Employee engagement is a popular topic. The money and attention companies give to engagement may be a superficial band aid that ends up backfiring if they aren’t spending their efforts on employees’ engagement with the work. Keep in mind, 85% of employees are disengaged according to a Gallup Poll.1
What are leaders trying to accomplish with a focus on employee engagement? In brutal truth, at the core, business leaders want to improve productivity, so that their businesses are successful. Yes, most aspire to have a workplace their employees like coming to but ultimately, they’re in business to make money, solve problems or serve people. They shouldn’t be shamed into acting otherwise.
Are you killing productivity?
Many leaders are trying to balance “engagement” with getting the job done. You can have employees who like each other, celebrate successes and are given rewards but what happens when they get back to their desks? Do they eagerly engage in their work? Many disengage as soon as they sit down. Why? Because their WORK is not engaging them.
Many company’s cultures have been set up to control when and how a job gets done. Flex time permits employees some leeway on when to arrive and leave but it’s still controlled. American businesses are headed in the right direction but how motivating is it to be controlled, held within specific parameters? What happens to creativity?
What can leaders do to improve engagement?
Get a picture in your mind. Think about the most highly motivating time in your career or business. What was it about that time that made you want to get up every morning and accomplish your goals? Who was telling you what to do and how to do it? How were you rewarded?
I experienced my most engaging times when I worked at companies that were growing and I’ve experienced that same in my own business. Why? Because no one had predetermined rules in how to accomplish what needed to be done. I was eager to learn, prove to myself that I could do whatever I set my mind to. I was able to use my creativity. My work was acknowledged by others and I was rewarded intrinsically by feeling good about my accomplishments. None of my engagement had anything to do with receiving monetary rewards or parties in the hallways.
Let’s acknowledge that systems and rules need to be in place for very routine tasks, like expense reports and assembly line work. However, allowing employees the autonomy to complete their work in a way that allows them to tap into their creativity and self-motivation can be more engaging.
Autonomy is motivating
Daniel Pink talks about the four essentials of autonomy in his book Drive published 10 years ago and still holding true today.2 Time, task, technique and team are ways in which autonomy can exist. Not all people are motivated by each one equally. The goal is to find out which motivators work best for each employee.
Time—getting results instead of focusing on the time it takes to get work done. Many companies are now looking at getting results by allowing employees more freedom in when they have to produce results. Obviously, some jobs are based on time-determined outputs and don’t allow employees freedom from time constraints.
Questions to ask yourself: What jobs do we have that we can remove time obligations? What could the benefits be if we tapped into our employees’ creativity in getting results?
Task—selecting certain aspects of what we do. For example, employees see many opportunities for improvement in your business all the time. Allowing them the independence to work on these opportunities for a portion of their time can be rewarding because there is no roadmap. They can use their creativity and solve problems on their own.
Questions to ask yourself: How often do my employees see ways to make improvements or come up with new ideas that are getting left behind because we’re controlling the work they do? What would happen if we experimented with allowing some employees to work on projects they create?
Technique—allowing employees to figure out how they will get their work done. There are some organizations that permit customer service employees to work from home, for example. They choose how they want to set up their home office and how they will accomplish their goals. Technically, there is no reason they need to be in a physical call center, all together following rote scripts. That’s a controlled environment that stifles their creativity.
Questions to ask yourself: Are we losing by not allowing employees to come up with how to accomplish their tasks? Can we gain efficiencies and produce more or better products?
Team—choosing who you work with on certain projects. Self-directed improvement projects are a good example in which a person can choose who he/she wants to work with. Allowing a team to come together by choice can produce great results.
Questions to ask yourself: Who can I ask in my business to select a project and team to test out this theory? Am I willing to give up control to see if there is a better, more motivating way to get work done?
What can you do today?
If you truly want to engage your employees, start looking at ways in which you can reduce control and compliance and increase autonomy and creativity. There are many published examples of autonomous workplaces and theories. Do some reading on motivation and use your business to do some experimenting. Keep what works and refine what doesn’t. Be ahead of the curve. Your high performers will appreciate it. And your bottom line may see a bump up.
1 Building a High-Development Culture Through Your Employee Engagement Strategy, Gallup, Inc. Washington, DC, 2019.
2 Daniel H. Pink, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Riverhead Books, New York, 2009.
Paradise Workplace Solutions, LLC works with business owners to improve productivity and profitable growth by aligning people strategies to the company’s business plan.