In their latest employee workplace engagement survey the global analytics firm, Gallup found only 14 per cent of Australian and New Zealand Workers feel a sense of engagement at work to the extent they feel involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace, writes Dan Haesler, performance coach and leadership expert.
The report also found that 15 per cent of Aussie and Kiwi workers are actively disengaged, meaning more staff are actively disengaged than engaged. These employees aren’t just unhappy at work – they are resentful that their needs aren’t being met and are acting out their unhappiness.
As for the rest, Gallup suggests that whilst the majority of workers do show up, they are not cognitively or emotionally connected to their work or workplace, and they’ll quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.
Disengagement costs businesses time and money
This lack of engagement comes at a financial and human cost, and organisations have long tried to remedy this by offering perks, bonuses and the like. However, these attempts to enhance employee engagement often miss the mark so instead of relying on traditional carrot and stick motivators, modern leaders would be better advised to learn from what behavioural science has to teach us. In my work with leaders, I lean heavily on the work of Professor Richard Ryan and Professor Edward Deci. Their research into human behaviour and motivation saw the development of what they call Self Determination Theory (SDT).
Using SDT, leaders can understand how they can create an environment where the following four factors are at play so that team members can feel involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.
Four factors to ramp up employee engagement
1. A Sense of Belonging
The extent to which an individual feels part of the team is an excellent indicator as to the level of impact they’ll seek to have. Members of your team who don’t feel a sense of belonging or camaraderie will likely gravitate to the fringes, both literally and metaphorically. They’ll sit outside of the circle and engage only when directed to, or only offer ideas when put on the spot to do so. Team members on the periphery rarely go above and beyond, almost never turn in their best performance and are easily convinced to leave.
2 . Autonomy leads to engagement
Having a sense of agency or volition is critical for humans not only to engage at work, but in all aspects of life. We like to feel in control, and that we have a voice in the issues that impact us.
Leaders who understand the importance of autonomy, empower their team by giving them latitude to explore the type of work they do, the manner in which they do it, when they work, where they work, and with whom they work. Leaders seeking to increase autonomy ensure that voices are heard and valued, and decision making is devolved to the lowest point possible on the org-chart.
3. Growth Orientated Goals
The right type of goal can light the fire of intrinsic motivation, whilst the wrong type can douse the flames in an instant.
Many organisations rely on setting KPIs or goals which are outcome-focused and whilst short-sighted leaders may view this as an effective way to motivate, more mindful leaders understand such goals merely lead to a veneer of compliance whilst often hiding poor performance or behaviour. Take for example, the salesperson who has to meet monthly targets in order to achieve their bonus. In my work it is not uncommon to hear of people who, having made their sales targets prior to the end of the month, holding off on making additional sales until the next month in order to bolster their numbers. In a very real sense, the act of giving a bonus to encourage making sales, leads to people making fewer sales. In the worst cases, in hyper-competitive environments, such goals can lead to unethical and sometimes even illegal behaviour as people do whatever it takes to make their numbers (and their bonus).
A better approach is to create a culture in which workers set, in partnership with a line manager, their own (autonomy) growth-orientated or learning goals. Broadly speaking, an individual who knows they can strive for mastery without the fear of failure or judgement, is more likely to be intrinsically motivated, engage better in their work and the workplace, and perform more consistently over the long term.
4. Purpose in their Work
Ensuring your people understand the purpose of their work is a good start. However, when we talk about the purpose of the work in an organisation, the focus tends to be on what’s in it for others? What’s in it for the organisation? What’s in it for the client, the customer or the user? There are all very important questions, but in order to enhance the likelihood of workers being intrinsically motivated, leaders need to explore what’s in it for the people doing the work? Over and above monetary compensation, the extent to which the work resonates with their core values and purpose will determine their levels of engagement. Workers who not only understand the purpose of their work but find meaning and purpose while doing the work – perhaps by having growth-orientated goals that they have had some autonomy in setting – are far more likely to fully engage.
Leaders who successfully create the conditions for their workers to fully engage rely less on the carrot and the stick and seek to understand what makes their people tick.
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