Employee disengagement

Eloise Allen explains why it all comes down to tuning in to the specific mood, wants, and needs of your people.

Eloise AllenEmployee engagement is one of the most frequently discussed areas when it comes to HR and L&D. And it’s no mystery as to why. No matter how talented your employees are, if they are not engaged with their role and passionate about what they’re doing, you are simply not going to get the best out of them. Worse: you may lose them altogether.

It is easy to understand, then, why companies are so keen to get it right when it comes to engagement, although clearly many are not getting it right at the moment. There are 30 million employees in the UK, and one in three feels disengaged. So essentially around one third of the whole UK workforce is doing something every day that they don’t feel passionate or excited about. This is significant for the wider economy, too – a disengaged workforce will have a negative impact on productivity, damage profit and growth and put a dent in the bottom line.

Clearly this is something that a lot of businesses struggle with. But why? Part of the problem is that many organisations needlessly complicate the issue. Employee engagement is not some elusive magic formula; it is simply about saying, “we’re asking people to get out of bed every morning and leave their loved ones behind to come and do their job, so how can we make sure they are continually willing to do that?”

Find out what they want, then give it to them

That subtitle might seem almost provocatively simplistic, but it is only making the point that, really, all you need to do to achieve higher levels of employee engagement is find out what it is your employees want, or need, and then take steps to make sure you meet those wants and needs. Sure, you have to actually be able to meet them, and what is a simple fix for one organisation might be a highly complex change of process for another, but ultimately it all comes down to this simple idea of asking people what they want, listening to them, and then delivering.

But even before you start asking the questions, there are a number of key wants and needs that people generally have: They want a sense of purpose, they want to feel valued, they want clarity in terms of their role and what is expected of them, they want to know where accountability begins and ends, and, crucially, they want clear and honest communication. If you can’t provide employees with those five basic elements then you are already setting yourself up for a real struggle when it comes to engaging them.

Get more specific

Employee surveys can be an effective way to go deeper into the wants and needs of your staff and find out exactly what makes them tick, or, perhaps even more importantly, what gets their backs up. But this is where the listening part really has to take centre stage. You cannot simply pay lip service to employee engagement. If you say you are going to make real changes based on feedback from a survey, you need to deliver on those promises. People will see straight through any disingenuous or superficial attempts to win them over.

So listen carefully to what people tell you in the survey, and then communicate specific ways in which you are going to take action based on their responses. Then, of course, make sure you absolutely deliver on those pledges.

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It all comes down to developing the right skills and behaviours, in the right people, at the right level.

Targeted learning

So where does L&D come into all of this? It all comes down to developing the right skills and behaviours, in the right people, at the right level. As the well-worn saying goes: people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. And there is plenty of evidence to support this sentiment. The key, then, is to provide line managers and leaders throughout the business with ability to create engagement within their teams.

Leaders, for example, should be able to share the vision of the organisation, demonstrating the company’s values in their everyday actions. Line managers should be confident in their people management skills, with the ability to support and coach their team members, empowering rather than controlling. All of these traits can be achieved through targeted learning.

Guiding principles

The fundamental principles for achieving an engaged workforce are really very simple. You need to put people in the right roles and ensure they are able to emotionally and intellectually connect with what they are doing. You need to communicate with people, give them a voice, listen to their ideas, respect them. And you need to provide very clear expectations in terms of what is, and isn’t, expected of them.

Crucially, though, you need to genuinely listen to your employees and follow through on anything you say you’re going to do. This will build trust and integrity, and people will therefore be much more likely to get behind what the business is doing.

If there is a ‘winning formula’ for employee engagement, then, it all comes down to tuning in to the specific mood, wants, and needs of your people. You have to truly understand your staff before you can engage them. Only then can you create engagement which is permanently, organically, ingrained into your organisation.