Engagement is an Employers Game to Lose
We live in a time of options when it comes to how one earns a living. People can build a company online in a few hours, hawk their unique talents on fiverr or get financial support from strangers on indiegogo. The world has opened up well beyond the confines of 'getting a job'.
Organisations of all sizes are feeling the threat. As such, an 'engagement' industry has spawned to prevent an exodus of top talent who want to spread their wings.
We have engagement consultants, engagement surveys, engagement committees... The premise being that people need this level of support to be engaged; without an engagement team fuelling the stokes of creativity, apathy will set in. Bring on the recognition vouchers, pool tables and ice cream Fridays and people will pick up their game.
But as soon as an employee walks in the door you've already won the engagement game. You now need to focus your efforts on staying on top it.
It's rare that someone starts a new job in an apathetic state. They generally walk in to a new position full of energy and enthusiasm. The engagement tank is full. It's whether the employer respects that full tank or pokes holes in it over time that determines the current state of engagement.
If you don't Dis-engage people in the first place you won't have to spend the effort to pick them up later. The latter being far more difficult. Once someone is beaten down and their tank depleted not only will they not perform well, it can start to become visible to the customer.
How do you keep the engagement tank topped up? Depending on context the ways will vary but these are my top 3 suggestions:
Start from the premise that you've hired responsible human beings and treat them as such. Don't apply strict codes of conduct around work-hours, lunch breaks and time at desk then offer family movie passes as a way to top up engagement. You've created a deeper deficit. Stop controlling how the work is done and trust that it will get done. People respond well to being trusted.
Don't be petty. Pettiness has always been a pet peeve of mine. I once sat and listened to an account manager politely debate with one of her high-paid consultants as to whether a candy bar was a valid expense claim. 'It's not really dessert is it? It's more a snack. We reimburse lunch, not snacks.' The cost of that candy bar just skyrocketed as the engagement tank got a little more depleted.
Detail zealots will defend their antics by saying things like 'we have to nip these things in the bud. Got forbid if every consultant bought a candy bar every day and felt it was a valid expense.' So what if they did? The cost would be far lower than the damage done.
Every time a petty rule is implemented consider the total cost. What is the engagement cost of charging 30p for a cup of coffee? challenging an expense or saving 10 quid on a hotel room rate? Pettiness is the enemy of engagement.
The final engagement killer is middle management. Mainly because there is no 'school of middle-management'. Many have no idea what they're really supposed to do or what success looks like. So they feel the need to 'manage people' as a throwback to a time when that really was their job. This can lead to immediate and ongoing violations of both my first and second points.
Middle-managers should be tasked with keeping the engagement tank full. That's it. They should ensure people are completely switched on and able to achieve what they need to by clearing the path for them to do so. Keep everyone's tank full. That's your job.
If you stop Dis-engaging the workforce, it will regenerate organically. It's far easier to respect the engagement that people bring to your organisation than it is to refill a depleted tank. Focus on preventing the problem and it will become contagious. The deflated will become energised simply by working alongside those that have a refreshed perspective of the workplace.
You will no longer have to rely on Doughnut Day to prevent an exodus. Though I'm sure it would still be appreciated.