Julius Caesar once said ‘Experience is the teacher of all things’; this adage remains true even in today’s context. We learn from our experiences and base our future decisions on them. Since around one-third or 30 percent of our life is spent working, it is critical that our workplace experiences are mostly positive and constructive. Negative workplace experiences can lead to employee disengagement which can prove to be extremely costly. A recent study by the Gallup Organization posits that the world has an employee engagement crisis, with serious and potentially long lasting repercussions for the global economy-- disengaged workers showed 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. On the other hand, engaged employees have higher levels of commitment to the organization’s vision, strategies and goals, higher productivity, profitability and customer ratings and lower levels of intentions to leave. These elements together lay the foundation of engagement- the willingness, commitment and enthusiasm to contribute to an organization’s success by going above and beyond.
There are several factors present in the work environment that can contribute to employees’ overall experience and engagement - a comfortable work environment, a challenging and meaningful job, great salary and perks, and job safety are a few such factors. However, over the years, the role of leadership has emerged as a critical determinant of employees’ experience at the workplace. Let’s look at some of the ways a leader can enhance employees’ overall experience at the workplace.
Collaborative leadership: In this era of disruption, leaders are required to break away from their ‘control and command’ mould of leadership to adopt a more collaborative and transformational style. This style or approach is not merely about ‘team-work’ rather it is more to do with having a transparent and two-way exchange of ideas and thoughts between leaders and employees. Here leaders work as partners and encourage open communication with other employees; it instils a sense of ownership and shared purpose among the employees and they feel more empowered and engaged to work towards the common goal. These leaders are result and action oriented, but at the same time, they also remain sensitive to the needs of their people and continue to look for initiatives that add value to their people’s future. They are high on passion, energy, and empathy, they don’t hesitate to personally check about their team members’ immediate goals, aspirations, and any personal challenge and provide full support to them.
Meaningful recognition: To get the most from the employees, leaders need to create a positive and competitive work environment for the entire team. Recognizing and rewarding people is one of the best and most effective ways to engage and enhance employees’ experience. However, the recognition should be meaningful, detailed and timely. By giving details, employees can understand what they’re doing well, and do more of it. Also, detailed recognition shows that leaders have paid attention to employees’ work and not just throwing around empty phrases. When people feel appreciated, valued and fairly rewarded, they want to rise to the occasion even more.
Staying vision focused: Leaders who embody an organization’s vision and values can influence others to a great extent. Leaders remain clear about ‘where the organization is going and how is it going to get there. Leaders encourage and inspire others to follow the organization’s vision by setting out clear cut goals. They believe in a collaborative goal-setting process which enables employees to align their goals with that of business. By realizing a leaders’ commitment towards organizations’ vision and goal setting, employees feel more obligated and enthused to perform better for the larger benefit of the organization.
Enabling positive culture: A good leader values employees’ happiness and will do their best to keep them happy and engaged. Employees’ experience will be greatly enhanced if their working environment is fun, positive and favourable. Apart from making infrastructural changes (comfortable furniture, availability of food and water, adequate lighting and ventilation et.al), leaders should also ensure that amiable working relationships exist within the system where everyone respects, values and supports each other. Here leaders can lead by example, if such practices are demonstrated and strengthened at top levels, chances of these being emulated at lower levels will be high.
As a leader, it is critical to keep employees’ morale up, even when things are not going well. Employees look up to their leaders for guidance, especially during tough times – they want to receive assurance that things will be ok. Leaders’ optimism, courage, and engagement will positively impact employee engagement levels, even in the face of crises. Leaders set the tone and culture of the entire organization and have an immense capacity to directly impact the engagement levels of their employees. According to a Gallup’s 2015 study of 2.5 million manager-led teams, employees who are supervised by highly engaged leadership teams are 39 percent more likely to be engaged themselves.