The other day I was coaching a supervisor whose team members weren’t as engaged as she wanted them to be. We talked about the reasons for that and brainstormed possible solutions. After coming up with five or six possibilities, she highlighted two that seemed doable for her, and decided to try them. I’m looking forward to hearing the results.
And so, they don’t want to approach the subject or measure engagement because they think it’ll be a final judgment against their own management performance—What will upper management think if they discover that my employees aren’t highly engaged?
But this idea is wrong.
When my client identified solutions that seemed “doable for her,” she was being appropriate with her realm of responsibility. She would try what she could but would not overreach. Yes, there are certain engagement factors that managers can influence, but there are some they cannot. Employee engagement is the responsibility of the organization, managers, and employees.
If you read the engagement literature, you’ll find certain common factors that drive engagement. For example, it’s important for employees to know what’s expected of them, understand the difference they’re making, use their strengths, feel known, and be recognized for their contributions. You would think then, it would be easy to drive high engagement—just figure out the factors and deliver them to the people.
But not so fast.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to engagement. Sure, the literature states what generally works in an organization, but every employee is different. To one, having deep friendships at work is important; to another, feeling strongly connected to the mission is important; and to another employee, having a clear picture of how she’s making a customer’s life better is important—but not for everyone. Different factors drive engagement for different people.
Some people treat the topic of engagement with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It’s alright to ask anonymously on a survey how engaged employees are, but please don’t bring it up in person. For many, discussing engagement is as taboo as discussing religion or politics in the workplace.
But why? Are employees afraid they’ll get fired if they’re found out? Are managers setting too high expectations when it comes to engagement? Is the organization thinking of engagement as a fixed number that can’t be improved?
But here’s the thing.
Rather than a magical fixed number, engagement is a competency like emotional intelligence, leading meetings, dealing with conflict, and having business savvy. Just as these competencies are critical in the workplace, so is feeling connected and dedicated at work. Why the mystery around engagement?
Organizations need to welcome transparency when an employee admits she is not as engaged as she wants to be. It is then that the manager and employee can explore what personally drives her to be engaged at work, and improve that competency, just like they would if the lacking skill was conflict management. It is far better to improve engagement than lose a talented employee because no one talks about it.