We already know that the answer to the question is to treat them as real people and not as objects. We have all at some stage been an employee and wanted to be treated as a real person, with something to offer – a body and a brain.
But if it’s that simple, we should by now have the answer to engagement. Why then on average does the research suggest the majority of the world’s workforce is disengaged?
Perhaps treating employees as people is just far more difficult than it seems or maybe because we are all different one suit doesn’t fit all? Maybe there isn’t a magic key to engaging everyone – so why bother looking?
Of course there are other considerations. If you have to treat everyone differently, as individuals, will that be seen as treating some more special than others? You may be thinking John’s a good worker, Julie’s a plodder but gets there and Jan, well depends on what day of the week it is…. Perhaps you’d be seen as being unfair, a weak leader, or you can be manipulated, showing privilege to some over others?
So maybe it’s really not that simple after all? Park it, it’s HR’s problem anyway, and let’s do something else.
Others don’t have the luxury of parking it. Take education for instance. Now it’s commonly said young people are disengaged and it’s difficult to get engagement, so how do teachers manage? After all, they are setting the tone for the future workforce to be engaged. Here’s how one history teacher looks at engagement.
Bryn, a bright, wide-eyed teenager, came home after just another day at secondary school. Everyday I would ask him what subjects had he done and this day was no different. One of today’s subjects was history and the topic was the Norman conquest. Now, I happen to like history and so asked him what he had learnt about the Norman invasion. In a single word, as teenagers do, he answered “Nothing”. As a parent and interested in what he was actually doing at school I didn’t leave it there. So I asked him in a wider way what he had learnt in the lesson. He started slowly but then went into graphic detail about how they had spent the lesson learning about spies. Discussing spies from James Bond ‘007’ to the type of spy a Norman would need to be to do the job of a spy without all the gadgets available to James Bond. The dangers and excitement they would face, what they would wear to fit in, how some might dress as women. So Bryn’s job for homework was that of a Norman spy. He had to research various areas including the political and religious make up of the English, the nature of the countryside, its villages and towns, military capabilities and local people involvement. How they fought, where support could come from and so on. Bryn was completely absorbed in this task and the level of enthusiasm was far beyond the norm.
Compare that experience to a maths teacher that when asked to explain the use of vector analysis, said that if you become a maths teacher it’ll be really useful. Interesting form of engagement.
These two approaches are probably at either ends of the spectrum and what happens as the ‘norm’ in teaching is for educationalists to consider. But I know what I would choose – what about you? History or maths?
When working with a company within the context of getting employee engagement one of the tools we employ is ‘a line of sight’ between the role of the employee and the purpose of the company. If I know what and why and I agree with the company purpose we have a good foundation for growth. Bryn’s history teacher made that same ‘line of sight’ connection and got the engagement he needed to bring the subject alive to the whole class. Job done – but was it sustainable? Bryn and I remember it and still use the experience over 15 years later. Bryn learnt and put into action far more than a memory test about the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Bryn’s teacher certainly hit on something and if you have children you may hear similar stories – but I’m not sure it’s that common. If it were common, the consequences today would surely be better youth engagement?
But the approach to get their engagement is common sense, if not common practice.
Now, what if an employer, leader or manager takes time-out to think how they can engage employees? Maybe by just asking them? And with a reasonable discussion, doing what’s within their power to do to get engagement. What sort of place would it be to work?
How you engage employees may not be an easy thing to actually do – yes you have to do it, action it and perform it. But the results of what others get from having engaged employees are worth looking at. Better engagement delivers higher productivity, but there are other rewards – lower turnover of staff, lower absenteeism, greater loyalty and commitment.
There are lots of books on employee engagement – try the common sense approach and just do it.
If you want to know more about Mind Fit programmes, engagement, or how to engage employees email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to engage employees? Start by asking them.