How to Create an Engaging Place to Work

A recent study found that only about one in four employees was “psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organisations”. So what can you do about it? By Kate Kearins. Engagement seems to be everywhere in the workplace lexicon – and for good reason. Employee engagement raises innovation and boosts productivity. Customer engagement is tipped to bring repeat business and higher sales. Stakeholder engagement enhances organisational legitimacy. Would that all this engagement was so easy to achieve. Gallup’s 142 country study on the state of the global workplace tells us how it is in relation to employee engagement: worldwide, only “13 percent of employees are engaged at work” Australian and New Zealand results were better at 24 percent. But down under, still only about one in four employees was found to be “psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organisation”. The numbers of those not engaged or actively disengaged way outstrips those who are engaged. The bulk are not engaged – “meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organisational goals or outcomes”. Even more concerning are the global 24 percent (16 percent in Australia and New Zealand) of employees actively disengaged whose unhappiness and lack of productivity can manifest in a tendency to spread negativity to co-workers. Not the news any employer or manager wants to hear. Where, in all of this lack of engagement, are the words one regularly hears when recruiting new hires? Their “passion”, “excitement”, and “enthusiasm”, Perhaps it is because I am over 50, I tend to not be constantly suggesting I am passionate about x, y and z like the younger people I interview do. Through merely liking what I do, where I do it and who I do it with, I am energised by my work and put in the extra effort in short, engaged. What gets some of us engaged and into the lucky 24 percent is worth discussing. Start with a great cause – a worthwhile, life giving and generative reason to be ‘in business’. A compelling employee value proposition and employment brand are important. Virtuous businesses – that don’t support vices, or exploit human frailties – are an easier sell here. Employee engagement tends to be better in smaller companies than in bigger ones. Then add in a great boss, one who in smart and hardworking, with vision and integrity. I am fortunate to have one truly worthy of the tag leader – i.e. someone who is eminently worth following and who is self aware enough to cope with being questioned. It’s important to have managers who are present and available to staff. Managers who take a collaborate approach to problem-solving and decision-making on issues that affect staff naturally engender better employee engagement. And it’s also important to have upbeat co-workers. The grim get you down. And knowing the psychology of the crowd, powerful grims can make the grimness spread. Finally, in all of this, with the right people happy and engaged in the right jobs, we know they can survive poor organisational structures, dingy premises and even low pay. And organisational outcomes can be positive. Here’s where individual responsibility comes in. As managers we spend a significant amount of our lives at work. Key to engagement is that we ourselves are in the right jobs and that we recruit and manage well. Kate Kearins is professor of management and deputy dean of Auckland University of Technology’s faculty of business and law. Resource: Management magazine, April 2016

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