amit Kumar, and Dr. Matthew Killingsworth focus on the study of human happiness. According to their research, satisfaction with life of those who spend their money on physical possession goes down over time. While those who spend their hard-earned cash on experiences have their satisfaction with life increasing.
In many cases, spending money on experiences also improves your self-image and increases your social status. No one likes people who are bragging about their new big house, but everyone will be interested in the skydiving experience you just had.
The same applies to you talking to your team. Do you emphasize the things in their lives, money, and material benefits? Or do you turn their focus on experiences they are getting at the company, the activities they perform that help others? Moving the attention of your employees to experiences increases your chance to help them be engaged. It gives them a bigger chance to be satisfied with their work and their lives.
When talking about employee experience Jacob Morgan uses these words, “it is about designing an organization where people want to show up by focusing on the cultural, technological, and physical environments.” The important words are in the middle of the sentence. You want to build an organizational culture where people “want to show up.” The moment people wake up in the morning and dread coming to the office you have failed.
Morgan also proposes that the employee engagement can be measured by asking one simple question. It is not only about, “looking forward to being in the office.” That one is too inward focused and doesn’t answer the “why.” A better question to ask when measuring employee engagement is, “Do you show up to work every day with the intention of helping others succeed?”
This, of course, needs to be reflected in the hiring practices. If you hire employees who have no intention of helping others and moving the company forward, you have a problem. You may hire the smartest people around, but if all they care about is themselves, they are of limited use to you.
Reason for Being
Where do you start? You need to start with defining and clearly communicating the “reason for being.” The mission of the company or the team, and why what you do is important to others.
No organization can tell people what their purpose in life is. They need to figure that out on their own. They need to realize what their values are, what they care about, who they want to become and what sort of impact they want to have.
What organizations can do, is to show them the company purpose and how they fit in, by making a clear connection of the mission of the company and the contribution of each individual. This way you are enabling employees to see a direct impact of the work they are doing on the lives of others.
A sense of purpose, or a reason for being, is the most critical element required for a satisfying job. Most people need to feel that what they do matters. And not just at the higher cosmic level, they need to have an emotional connection. They need to see how what they do helps a specific individual.
Having a mission statement like “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” which I borrowed from Google, is nice but how exactly it applies to someone who is one of tens of thousands of people working for Google? They need to see more specifically how what they do helps someone else.
If you work in finance, for example, it is more meaningful to see that you just finalized payroll so everyone in our company, including Jack sitting next to you, got their paycheck in a timely manner so they can take their kids for dinner. The company may still be organizing the world’s information, and you may still be inspired by that goal, but deep down you need to know that you are contributing to that goal by helping Jack to get his paycheck. It just has a different emotional charge. It is Jack you are talking about, not some anonymous mass of people who may or may not benefit from your work.
Moments that matter
A great way to help cement these connections is what Jacob Morgan describes as specific moments that matter, ongoing moments that matter, and created moments that matter.
Specific moments that matter are moments in the life of an individual employee that have clear significance. Such as the day you get the job offer, the first day on the job, getting a promotion, buying a new car or a house, or getting married. These are moments that most employees experience at some point in their lives.
Ongoing moments that matter are moments that can’t be easily defined and are not planned. These are the ad-hoc situations that help build stronger relationships and attachment to the company. It may be that your manager shows up at your desk and thanks you for a task you just finished, or colleagues surprise you with a small gift they brought you from vacations as a thank you that you had to fill their spot for a week. These little things can have a considerable impact on the way employees experience the culture and the day to day work.
Created moments that matter are things like company parties, various get-togethers, hackathons, birthday celebrations, product release celebrations. These are planned moments that the management creates because everyone feels they are important to the employees and to the culture.
The reason Morgan talks about the moments that matter is that they are sort of milestones and great opportunities to make them memorable and create a tighter relationship between you and the employees.
Moments like these are great opportunities to reinforce the company’s reason for being and the value the employee brings. Since these moments often have some emotional charge for the employee, they are great opportunities for the manager to connect also on the emotional level.
I find this especially important in the way new employees are hired and onboarded to the organization. If they are wowed by the hiring process and have an extraordinarily positive and pleasantly surprising first day and a week they are likely to form a strong bond with the company and the manager. Just compare it with a situation when you join a company and have no place to sit, no equipment to work on, and your manager doesn’t find a time to talk to you the whole first week.
Next time you run an engagement survey and you are dismayed by the results, turn your attention to the reason for being and moments that matter. Are you doing enough to help your employees understand the mission of the organization and more importantly how they fit in? Are you doing enough to connect on a more personal, emotional level and help them know that the work they are doing is meaningful? Are you doing enough to show the employees that their work matters and that it matters to you?
What are your thoughts? How do you build an employee centric culture where everyone is engaged, and feels useful and taken care of?
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