Imagine you are out for a ride on a 10-seat bicycle with nine of your closest friends. It might sound like a fun adventure, but what happens when everyone stops working toward a common goal? Suppose the three people in front are pedaling like there is no tomorrow, the five people in the middle are coasting, and the two people at the back are riding the brakes.
Sounds dysfunctional, right? This scenario represents the current state of the American workplace, a landscape where Gallup notes that 70 percent of employees are disengaged. These disgruntled and disinterested employees are frustrated by the disconnect between what management thinks they want and what workers truly value.
Ask most CEOs what drives their employees, and they will likely tout money, vacation time, and personal days. But ask employees about their dream job perks, and they will describe a desire for happiness, transparency, health, security, peace of mind, hope, and prosperity. Clearly, we have a workplace disconnect.
Companies are forcing employees to climb aboard a 10-seat bicycle without explaining the reasoning behind the ride. Managers fail to listen to employee needs and wants, neglect to show workers the benefits of certain tasks, and do not give team members a chance to refuel or switch positions.
At the end of the day, our progress on this imaginary 10-seat bicycle will likely be rather modest compared to our expectations. A stronger play to get everyone in your company moving in the same direction is to spark engagement as a team.
Employee Engagement Is Your Ticket to Success
Let me be clear: Employee disengagement is a workforce disease. As with all diseases, it has a few obvious symptoms. If you notice widespread miscommunication and exclusion spreading through your organization, you likely have disengagement problems.
Miscommunication equates to missed opportunities. A survey of 400 companies in the U.S. and the U.K. estimates that employee misunderstandings equated to $37 billion in losses. Disengaged employees do not communicate well with one another, and their miscommunication can eventually bleed into the public eye. Once customers get a whiff of turmoil in your company, you have serious trouble.
Exclusion plays into miscommunication, as workers disengage and silo themselves from the heart of the business. They begin to form cliques, dampening the morale of the organization and sapping excitement and passion from their co-workers. Exclusion in the workplace has a corrosive effect. A study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that exclusion is actually worse for employee wellness and productivity than bullying.
Clearly, CEOs and executives need to do more than toss 10 employees on a bike and expect them to pedal along without a problem. Helping employees feel welcomed, satisfied, and heard is not rocket science, but it does involve evaluating your organizational structure and focus.
- Encourage Competitive Collaboration
Competition plus collaboration creates an environment that is ripe for employee happiness. This combination meets individual needs for consistent challenges while globally inspiring broader synergy through the spirit of teamwork.
Start by tearing down silos and eliminating any “us against the world” mentality. Gen Xers tend to cling to an autonomous attitude, but Millennials tend to be more collaborative. Considering that Millennials will be the biggest players in the workforce by 2020, it makes sense to take their needs into account. Instead of promoting an ecosystem of cliques, open your eyes to a workplace where division is dated and cubicles are obsolete.
Remember that training is necessary for competitive collaboration. One of our midsize consulting clients allowed us to tear down cubicles and experiment with a competition-laden model for one of its departments. Guess what? The majority of people we trained ended up staying with the company, and the team tripled its traditional production.
- Practice Servant Leadership
True leaders always put the needs of their followers first. You are giving lip service to leadership by not serving your employees, thereby doing your company a tremendous disservice.
Start by listening to employee opinions. And I mean actually After you have gathered input, try to act based on those opinions. You will show you value input, likely flooring employees who are accustomed to assuming that their thoughts do not matter.
As you begin to change perceptions, watch the way team members interact with one another. Team members will begin to emulate your leadership style, which will likely increase your retention rates and change your culture for the better.
- Deliver Individual Attention
People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. But showing sincerity involves more than listening to your employees. Seriously consider the needs of your team, and work to address them on a personal level.
A community that runs through a proverbial brick wall for its leader is not built on platitudes or part-time passion. It is forged on a foundation of one-to-one touchpoints, which ensures employees feel understood. You will have fewer opportunities to directly interact with your entry-level employees the larger your company grows, but it is still possible to tap into technology to reach your workers directly.
Employees view email as cold and informal, which has pushed companies toward internal social media platforms for communications. Platforms such as Slack, Facebook, and Yammer serve as hubs for employees to come together to celebrate everything from quarterly goals to birthdays. When a member of a leadership team sends a private message to an employee through these platforms, it is like dopamine for the employee. The recipient feels appreciated, and that energy ripples throughout the rest of the organization.
It is never easy to get a large group to move in the same direction — let alone get 10 people to pedal in unison — but you can start the process by serving your employees and fostering an environment of competitive collaboration. The same Gallup study I referred to earlier estimates that disengaged employees cost U.S. companies as much as $605 billion annually due to lost productivity. Your company, your customers, and your employees deserve better.