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Employee Engagement: Time to Turn it Upside Down

June 16, 2015

Pizza parties, birthday celebrations, employee of the month, flex time, telecommuting and many more programs are pushed in today’s workplace.  And where has it all gotten us…nowhere.  More than $720 million is spent on engagement and we still have low engagement levels (Bersin 2012). According to the Center for American Progress, $64 billion is lost annually to workplace discrimination; a sign that employee engagement is low and inclusion is absent.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cake, casual days in the summer, and a gift card just as much as others do.  But all of these things are programmatic.  Programs don’t produce significant results and even when they do the results are not sustainable. 

Companies must do a 180 turn when it comes to engagement. Engagement is about relationships, emotions and connections. Here are five ingredients needed to create more engagement:

  1. People want to feel included“I belong.” Those are some great words. People want to feel like they have a place and a space. They want to feel valued and respected. They want to be heard. And they want to feel a sense of connection -- Share experiences, a common direction and goals.
  2. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  Products that raise money for charity while making a profit, business models that help the communit or a new idea or technology that is set to change an industry. People love that sense of being a part of something transformative.  I worked with a manufacturing company and they did not understand how they could tell a story about themselves to their employees.  As it turns out, many of their parts are a part of Americana. Their parts are used in buildings like the Empire State Building. What a story: American manufacturing helping to build America. 
  3. People want to know they are better off for being there.  People have a 30-50 year window where they need to make money and fund their retirement. They will stay and give a company their all if they are getting something out of it. Stay sharp is the new motto.  Employees need to know that you will continually invest in them and their learning. Employees need to be challenged and tested, otherwise they will leave and go somewhere else to grow. 
  4. People want to make a difference.  Remove the shackles, get rid of the red tape and let your people make a difference in the lives of their co-workers and customers. I recently went to a store and every employee wore a shirt that said “I can fix it.”  It was a nice idea, but at the register it became clear they could not fix it. We need to give our employees the freedom to solve problems, a culture to strive for more and call to action. Can you imagine what your employees could and would do if we encourage them to reach for the sky instead of forcing them to artificially use a person’s name three times when checking them in or out?
  5. People want to create.  My son took his birthday money, went on-line, designed his own custom pair of socks and then had them made. I know when he enters the workforce he will not value putting in his dues, seniority, and all of the other factors previous generations cared about. He will want to put his imprint on something and to help create something. People entering the workforce today want the same thing. 

If you want to create sustainable engagement, let your people belong to something that is bigger than themselves where they can grow while making a difference while helping to create a better product or service in the process.