Gallup polls recently found that worldwide employee engagement is startlingly low, with just 15% of workers indicating they are engaged with their work. The news is slightly better in the United States, where more than 30% of workers report feeling engaged.
With nearly 70% of employees not engaged with their work, what does it really take to make an impact on engagement in organizations? We asked four experts on organizational leadership about how leaders can drive engagement and make a real impact at work.
1. Take an Interest in People
Dudley Slater, co-author (with Steve Taylor) Fusion Leadership: Unleashing the Movement of Monday Morning Enthusiasts believes leadership is the key to engaging today's workers. "Leadership is a key element of culture," says Slater. "You can have the most noble purpose but without leadership you don't have anything."
Lack of leadership is a leading cause of today's high disengagement numbers, according to Slater. He says, "Leaders who don't think about how they are influencing others often undertake patterns of behavior that drive people away from purpose. And that creates disengagement."
What kind of leadership does drive engagement? Increasingly, it's leadership that takes an interest in the personal development of employees. Gallup recently found that 59% of Millennials, 44% of GenXers and 41% of Baby Boomers are seeking opportunities to grow and develop at work. Leaders that understand this can influence their employees and inspire them to bring their best selves to achieving the organization's purpose, upholding its values and living its habits.
Says Slater, "Leadership is the 4th pillar - it's how you connect people to the organization and inspire the behaviors you want to see."
2. Make Connections to Purpose
"People may not always realize it, but their future is happening now," says David Cunningham, M. Ed., a communication and leadership expert who has led seminars and courses to more than 100,000 people as a Senior Program Leader for Landmark. "The future you envision is what empowers you in the present."
According to Cunningham, employees who see a future for themselves with an organization where they can make a difference and express their talents are more empowered in their day to day activities. Says Cunningham, "When people are connected to a purpose, they are more satisfied and productive."
That sense of connection comes from aligning organizational and individual purpose. "You want people toexperience their contribution and fulfillment inside the enterprise," says Cunningham. "Everyone should be working toward the same things, from the CEO to the employees."
Connection also comes from understanding what motivates people. "Transformation happens when we empower people to see how they fit into the whole and the difference they make. People's behavior shifts when they see themselves as being on a journey toward something greater."
3. Give Space to Fail
One of the most crippling challenges in any organization is fear of failure. It can lead to resistance to change and limits an organization's ability to generate and act on ideas, innovate and adapt. This fear can corrupt an entire culture, leading to higher levels of disengagement.
Marti Wolf, Chief Culture Officer at MailChimp says, "Make sure that from the very beginning, people understand that their input and ideas are valuable, that they are worth more to the organization than their most recent success. Being valued is what makes people feel more energized and inspired."
According to Wolf, creating space to fail allows organizations and individuals to learn from their failures, which can ultimately be empowering. "Failure is a necessary part of growth. As an organization you need to provide space for that," says Wolf. "We need to support people when they are most vulnerable. Provide the space to be humble and present. It needs to be okay to be vulnerable, to be imperfect."
4. Don't Forget to Have Fun
In many organizations, people are encouraged to "work hard, play later," as if the two were mutually exclusive. But a recent study by the University of Warwick indicates this is the wrong approach. According to the study, workers who were happy and had fun at work were actually 12% more productive than those who were not.
Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tilr, an algorithmic hiring solution, says fun is important due to its critical role in generating engagement. Miklusak says, "Having fun is at the core of a company's success. If you look at employee engagement, we are asking people to consistently be engaged and give those extra ounces of energy that they might have otherwise given elsewhere in their lives. This takes energy. Having fun - enjoying the work and the people they do it with - helps to create energy and influences people to give more of themselves."
One reason fun is so important is the idea of employee choice. Employees are not choosing to stay with employers as long as they did in the past. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey indicated that median tenure was down in 2016 to 4.2 years, compared to 4.6 years in 2014. Among younger workers the decline was even more stark: tenure among workers between the ages of 25 and 34 sank to 2.8 years.
Says Miklusak, "In today's culture, companies are not just selecting employees. The tribe members are also choosing the company. Fun plays a role in that choice."
If you really want to make an impact and transform your organization, begin by taking an interest in what truly influences and motivates your people. Build stronger connections by aligning individual and organizational purpose. Most importantly, remember that people and organizations are more than the sum of past successes and failures, and that fun is a critical part of creating a more engaged organization.