Do You Struggle with a Lack of Employee Engagement?

Recently, I was driving down the interstate in a blizzard. I could barely see even a few feet ahead. Little did I know I was on the bumper of a revelation. I slowed down, but not soon enough. The snow cleared for a second, and I discovered myself face-to-face with the tailgate of a semi-truck. I swerved to safety, but something caught my eye.

Glaring back at me was a large bumper sticker: “Truckers don’t deserve to be treated like ....” I strained to see the final word. There was none—only a picture of a slab of beef.

Employee engagement is key to business successAs the adrenaline from this close encounter dissipated, the blatant statement of indignation teased my mind. I wondered if it was a trucking campaign for better treatment or the feelings of one disgruntled trucker. It’s not uncommon to hear complaints from employees when I consult at companies. The most frequent gripe is not feeling valued by employers, so although this bumper sticker was strident, I understood that the feelings were universal in many ways.

The bumper sticker was an outcry. And the trucking industry is not alone with unsatisfied employees.

A white paper and a 10-year study of 200,000 managers and employees reveal that 79 percent of employees cite the reason for leaving their jobs was a lack of appreciation.

Why Is Feeling Undervalued or Unappreciated Such a Problem?

Every human being has core needs, and being valued is a vital one. We shouldn’t expect employees to check their needs at the door. There is no other place where being valued is more essential than in the workplace.

Just having a job and a paycheck is no longer satisfying. Employees are looking to be valued. They are looking for shared core values, the opportunity to provide creative input, and achieving a purpose greater than themselves, such as social change. This trend is especially true for Generation X and Millennials, not to mention the youngest generation to hit the work scene — Generation Z (born 1997 or later). They are the first to grow up on a daily diet of social media and technology. Having four generations in the workplace (five, if you still count the 1% of the Silent Generation) is a big challenge for employers with a desire to build a thriving culture with cohesive teams.

The prevailing symptom for companies when employees don’t feel valued is a lack of employee engagement. They come to work. They do the minimum of work, watch the clock, and head out the door as quick as they can. This conduct is not engagement; it may be employment, but not engagement, accountability, or an ownership mindset. And it’s unfulfilling for many.

“According to Gallup Daily tracking, only 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged—meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. Worldwide, only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged.”  Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis – Gallop 2016

In a more recent Gallup survey, the engagement has risen slightly to 34%, which is optimistic and is the highest since the tracking began in 2000. However, engaging employees is turning out to be more troublesome than employers bargained for. They’ve tried many tactics unsuccessfully and for leaders lacking emotional intelligence, it can be an unwieldy goal. 

The Costs of Low Employee Engagement

Even though employers have made some sincere efforts to increase engagement, they still struggle to find skilled workers, and when they do, they often cannot retain them.

What are the costs when employees are only half present? A few of the most destructive for a company are:

  • Low or poor performance
  • Lost revenue (some believe in the billions worldwide)
  • Unhappy workplaces, employees, and underserved customers
  • Strained management and work relationships
  • Inefficiency that causes higher costs
  • Under-utilized talent
  • Unnecessary conflict

The Cycle of Poor Engagement Is Hard to Break

In my experience, there are two reasons above others why there isn’t more sustainable and successful organizational change in companies. First, employers, managers, and leaders send out surveys to gather information but follow up with too little action. They don’t take effective or timely steps that lead to better engagement. Surveys become another source of discouragement, causing staff to believe that nothing ever changes. Employees even stop wanting to give feedback due to this sense of powerlessness. “What’s the use?” is a typical attitude.

Secondly, for those employees who do give honest feedback, it can come back to bite them. Management reacts poorly or even retaliates. Negative reactions to employee feedback discourage honesty in the future.

Uncoordinated efforts and sparse planning for greater engagement fuel the lack of commitment and passivity in employees. Without a well-thought-out strategy backed by consistent and targeted actions that reinforce a company’s values and vision, the reactive measures are a Band-Aid when a tourniquet is needed.

However, many factors contribute to this engagement crisis and make finding a lasting solution extremely difficult. These factors include:

  • High expectations of a work experience
  • Generational differences
  • Lack of emotional intelligence in both leaders and employees
  • Deficiency in people skills
  • Overtaxed and stressed management
  • A desire for more significant opportunity and contribution
  • Absentee leaders who do not know how to lead or inspire
  • Overwhelmed leaders who don't have time to lead
  • Insufficient avenues for growth and learning for both leaders and staff

Team of architects engaged over a projectSuccess Begins with Leadership

Is performance driving your decisions, or are you investing in the relationships, teambuilding, and the quality of your company culture?

Don’t get me wrong. Performance is vital for the profitability of a company. However, performance is a by-product of motivated employees. In every company, employees are the lifeblood. They fuel the work and are the lifeline to customers. Employees keep things running smoothly—or not. Employees that feel valued are much more likely to perform at high levels, take fewer sick days, have greater loyalty, support your mission and goals, and defend your company when someone bad-mouths it.

Not a bad trade-off for employees feeling valued, is it?

Creating a healthy company culture is indeed trending, as is awareness of the desperate need for emotionally intelligent leaders. Yet, building a thriving culture of engagement is a significant endeavor (or renovation) and demands an enormous amount of time, energy, dedication, and hard-emotional lifting. And this undertaking is on top of the daily responsibilities of running a company and serving customers. To add to the challenge, as soon as a change initiative begins, some amount of chaos will ensue. The unknown is often challenging. Walking through the maze of emotions and obstacles can be unnerving for leaders.

