What’s in a word? Engagement for instance. In the business world, an engaged workforce is a productive workforce. Employee engagement though seems an elusive goal.
Look at the word engagement in a different light. Used in the sense we are engaged to be married, it means you are signalling a commitment to each other, to work together for mutual benefit. For any marriage to work, there has to be give and take, compromise and awareness.
There’s talk of an employee engagement crisis across the globe. Some argue this is over exaggerated. One camp says up to two-thirds of the workforce is disengaged. Another argues it’s about one quarter.
Regardless there’s a lot of people unhappy at work.
And how are organisations dealing with this? Not well by most engagement metrics. Billions have been spent. Complex programs with a lot of time-consuming reporting have little to show.
Plotted out on a graph it looks like a Brontosaurus. There is a simple premise that lots of people are unhappy at work - then there’s a big fat bit in the middle that’s bulging with experts and data and metrics and tactics that quantify and challenge - then at the other end there’s a simple conclusion; they’re still unhappy at work.
Sometimes we need to look at problems a different way. I learnt this from Bob Berstein who invented the Happy Meal for McDonald's. In his penthouse office of his own building in Kansas City, Missouri, he told me of how Shell Oil had a big oil reserve in Central America that they couldn’t access in steep mountain terrain. The engineers were stuck. Bob’s a creative thinker, get him to take a look some other forward thinker suggested.
Bob Bernstein said he spent about ten minutes listening to the problem and about ten seconds coming up with his solution.
They did and they got the oil and Bob got kudos and moola.
What if we drilled sideways into the employee engagement stalemate. What if we took engagement to mean an agreement: between employer and employee to enter into a commitment to make these things work for the mutual benefit of both. With that comes an expectation: that compromise and understanding and effort are implicit in this agreement. Marriages that live up to these ideals survive with a lot of effort by both sides.
Those that don’t end up with one party walking around in a huff and the other party wondering what did I do? Likely it has descended to a point where no one is talking at all. Sounds like a lot of the corporate marriages I know.
Any solution to the employee engagement will not come from the top down.
Employees must lead the way out.
Employers have to move away from artificially manufacturing ‘purpose' - like supporting orphanages in developing countries; it is just an aspirin to a real headache.
Employers must authentically support employees to reconnect with their courage, to accept that their future is their responsibility. Employers do this by leading with values. As Lee Cockerell, former Senior Operating Executive for Disney said, “Values are subject to gravity. They start with leaders at the top and trickle down through an organisation.”
When employer and employee treat engagement as a commitment to each other, the employer and employee walk out of this mess together.
I work with leaders to help them get these messages across.
I show employees that being unhappy at work is not a life sentence. If they get their career mojo back they feel energised and want to be productive again.
I show them that’s it’s really up to them whether work feels like a prison or a university. I lead them to the courage they need to take back control of their ambitions, I show them how to reframe how they see their work life to give them a much needed new perspective - it’s right here that people start to see they have been self-sabotaging career opportunities - and then I give them a proven map to follow to get them from where they feel stuck now to the work they feel they were destined to do.
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