Employee engagement is an interesting topic. But engagement is not something organizations “do” to people. When organizations acquire talent, engagement levels of new employees are already high and the need to "do" anything to get them engaged is absent. They're enthused about being there and are dreaming of ways to make a difference in their new role. Therefore, having an engaged workforce is more about avoiding disengagement than it is about boosting existing engagement. But the more pertinent question to ask is “Why do people become disengaged?”
For the most part, people become disengaged and disillusioned as a result of a leader’s demeanor and comportment – a leader’s words and actions. When a leader doesn't respect someone's efforts and ideas, it demonstrates that a leader doesn't value them; it reflects (either intentionally or unintentionally) that an individual and his efforts are unappreciated. Further, it also leads to demoralization and signals to efforts being taken for granted. Another factor that deters engagement is when leaders micromanage, which reflects that a person's efforts, judgment, or intelligence are not respected. This lack of autonomy results in hampered creativity which further leads to disengagement.
Leadership traits that have the greatest positive effect on people and their level of engagement are treating people with respect and by showing appreciation.
A crucial aspect to consider when it comes to driving employee engagement is trust, and it is paramount for every leader to demonstrate this competency. If a leader contradicts his own communicated thoughts by his actions, it demonstrates a lack of integrity. In a workplace setting, this raises questions on the reliability of a leader — if a leader claims certain behaviors and values are important to them but then acts in a manner that is at odds with those values and behaviors, it demonstrates a lack of ethics and probity. And this is one of the core reasons for people to become disillusioned and disengaged. Likewise, when leaders don’t ask for opinions and/or ideas from their team members, it shows they are not valued.
Although there are many important competencies a leader must have to be highly effective, three leadership competencies that have the greatest positive effect on people and their levels of engagement are — when leaders treat people like "people" and not just ‘resources’; when they give people autonomy; and when they show sincere appreciation.
People are not ëresourcesí. People are not "resources" to be managed, used, and discarded. Effective leaders understand that everyone, regardless of title or position, has hopes and dreams, fears and stress, and successes and failures. Effective leaders are empathetic to others and believe that most people want to do a good job. When a leader treats someone like a person rather than a "thing", engagement rises and performance improves.
Give people autonomy. Micromanaging employees erodes respect. A leader needs to trust his or her team to follow through and act responsibly. Treating adults like adults (and as professionals) means communicating clearly and then holding them accountable for results. An effective leader grants autonomy after establishing clear expectations. People appreciate being trusted, become more engaged, and will generally exceed expectations when given the opportunity.
Show sincere appreciation. Recognition is typically offered as a reward and acknowledgement for accomplishments. Appreciation, on the other hand, is generally shown in response to the effort someone makes, rather than for an accomplishment. Sincere appreciation is spontaneous and not a part of a recognition "program". Leaders need to appreciate efforts as it communicates respect and value. The impact of showing appreciation is immediate and long-lasting, and it also leads to enhanced engagement and loyalty.
Demonstrating respect, trust, and integrity ensures sustained and enhanced engagement. So while having ping-pong tables may be the cool thing to have, they do little to further the success of a business. Instead, invest in helping leaders excel at bringing out the best in people.
Michael Beck is an executive coach, business strategist, and author of the book, "Eliciting Excellence". He specializes in successor development, executive development, and leadership effectiveness. You can learn more about Michael at www.linkedin.com/in/mjbeck or www.michaeljbeck.com