15 cold, hard truths about genuine employee engagement

If your management team is disregarding fundamental human behavior, all your surveys and incentive programs will do little more than adding a coat of paint to a sputtering jalopy.

So much time and money have been spent on employee engagement—and there’s so little to show for it.

Clearly, most employers are not doing enough of the right things, or they are doing enough wrong things to undermine their progress.

If we hope to see results from our employee engagement efforts, we have to focus on the basics. We must ask ourselves whether we are violating basic principles of human nature and how that influences engagement.

Implementing engagement programs without addressing these foundational flaws is like painting a rusted car. You can buy the most beautiful, expensive paint, but it will never stick.

Your efforts at boosting employee engagement will never stick if you violate the principles on the list below.

Download this free white paper, “Auditing your Internal Communications,” for a step-by-step guide to assess which communications channels work best for your organization.

Though many of the following truths may seem self-evident, think how often they are violated, even by otherwise smart management teams.

Share this article with your team and ask: “Which of these are we violating, and are we willing to do something about it?”

Here are 15 hard truths about employee engagement:

  1. Goodies, gimmicks and gala events don’t create high employee engagement. Intrinsically rewarding work experiences do.
  2. Being the managerial equivalent of a parent who spoils the kids doesn’t create high employee engagement. It creates childish, entitled employees.
  3. Everything matters when it comes to employee engagement: Every interaction, every communication, every decision can affect employee engagement for better or for worse.
  4. Engagement is built up—or broken down—one conversation at a time.
  5. Most answers about how to improve employee engagement are inside your employees. Ask them, and then act on what you hear. Remember, too, that you will get useful information only if you make it safe for employees to speak candidly.
  6. If you don’t ask for employee feedback, you are asking for trouble.
  7. Ask for input only if you are going to use it.
  8. Don’t expect employees to care about you or your goals if they don’t feel you care about them.
  9. Don’t try to make employees feel like they matter; design their jobs and give them enough autonomy so they can and do matter.
  10. You’re running a business, not a rehab center for troubled employees.
  11. You’re a manager, not a therapist.
  12. Uncertainty breeds fear. Fearful employees don’t focus on their employer’s goals; they focus on their fears. Eliminate the uncertainties caused by poor communication.
  13. When employees have a strong “why” they can deal with almost any “what.”
  14. If you want to improve employee engagement, you must look in the mirror—especially if you are in senior management.
  15. If you are a lower-level manager and want to improve employee engagement, there’s a lot you can do if you focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t.

Again, I recommend you share this article with your team and ask: “Which of these are we violating, and are we willing to do something about it?”

If you have more truths to add to the list, please offer them in the comments section.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He is also the author of “Managing Employee Stress and Safety.” You can contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter. A version of this article originally appeared on TLNT.

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