Disengagement in the workplace has become an American epidemic. It may appear that your team members are bustling away, completing work, and going home in good spirits. But if you take a closer look, two-thirds of U.S. employees are actively disengaged. They’re not motivated to create great work. Instead, they’re spending their days just treading water.
The threat of disengagement has always been there, lurking in American workplaces since the industrial age. But recently, our economic landscape has shifted, and we are approaching a severe nationwide labor shortage.
In addition, generations entering the workplace have fundamentally different expectations for what a job should look like. These younger employees are no longer content to do as they’re told for the sake of it. They reject bosses, tasks, or conditions they don’t like. Consequently, the demand for talent is just as high as it’s ever been, but the talent pool is more in control and increasingly determined in its search for the perfect vocation.
Where Companies Go Wrong in the Pursuit of Engagement
As a leader of a consulting firm specializing in reengaging teams, I’ve seen firsthand how a disengaged workforce can derail a company.
For one, team drama and misunderstandings increase. This can lead to mistakes in front of customers, health and safety errors, and failed projects — not to mention diminished morale and well-being. Loyalty is also subpar. People continue to leave or get fired, so budgets go out the window, and profitability gradually decreases.
Leaders are now in a vulnerable position, and those looking to guide their companies forward must focus on employee engagement first and foremost if they want to create a competitive advantage.
However, companies have mistakenly tried to solve disengagement by throwing incentives at the problem. Free snacks in the office, fancy gadgets, and game rooms are just a few examples. While making employees feel special is a good step in the right direction, simply showering them with work perks is more likely to create a culture of entitlement than true long-term engagement.
These fun frills are extrinsic motivations. What employees need to feel engaged are intrinsic motivations — a will to succeed driven by personal accountability, passion, and care for your company.
3 Ways to Foster Valuable Workplace Engagement
How on earth do you harness those intrinsic motivations and start seeing positive change in your company? Here are three strategies you can employ to discover what truly motivates your employees:
1) Get curious about how employees feel. Leaders spend too much time solving problems that don’t exist. They’re too busy in the whirlwind of their day to actually talk to their workforce members and discover how they feel.
If you’re going to turn disengagement around, the key is to be inquisitive about the humans who work for and with you. Curiosity is a trait closely tied to leadership success. The ability to ask questions and spend time listening to the answers will serve leaders well as the working world becomes more chaotic and competitive.
To do this, leaders should focus on asking questions as opposed to defaulting to commanding or declaring communication. Interestingly, high-performance leaders typically have about a 1:1 ratio of asking questions versus telling employees what to do when compared to lower-performing leaders.
Fostering curiosity is all about a leader’s mindset. Ask yourself a few questions every week: What am I completely wrong about? What am I missing? What don’t I know? Although it might be uncomfortable, it’s crucial to be self-aware about your own blind spots.
When you meet one-on-one with your employees, ask them what they enjoyed about the project they just completed and why. What was their biggest challenge? What made it so challenging? Be curious. Learn what motivates your employees and where they tend to get stuck.
If you don’t understand your employees’ motivations, you’ll run the risk of destroying or trampling on what your employees find meaningful. Instead, these tactics will enable you to break down the walls that have built up in your workplace and start having honest conversations.
2) Feed understanding with data. Having transparent conversations with your employees doesn’t mean you can’t use available analytical tools. Data can help you strategize and keep track of engagement and disengagement.
Invite your employees to take regular assessments that make them feel important and heard. Explore the factors that motivate each employee, including his or her struggles and strengths. In doing so, you can build a picture of your organization’s engagement that can be easily measured and boosted.
For example, TTI’s Talent Insights Assessment measures workplace behaviors and motivators. This online assessment takes only 20 minutes to complete and generates an easy-to-understand report. In turn, it uncovers an individual’s behaviors, communication style, and driving forces that motivate and create his or her fulfillment. As a leader, you can then map this understanding back to collaboration, innovation, and performance to increase overall engagement.
In addition, there’s the Quality of Motivation Questionnaire. This assessment takes a deeper dive into an individual’s quality of motivation by measuring motivational styles, as well as emotional intelligence and what might be holding that individual back from reaching his or her true potential. It provides a road map to further develop team members’ talents, and it only takes 40 minutes to generate an in-depth development report. These tools should bring engagement more under your control.
3) Drive accountability through feedback. Consistent feedback is the most critical step to increase the emotional intelligence of your workplace. It builds the kind of healthy working relationships required to truly engage employees.
Make your feedback clear and timely. Don’t fudge your words because you’re scared of upsetting people — tell them exactly what you thought of the work and why (while staying upbeat and respectful) so they can grasp it. Additionally, don’t wait months to deliver these evaluations, or your employees might forget all about the task in question.
Now, if you want your feedback to sink in, frame it positively. People are far less likely to listen to negative criticism if it’s all they hear, but if you’re in the habit of giving thoughtful praise often, you’ll gain employees’ respect and accountability. In fact, the brain likes to receive feedback in a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative, so structure your delivery to your advantage.
Companies across the country are struggling in a war to keep top talent interested. As a result, being an effective leader has become significantly more difficult. In a Millennial world driven by passion rather than duty and cause rather than paycheck, leaders must learn how to understand their employees if they’re going to carve out a competitive advantage in their industry. Follow above tips to tap into the unique motivational factors of each of your unique employees, and remember to lead with understanding.
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