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What Every Manager Needs to Know About Employee Engagement

What's your biggest challenge at work?

Biggest Challenge at Work Commentary are Tim’s thoughts on real-life challenges submitted by readers like you. Want to send us your challenge? Take the Biggest Challenge at Work Survey

“Employee engagement”
Manager

If you think employee engagement is a first-world problem, you might be surprised. According to my Biggest Challenge at Work survey, managers in India and Mexico are just as stumped about it as are managers in California. Which confirms my hypothesis: employee engagement is a human problem.

It doesn’t matter if you are in a rich country or a poor country. There are human people everywhere. Not only geographically speaking, but also in every layer of management, every department, and every line of work.

Here’s a handful of managers who downloaded 22 Surefire Ways to Boost Employee Engagement. Can you spot one thing they all have in common?

Job Title Biggest Challenge at Work
Manager Corporate Communications “Employee engagement”
Manager Human Resources “Employee engagement”
Marketing Manager “Employee engagement”
Nurse manager “Employee engagement”
Office Manager “Employee engagement”
Product Manager “Employee engagement”
President “Employee engagement”
Restaurant General Manager “Employee engagement”
Change Manager “Employee engagement”

It’s easy to see the pattern if you are reading comments on a website dedicated to employee engagement. It gets harder when you’re facing a problem at work. Is this problem truly unsolvable? Or do managers and employees lack the motivation to get to the bottom of it? Disengagement is not just cubicle boredom or an HR concept. It’s an occupational hazard of every single job.

As with health hazards, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But how do we prevent disengagement? It will become apparent once we understand what makes it a universal problem. And why it’s so widespread.

When you think about it, employee engagement is an oxymoron. Employees are people hired to do someone else’s work. To serve someone else’s purpose. To take care of someone else’s customers. To further someone else’s career and to achieve someone else’s goals.

Engagement, on the other hand, implies ownership, taking charge, and lending your spirit to the work you are doing. The two are naturally at odds. And it’s only a matter of time before your employee discovers it, and you get a taste of his or her disengagement. Your good employee quits. Your average employee turns in subpar work. And your bad employee lets you down at the worst possible moment.

Unless…

Well, unless you do something about it.

I once heard a hair salon owner complain loudly about an employee she sent to expensive training, only to find out that he had set up his own shop behind her back. She went out on a limb to promote this guy. Yet she completely failed to recognize his true ambition.

I felt for her. At the same time, I made a mental note to always keep on top of my key people’s career dreams. Not only to know them, but to let them know in word and deed that I fully support them. Sure, people can hide their intentions. It was my job, then, to let them know I was on their side—so they wouldn’t have to hide them from me.

So, what can you do about employee engagement? The first thing to do is to realize that they don’t owe it to you. Employees are paid for their time. But all the magic that makes their time worthwhile happens on a whole different plane of existence.

Your employees owe you no loyalty, enthusiasm, or even respect. You must earn these from scratch. It’s called relationship building. You must never take them for granted. It’s called acknowledgement. And you must constantly check for their presence. It’s called communication.

Managers love to use the word drive. Drive this. Drive that. There’s even a best-selling book for managers called Drive. But how do you drive people? All the books basically say the same thing. Each person comes with his own set of inner drivers. Some are obvious and some are hidden. To engage, you must connect with the inner drivers—yours or anyone else’s. And, as much as I’d love to say that I’ve mastered the game, not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new about it.

Today, I read a great article. It’s called The One-Sentence Persuasion Course: 27 Words to Make the World Do Your Bidding. In the article, Blair Warren gives 5 reasons why some people are able to turn strangers into die-hard followers. He talks about marketers, politicians, and cult leaders. But I can tell you these reasons just as easily apply to managers and employers. In fact, I am going to write my next post about Blair Warren’s 5 keys to persuasion and what they mean for employee engagement.

In the meantime, you can check out his article here.

Then, come back to my blog and we’ll have chat about it in my next post.

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If you are a manager, then you might like my book, because you hate it when you can’t count on people to do the job right.

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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