There is a constant stream of articles on the topic of engagement. All of them, of course, include a variety of suggestions on ways to increase employee engagement, ranging from more recognition to better benefits and everything in-between. While these suggestions are certainly well-meaning, they are, on the whole, not very effective. A quick look at the level of employee engagement from a survey conducted by Silk Road in 2013 titled Creating a High-Performance Work Environment: Energizing Your Employees for Business Success shows that only 14% of managers said that they had not experienced low engagement in their companies. This means that 86% of organizations are dealing with disengaged or detached employees to some extent!
In his 2012 article titled High Levels of Employee Disengagement and Underengagement, Torben Rick pointed out that, “According to a recent survey on employee engagement in the US workforce from Modern Survey, it seems that only 10% of US employees feel they are fully engaged in the company they work for. 24% are ‘moderately engaged’, 30% feel they are ‘disengaged’ and a staggering 37% are ‘under-engaged’ ”.
Obviously, despite all the well-meaning articles touting a plethora of ways to increase employee engagement, not much seems to be working. In response to the obvious question, “Why not?” I maintain that these initiatives are not effective because they are not aligned with the way the world works. Instead, they are the product of an outdated Newtonian paradigm that regards the world (and everything in it) as a machine with, of course, the machine-like characteristics of rigidity, predictability, and certainty, where linear logic prevails. Using this model, engagement is a program initiated by management in a top-down manner in an effort to ‘drive’ engagement. No wonder they have had little success!
To be fair, some of the current efforts at increasing employee engagement use some of the techniques described below; however, they are used in a piecemeal manner within the context of the Newtonian paradigm, which renders them ineffective.
I think that if we update our conceptual model of the way the world works to a modern one based on quantum physics, we will be much more successful at engaging our workforce. Rather than viewing the world as a vast, impersonal machine, the Quantum model conceptualizes the world and most things in it as living entities. This would, of course, include organizations.
This brave new world has some very interesting and exciting characteristics! For example, it is a participative one that reveals itself only when we interact with it. Since it must be experienced up close and hands-on, the people and their environment are not separate; rather, they are but two sides of the same coin. Relationships are paramount, structures are fluid and logic is non-linear.
So, how does this apply to employee engagement?
In a world that places tremendous importance on relationships, it is crucial to ensure that the employees’ relationships in the workplace, e.g. teams, networks, are positive and numerous. The more positive the employees’ relationships are, the more employees are, and feel they are, a part of the organization and are able to contribute effectively to it. It is this combination of the efficacy of their efforts and the bonding with their fellow employees (including their supervisor) that evokes the discretionary effort that is the essence of engagement.
Of all the relationships that an employee will have in an organization, the crucial one is that between a supervisor and his/her direct reports. A trusting, healthy, positive relationship here will do more to create and increase employee engagement than anything else. For a more fulsome account of how to establish and foster this critically important relationship, please refer to Improving Employee Performance: The 6 Conversations Every Manager Should Have. by M. Zroback.
Since employees interact with their corporate environment, i.e. the corporate environment affects them and vice versa, two critical issues that bear upon engagement become immediately apparent. Firstly, the corporate culture must be ‘people-friendly’, i.e. welcoming, civil, friendly, supportive, offering opportunities to contribute, bringing out the best in employees, etc. This could include, but is not limited to, such things as policies on how employees treat each other, customers, clients, stakeholders, etc., and providing effective EAP programs, regular training, periodic company updates, opportunities for stretch assignments, flexible working hours, the opportunity to work remotely, etc. Anyone who has or is still working in an organization has likely experienced some or even most of these initiatives designed to create and maintain a civil, healthy employee-oriented culture.
Secondly, the organization needs to select employees who will not only produce excellent work, but also will fit into the corporate culture and contribute to it in a positive manner. This means selecting employees who epitomize the values espoused by the corporation, who are inspired by its vision and identify with its mission. These employees will use their personal attributes to strengthen the corporate culture, and will take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the company to increase their knowledge and skills, thereby increasing their ability to contribute to the organization and increase its value in a virtuous upward spiral. Again, many people who have worked or are continuing to work have likely experienced this situation.
The quantum world is a participative one; consequently, engagement can be enhanced by enabling and encouraging employees to participate in such things as determining their role and how to fulfill it, deciding how their work is done and evaluated, figuring out what they can do to help the organization attain its goals, determining their own goals, assisting with strategic planning, creating and sustaining the corporate culture, etc. The magic of participation is that management doesn’t need to ‘sell’ anything to the employees or get their ‘buy in’. Once they have participated in a process, they own it and will, of course, support it. And it will stick! Lucky is the employee who can work in this type of corporate environment. Unfortunately, this is all too rare.
So, what techniques can be used to increase engagement?
Not surprisingly, engagement can be greatly increased by using the organizational change methods based on the quantum paradigm. This is possible since these methods use employee participation, relationship building and communication as vital components of their methodology. My own experience in using the participatory methods of the Institute for Cultural Affairs and in experiencing such other modern techniques such as Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search and the Solutions Focus attest to their effectiveness. I have never seen a room full of employees (including senior executives and board members) so energized as when participating in one of these techniques!
However, don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself. Develop an employee-friendly organizational environment, maximize the quality and quantity of employee relationships, foster employee participation, and watch employee engagement dramatically improve!