Creating a Better Workplace Through Employee Engagement
It’s not just the meaning of life we seek, but meaning in our lives and work.
Imagine this: a job candidate is passionate about the event industry. In the interview, she’s animated and full of life and new ideas. When she comes on board, she brings a breath of fresh air into the office. You let out a sigh of relief: here’s a new hire with a promising future.
After a few months, however, the bloom is off the rose. That same bright new employee is dragging into the office, participating in negative talk and barely meeting expectations. What happened?
During my 25 years running an event management firm, this happened time and again. For years, I blamed the employee: he was a good interview but an unproductive staff member. Or she was great with ideas, but poor with follow-through. He was a one-trick pony. She was a low-achiever. He was on drugs; she was having an affair. I came up with a variety of reasons that explained away my “bad hires,” without, of course, looking at the culture around me.
A recent Gallup poll reports that only 30% of employees are engaged at work—a figure that has barely moved in the 12 years they’ve been measuring it. In a survey of executives by Right Management, only 19% said they were satisfied with their job, while 16% said they were “somewhat satisfied.” Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were not happy at work.
What’s the cost of dissatisfaction? A lot. Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line, breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process. Unhappy and unengaged employees cost companies more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone. In contrast, companies who are top in employee engagement have nearly four times the earnings per share growth rate.
How do we change this trend in our workplaces? Looking at the behavioral questions Gallup uses in their surveys gives us a window into what an engaged company culture looks like. Here are the 12 measurements of engagement, according to Gallup:
- I know what is expected of me at work
- I have the materials and equipment to do the work right
- At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best, every day.
- In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
- My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
- There is someone at work who encourages my development
- At work, my opinions seem to count
- The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important
- My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
- I have a best friend at work
- In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
- This last year, I had opportunities at work to learn and grow.
In his seminal 1943 report, psychologist Abraham Maslov wrote that people yearn to reach the top of five levels of motivation needs. At the most basic are biological needs—air, food, drink and shelter. At work, that’s about having the proper tools to get one’s work done—a living wage, up-to-date software and a comfortable workplace, for example. The next level is safety and freedom from fear. If the culture in your organization is based on fear, your staff will never get past this stage in Maslov’s Hierarchy.
The next level is social—it’s about creating belonging through friendship, affection and love. An employee who can say “someone at work seems to care about me as a person” is likely to meet this level of need. One more level up is based on esteem—this is about achievement, mastery and respect: “I have received recognition for doing good work.”
The final and highest need, according to Maslov, is self-actualization. In our careers, that’s about personal growth, realizing potential and finding meaning in our work. And some days, this may feel like the most difficult need to meet.
When psychologist Viktor Frankl observed the behavior of his fellow prisoners in Nazi prison camps, he noted that the people most apt to survive weren’t necessarily the hale and hardy young men who might best endure the never-ending hardships. The people most likely to survive were those who found meaning in their lives, even in the midst of so much human suffering.
And about this, he made an important distinction. It’s not the meaning of life that we are seeking. It’s the meaning of our lives.
We ask ourselves questions like why am I here? What are my core talents and how I am using them to move my passions forward? How I am helping to communicate a message, inspire the people around me, motivate an audience to act, or create positive change?
In this broader context, even the most banal and frustrating task can take on real meaning. We can rise above our petty suffering and see beyond insignificant events.
Mark Twain once wrote that the two most important days of our lives are the day we are born and the day we figure out why. As we build our businesses, let’s aspire to create an environment where the people around us can achieve human flourishing and find meaning in their lives.
eNews October 2014