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Employee Engagement Missteps -- And What to Do Instead

Posted by Sandy Yu on 1.17.2019

employeechannel_-_122F27_customLow employee engagement is an epidemic, infecting companies all over the world.

Officevibe updates data in real-time from thousands of organizations across more than 150 countries in their State of Employee Engagement report, and the results are staggering.

More than 60 percent of employees feel they don't receive enough praise, 23 percent leave work feeling drained or very drained every day, and 57 percent would not recommend their workplace to someone else.

Like Officevibe's report, our own recent research points to employee communication missteps, with information and updates from human resources and internal communication professionals leaving employees uncommitted (11 percent) and uninterested (9 percent).

So, we asked two experts to explain what where you might be going wrong with employee engagement -- and what to do instead.

Don't be inauthentic or repeat the same (false) message

Communication, in my experience, has a direct impact on employee engagement. In general, the more communication the better. There are a few caveats, however.  

The biggest one is that all communications must be authentic. People will discount the message and the messenger if they feel they are being talked at without concern for their needs or perspective. As internal communicators, you will be well served by making sure your messaging is sincere, accurate, and sensitive to employee needs and concerns.

A second caveat is that the same message said too many times will eventually be drowned out. If you need to mobilize people to action, then limit the number of times you make that clarion call. Think of the timeless fable of Chicken Little, which reportedly goes back 25 centuries. If you keep yelling that the sky is falling, on that one day it actually is, you will have no one ready to receive your message.

Research shows that people, not surprisingly, are more likely to support ideas they have had a hand in creating. Employee engagement increases as employees feel included in important issues at their place of work.  

I once worked with the CEO of a rapidly-growing mid-sized company who was being coached by his team not to share too much of the current quarter’s challenges with his managers. His advisors were concerned the managers would become discouraged.  

The CEO replied, wisely, by saying that the managers are exactly the people he wants to be aware of the challenge so they can figure out how to fix it. In his words, “I want to give them some meat to chew on.”  

Tres-RoederThat is exactly what they did. The managers became energized and drove the company to increasingly greater successes. To improve employee engagement, build a multi-path web of communications that will build trust and engagement all around.

Tres Roeder, Founder and President of Roeder Consulting

Don't communicate with fear in mind

Many often believe (consciously or not) that fear is motivating. As a result they, clearly communicate the negative consequences of a failure to achieve targets. They assume that people who are afraid (of the boss, or of underperforming) will work hard to avoid unpleasant consequences and that this fear will engage them in the task at hand.

This might have made sense in the past -- if the work was simple and repetitive, quality was immediately visible, and the employee was unlikely to run into problems or have ideas for improvement.  

But for jobs where learning or collaboration are required for success, fear is not an effective motivator. Quite the contrary, my research established that fear reduces engagement and creativity, harming the quality of the work.

Employee engagement happens when they have psychological safety. I define psychological safety as a belief that the work environment is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. It is the experience of feeling able to speak up with relevant ideas, questions, or concerns.

Communication that creates psychological safety must ensure that people understand the nature of the work -- specifically, that the uncertainty or complexity of the work requires everyone’s brain to be in the game.  

Create the logical case for their full participation! Make sure to remind people why their input and engagement are needed.

One aspect of communication that is mission-critical to engagement is asking questions. When internal communicators ask questions, and listen to the answers, it is a powerful source of psychological safety, which in turn engages employees in the joint enterprise.

Amy-EdmondsonFinally, a crucial aspect of communication is how you respond when people do speak up. It’s vital to respond appreciatively and productively; psychological safety will be quickly extinguished by anger, frustration, or disinterest.

Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School and Author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth


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Topics: employee engagement

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