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Pretty vacant or disengaged? Employee engagement is a leadership issue

Pretty vacant or disengaged? Employee engagement is a leadership issue

by Moyra Mackie on May 31, 2014

Are you and the people who work with you engaged?

When I say “engaged”,  are you engaged as in focused and connected with others? Or are you engaged as in busy, behind locked doors, not available?

Being available?  Is that not touchy-feely stuff?

The hard facts are that Gallup has just analysed 25 million responses to their employee engagement survey and found:

“Of the 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs,  30% are engaged and inspired at work, so we can assume they have a great boss.

At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million (20%) employees who are actively disengaged. These employees, who have bosses from hell that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent.

The other 50% of American workers are not engaged. They’re just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers.”

See what happened there? It’s not about employee engagement it’s about leaders



It all comes down to whether employees “have a great boss” or “are not inspired” or “have bosses from hell”.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had meetings with senior line managers or HR who have asked:

“What can we do about our staff?  How can we get them engaged?”

It’s my job to say:  It’s not about them, it’s about you.

The harsh truth is either:

1. You hired the wrong people.

You thought they were right for your company, but somehow they have not lived up to the promise of the interview.

In which case, it’s down to those who did the interviewing and recruiting. Or,

2. You hired a great person and since you hired them, they’ve changed.

In which case it’s down to the leadership, management and culture of your organisation.  You are failing to motivate them.

So why does it matter?

The folks from Gallup point out:

the top 25% of teams — the best managed — versus the bottom 25% — the worst managed — have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. What’s more, teams in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs. So having too few engaged employees means our workplaces are less safe, employees have more quality defects, and disengagement.”

If the costs are so clear, why is engagement not a number 1 leadership priority?

In the UK, a qualitative survey from Ashridge Business School found that some CEOs are still failing to see the connection between engagement and the bottom line.

CEOs were:

  • Afraid of asking for feedback as well as aware of the dangers of a lack of openness and honesty from direct reports
  • Lacking in emotional intelligence and self-awareness
  • Restricted by organisational hierarchy and the drive for short-term results

The role of a coach is to focus on what we can influence, what we can all change

And that is our own response to this rather depressing situation.

Dr David Facer, working for the Ken Blanchard Company asks managers these two questions:

  1. What do you want from your employees?  List the top ten things you want—or maybe even expect from them.
  2. What do you want for them?  In your heart of hearts, what do you want them to experience at work?  What kind of experience do you want them going home to their loved ones having had all day long?

And he concludes:

“there is always a difference in the tone and “vibe” of the two lists. If leaders don’t make the shift from fixating on demanding more and more and more from employees without regard for their well-being, no one will ever get out of the disengagement vortex they are in…What is needed more than anything is the soft stuff.  More warmth, more emphasis on the deep meaning of one’s work, more discussion about values linkages, more love.”

And if that seems too American, too touchy-feely, I return to the stiff upper lip British conclusions in the Ashridge survey where one CEO said:

“to thrive, I need all of my colleagues with me…I need their heads, I need their hearts, I need their whole selves.”

One major difference between those multi-million dollar consultancies and us professional coaches is that we start with a focus on the whole self.

We start with managers who are striving to increase employee engagement, by challenging them to become engaged.

What do leaders need to do?

They need to work on:

Leaders need to focus on the right kind of engagement.

So what are you, or the leaders in your organisation, doing to change this very sad state of affairs?

Fabulous title photograph courtesy of Flickr

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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