According to a recent Gallup Poll, more than 70 percent of Americans are disengaged at work. That’s seven out of every 10 employees – the majority of our workforce!
What’s especially challenging is that many of these individuals are adequate contributors. They get the job done. They receive average performance reviews. But, they are largely going through the motions without the passion, commitment or creativity of their more engaged peers. Just think of the untapped potential you could unleash if you were able to help these competent performers truly engage with you, their peers and their professional responsibilities.
But how do you do this? What does employee engagement look like to you?
When we ask this question to business leaders, answers often include, “working extra hours or through lunch without being asked, answering e-mails on weekends and holidays, being responsive to client concerns 24/7, and taking on extra assignments.”
The problem is, that’s not engagement. That’s compliance. Compliance is doing what’s required. What’s expected. And no more.
Most employees quickly discern what behaviors are rewarded – and thus valued – by their leaders. For example, if you measure commitment by the number of hours worked, then they’ll find a way to physically put in that time – without investing their heart and soul in their efforts. And without internalizing and “living” the vision and mission of their organization. So, while they may deliver results – they won’t deliver the best results. And, over time, that’s what separates amazing companies from their “average” peers.
How can you change this paradigm?
Start by shifting your approach to the idea of engagement. Instead of thinking about what engagement looks like, think about what it feels like. Ask yourself how it feels to work at your organization…and on your team. From the second you step through the door to those off-hour e-mails, how do people connect and collaborate?
Why is it so important how we feel at work? Numerous scientific studies have shown that the human brain is significantly influenced by social interactions. And, since the workplace is where most adults spend the greatest portion of their day, it stands to reason that most of our social interactions – positive and negative – occur with our colleagues.
Brain research has shown that people who feel excluded, under-appreciated, “backstabbed” or unrecognized experience a neural impulse that mirrors their reaction to actual physical pain. It’s true. A bad day at the office can actually impact your physiological well-being.
While most of us learn to ignore these feelings and keep the proverbial “stiff upper lip,” we also live with the consequences. We become more reluctant to put ourselves out there in an honest and vulnerable way. We don’t take risks. We don’t innovate. We become disengaged.
Fortunately, you can reverse this trend, and it starts with an inner journey. Leaders need to become self aware of how their brains, bodies and personalities affect how they lead and follow others. Remember, you are leading by example. A cynical, command/control manager can’t expect to lead an engaged team. However, a leader who consciously puts the feelings and welfare of their people before their own will naturally enable higher quality relationships, collective intelligence and co-creative energy.