“Employee engagement is overrated.”
This is one of the myths tied to the seemingly elusive connection between a happy workforce and a profitable organization. Many leaders don’t see engagement as a business priority, while others simply take it for granted. While the topic may occasionally surface during learning and development (L&D) and C-level meetings, typically little is done to measure and build employee engagement.
In fact, with the challenges employers are facing today, it might even be the last thing on leaders’ minds. With The Great Resignation, the waning talent pool and the pressure to reconfigure work styles, leaders have a lot on their plates. And while many agree engagement is important, they hope their employees will just “figure it out.”
Assuming engagement as a natural byproduct of a fully staffed organization is akin to shoving employee problems into an already overstuffed closet, locking the door, and hoping they don’t fester, grow and implode. Good luck with that strategy. Unfortunately, this is common practice, often resulting in dissention and conflict, not to mention a waning culture and workforce. To be fair, this is not because of leaders’ desire to stick their heads in the sand, but rather their lack of time and energy.
Not feeling the pressure to make employee engagement a priority is often justified by buying into the one or more of the following myths:
Myth 1.) Engagement Doesn’t Matter
According to Gallup, actively disengaged workers are more likely to steal from their organizations, negatively influence co-workers, miss work days and drive customers away. If this isn’t enough to convince you to foster an engaged team, look at this statistic: Actively disengaged workers cost U.S. companies $450 billion to $550 billion a year. It’s disheartening but true. If you walk into any retail store, company, corporation or college, you’re going to find a disengaged worker. This maybe the person who’s spending their time on their phone or the one that’s bitter, though the signs may not be obvious. It’s clear however, that they have lost some love for their organization. And the multiplier of this symptom equates to a loss of profits.
Myth 2.) Engagement Happens Automatically
If people are getting their work done, well, and on time, they must be engaged, right? Wrong. No one should take employee engagement for granted. In other words, just because you, or your team, did not voice concerns, doesn’t mean that disengagement isn’t happening. Savvy learning leaders should learn what engagement looks like and its impact on the bottom line. Then, using that research, build a strategy for driving it. This project is often assigned to human resources (HR), but a cross-functional team consisting of L&D leaders and leaders from other business functions can help by conducting assessments, and building an employee engagement plan (EEP) to drive and measure results
Myth 3.) Engagement Creates Entitlement
Engagement isn’t all about throwing parties, buying ping-pong tables and offering exciting promotions so that employees stay longer at your organization. Rather, it’s about understanding what motivates them to feel invested in the organization and supporting that ongoing motivation. This doesn’t mean coddling: It involves active listening and critical thinking.
If you ask your employees what would help them feel more engaged and invested, you’ll find the simplest strategies are the most impactful. Opportunities for growth, the chance to use their strengths, permission to design how they do their work, and acknowledging them for their efforts are just of few of most desired engagement strategies.
Myth 4.) Engagement is a One-off
Just like the overflowing closet analogy, one disengaged employee can rapidly multiply. And just like conflict in the workplace (a symptom their disengagement), one unhappy employee can negatively impact their entire team. Make sure to train supervisors on how to identify disengagement and proactively employ solutions.
Your EEP plan leaders should also have identified external resources to help arrest disengagement including coaching, consulting, mentoring, individual development plans (IDPSs) and professional development opportunities.
If you don’t look at what is really going on in the minds and energy of your workforce, you may be ignoring vital drivers of productivity and profitability. Now is the time to pause and honestly reflect on whether you have the training and strategies in place to routinely assess and generate employee engagement. Or, are you simply buying into these myths?
As a learning leader, a deeper look at how your corporate culture is influencing your team, and vice versa. Then, consider working with an executive coach to explore how you can positively influence the environment, structure or team dynamics that might be at the root of the issue. And together, with your newly created EEP team, build and deploy a strategic revitalization plan that includes powerful changes such as conducting a culture survey, building supportive resources, expanding a budget or benefits, and empowering your cross-functional EEP team to lead positive change.