To create and sustain a culture of engaged employees who love coming to work requires authentic, committed leaders who cultivate an environment with a learning mindset.

A manager contemplating how to create better employe engagementCreating engagement requires leaders to do the hard work before they expect employees to follow suit; otherwise, there is no trust in the process. Organizational transformation requires leading by example, not treating the symptoms (a lack of performance). Transformation requires leaning into the discomfort of real growth and knowing that a company can only rise to the level of their leadership vision and courage.

The epicenter of these problems lies in leadership. As does the solution.

Simon Sinek, in his talk on limitless mindset, says it so beautifully:

“Trust begins with how the leader leads. The best leaders are the best followers; they believe they’re in service to something bigger. We call you leader because you took the risk to trust first. We call you leader because you took the risk to build the relationship first. We call you leader because you took the risk to create the circle of safety first. We call you leader because you went headfirst toward the vision first! Into the unknown.”

So how do employers and leaders ensure that employees know they and their work are valued?

5 Vital Elements for Building a Thriving Culture

Below are some actions you can take to ensure you’re moving in the right direction. And remember, fewer actions done consistently are far more potent than too many changes made with the best intentions but soon fall to the wayside.

1  Lead by example.
Whatever you expect of your employees, do yourself. If you expect them to stay late, work through challenges, and meet tight timelines, don’t check out at 5 p.m. sharp every day.

If you want them excited about their work, give them something to be passionate about. Provide a vision of the direction of the company. Then identify how each employee is critical for the fulfillment of that vision. If you want employees to act responsibly and to be responsive instead of reactive, model it!

Make decisions rooted in company values. Disseminate company values thoroughly. Then, highlight when an employee or team superbly exemplifies those values.

In a word, INSPIRE. By actions.

2  Make teambuilding and teamwork a priority.
Form teams to lead initiatives with clear guidelines that allow for creativity and agility. Build collaboration instead of competition. The best work comes from collaboration! Reward and highlight team efforts and achievements much more heavily than individual performance. Give your employees a place where they feel they belong to something greater than themselves. Invest in community events and social causes as a team, not just with donations but with active participation that makes an impact and difference in communities. (And let the employees choose the charities!)

3  Provide opportunities for challenge, initiative, and growth.
Employees want this big chunk of their lives they spend at work to be meaningful, challenging, and a place where they can create their best work, their best selves. Provide an opportunity for purposeful contributions to help employees feel valued. Give them responsibility (once earned) and ways to feel that their hard work counts. And encourage learning and ongoing education.

4  Share information. Make growth and success visible. Be transparent.
If you want employees engaged, you can’t keep them in the dark. Enlist their help and creativity to solve problems. Celebrate milestones and goals met and exceeded. Utilize the strengths of employees. Give them challenges that push them to be better, which sends the message that you trust them to step up and shine.

5  Give sincere and helpful feedback that supports growth and value.
Vibrant company culture means that it is alive, changing, and agile. Wherever there isn’t feedback, there is stagnation. Feedback is how we self-correct; feedback is how we grow. No employee can feel valued, know where they are excelling, or know how to do better without feedback. But instead of a once a year review, make the feedback loop a vital, living part of your culture. Practice open communication daily until it becomes so natural to everyone that it's just as easy as printing a document or sending an email.

Related reading: "How to Give Effective Feedback for the Best Results"

Sound like a lot of work? Yup, it is, but also fun and fulfilling.

To have engaged employees, leaders need to engage.

And it’s worth the effort and focus. By putting in the work, your organization can experience:

  • High loyalty and retention; lower retraining costs
  • People who love to come to work
  • A company that becomes a magnet for high-quality employees
  • Increased profits due to capitalizing on talent, creativity, and unity
  • Maximized personal contributions for the good of the whole
  • Enthused, engaged, happy, and passionate employees
  • Company success as a natural process

Taking the First Step: Get a Mentor

Ask yourself: Are your employees feeling valued? Or are they feeling like the piece of meat on a trucker’s bumper sticker? If you don’t like the answers, it’s time to start the adventure of creating a thriving culture.

I know it can seem overwhelming. You might feel lost in a maze at times; that’s why a skilled mentor is important. There are a lot of new emotions that arise, difficult conversations to have, and many times, it can feel like you’re only treading water.

I’ve accompanied many leaders on this journey. It is incredible to watch them discover the leader within and master the process of fostering engagement. After all, creating cultural change and engaging employees is not just a destination. It is an exciting adventure where every part of the whole is engaged and doing its part for the best of the whole!

To be a part of that kind of sustainable culture and exhilarating workplace every day is far more rewarding and invigorating than the fattest paycheck or bonus. Now, each person belongs to something great.

Only when the human needs are satisfied, do we excel and step into our finest hour. It’s then that we find out what we’re truly made of!

Heartmanity loves supporting and guiding leaders and companies through this transformation process. Building strong, thriving relationships and cultures is what we do. Learn more about our tailored programs and training.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity for BusinessJennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity for Business
As an Executive Coach and Relationship Strategist, Jennifer’s specialties are empowering leaders, team building, and teaching emotional intelligence. Her emphasis is on utilizing brain science to short-cut change and create personal and organizational transformation. For over two decades, Jennifer has worked with entrepreneurs and businesses to remove the obstacles to authentic communication, collaboration, and teamwork. Jennifer also acts as a Human Resources independent consultant in larger companies and trains Customer Service teams in the art of empathy and handling difficult conversations. Her passionate mission is to create thriving relationships at work and home.

Posted in Business and Leadership