Posted on
  • “New data shows only 30% of American workers engaged in their jobs”
  • “Study places the number of ‘fully engaged’ employees at 29%, and ‘disengaged’ employees at 26%, meaning nearly three-quarters of employees are not fully engaged”
  • “80% of employees spend 56 minutes of working day on social media”.

These are but a few of the headlines I have seen recently which show that the issue of employee engagement remains a pressing challenge for managers, across industries and organisations. In fact, I find it is a topic of concern for most managers that I encounter these days, to some degree at least. (I am also well aware that employee engagement is in danger of becoming another of those over-hyped subjects in the world of work). Yet, despite this concern, there is no getting away from the fact that the more engaged your people are, the more productive and effective they are likely to be: you don’t need to be an expert in this field to understand that basic correlation.

I have written about employee engagement many times before, but it’s a subject well worth returning to, given its importance and the fact that the thinking in this area is evolving all the time. As one example of how the focus is changing on this topic, Towers Watson, a leading global professional services company with expertise in employee engagement, now promotes the concept of Sustainable Engagement which describes the intensity of employees’ connection to their organisation, based on three core elements:

  • The extent of employees’ discretionary effort committed to achieving work goals (being engaged)
  • An environment that supports productivity in multiple ways (being enabled)
  • A work experience that promotes well-being (feeling energised)

The key attributes fundamental to each element of sustainable engagement are shown:

We weill return to these three components of sustainable engagement later in the piece.

Based on a statistical analysis of their employee engagement surveys, Towers Watson categorise respondents into four distinct segments as shown below:

Further details of these segments include:

Highly engaged: Those who score high on all three aspects of sustainable engagement.
Unsupported: Those who are traditionally engaged, but lack enablement or energy for complete engagement.
Detached: Those who feel enabled and/or energised, but lack a sense of traditional engagement.
Disengaged: Those with less favourable scores on all three aspects of sustainable engagement. (1)

I think this is quite a useful framework to explore the issue of engagement levels in your company and these segments can help focus your discussions with your management team as to the current positioning of individual employees regarding their levels of engagement.

Raising Engagement Levels

Of course, the most common question I get asked on this topic is what can be done to better engage employees and a number of years ago, following extensive research on the issue, I identified twelve factors which I believe drive engagement levels within any business, large and small. These are captured in the diagram shown:

All of these factors influence employee engagement levels in some way, and they need to be considered in an integrated manner. Again, in working with management teams I find these twelve factors provide a useful template to guide initial discussions as to where there might be scope for improvement in terms of improving on some or all of the drivers of engagement. You should consider discussing these factors with your management team to identify areas for improvement.

For today I would like to focus solely upon what I believe lies at the heart of engaging your people, namely ‘Effective Leadership’. In my view, and this is backed up by ample research, unless the quality of an employee’s relationship with their boss is high, then no matter what other factors are in place, or how well they are applied, the employee is not going to be as engaged as they might otherwise be. This should come as no shock to you that the relationship between a manager and his or her team members is an important one, but just how vital it is can often often be overlooked. A study led by Brad Gilbreath, an Associate Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University emphasised just how important the manager-employee relationship actually is. He found that:

“A worker’s relationship with the boss was almost equal to his relationship with his spouse when it comes to the impact on his well-being. A rewarding job or even good relationships with co-workers cannot compensate for a negative relationship with the boss.” (2)

So when it comes to better engaging your people, the only place to start is to focus upon yourself and how well you lead and manage your people at present. I find that, often unintentionally, some managers adopt leadership styles which cause employees to disengage, or even when they get the style right, they still ‘get in the way’ when it comes to enabling their people to simply get on with their work.

A helpful model for reflecting upon your ability to engage is one based upon research conducted by Cranfield School of Management (3). It may not seem so at first, but bear with me until I make the link. Researchers at the school studied the behaviour of entrepreneurs and their relationship with key staff in thousands of companies in the UK, and amongst other things, found that entrepreneurs are themselves most likely to be the biggest barrier to the growth and development of their own company. Based on the findings of the study, the researchers have categorised entrepreneurs into four categories: heroes, meddlers, artisans and strategists.

  • Heroes try to manage every aspect of the business and want to be seen as the expert or the person that knows everything. They fail to recruit qualified staff and do little to develop the team.
  • Artisans continue to be the main producer or service provider in the business. They fail to take on management roles as they focus on delivery.
  • Meddlers take on a management role and will recruit or train team members but then fail to let go and find it hard to delegate.
  • Strategists, the most desirable type of entrepreneur, develop a growing business. A strategist builds the management skills of their team so they can step back and think strategically.

Professor Andrew Burke of Cranfield said: “In our experience the majority of owner-managers are characterised as artisans, heroes or meddlers, with only a small proportion naturally achieving the ideal ‘strategist’ role. Becoming a strategist is necessary for leaders to outline a vision in order to grow the business and effectively motivate employees.” (4)

Now, as mentioned, you might be wondering what this study has to do with employee engagement and, for sure, it doesn’t directly address this particular topic but I think it still has a great deal of relevance here. First off, although the study focused upon entrepreneurs, I think some of the failings identified in the study can also be applied to managers in general. And the consequences of those shortcomings have an impact in the context of employee engagement. Put simply, managers who demonstrate characteristics associated with Heroes, Artisans and Meddlers are likely to be less successful at engaging their employees than Strategists who can think strategically, communicate the vision and goals, recruit the right people and then let them get on with what needs to be done.

Therefore as a first step in enhancing your personal contribution to employee engagement (and linked to the earlier Towers Watson concept of ‘Traditional Engagement’) you cannot get employees to ‘buy into’ what you are trying to achieve, if you haven’t defined it yourself, or if you cannot create a compelling vision and meaningful goals which employees feel part of. How well have you done on this front at present?

The second consideration here has to do with the ‘Enablement’ component from the Towers Watson model and time and time again, I hear talented managers and employees at all levels bemoaning the fact that they feel ‘micro-managed’ by their boss to the extent where they disengage over time. Do you create an enabling environment which allows people to do what they need to do, or are you a bit of a control-freak from time to time?

The third area where you can directly influence engagement levels relates to the third component of sustainable engagement – Energy. Some managers are akin to energy vampires in the sense that they can suck the life out of people around them, and dealing with them is draining at the best of times. Managers who succeed in engaging their people do the opposite and continuously make others feel energised and engaged, not in a trite seize-the-day sense, but in such a way that interacting with them just feels good. It is not a cliché to say that energy is infectious. How well do you score on this component right now?

Okay, to close, I am not naïve enough to suggest that you can ever get to a point where your employees rush into the building at the start of the week shouting “Thank God It’s Monday!”, but there is always scope to raise engagement levels in any business and hopefully today’s post can give you some guidance on what you can do to enhance your personal contribution to that effort.

In these constrained times, all managers are on the lookout for growth potential and often the search for such opportunities takes place solely outside the organisation. But if you really think about it, raising the levels of engagement of your employees – even by a small amount – would collectively have a significant impact on performance, and that is in effect an internal growth opportunity which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Enjoy your day!

(1) Towers Watson, 2012 Global Workforce Study, ‘Engagement at Risk: Driving Strong Performance in a Volatile Global Environment’.
(2) Gilbreath, B., & Benson, P. G. (2004). The contribution of supervisor behaviour to employee psychological well-being. Work & Stress,18, 255–266.
(3) Are Entrepreneurs the real barrier to growth?, Cranfield School of management
(4) ‘Meddling’ business owners hold back growth’ James Hurley.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • email
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • Technorati