A recent Gallup poll revealed that 13% of the world’s employees are engaged at work. The rest are unhappily clocking time.
It’s difficult to maintain a culture of excellence when your employees see your company as a prison that they would like to escape. Some of these disengaged employees just do the bare minimum. Some are actively malicious, spreading negativity and reducing productivity.
So helping employees get engaged is serious business. Here are 6 ways to do just that.
1. Give them the power to make decisions.
If you’ve never watched this video based on Daniel Pink’s Drive, The Truth About What Motivates us at Work, rectify the situation immediately. It will teach you a lot about creating happy employees in an information economy.
If you do, you’ll learn that “autonomy,” or the ability to choose how work is done, is a big motivator for employees.
How do you give employees autonomy? Describe the end result that you would like to see. But don’t worry about how employees achieve those results.
For example, if you want an employee to plan an event tell them the event’s budget, what the event is meant to achieve and the general tone that you’d like the event to have. Describe when and how you’d like to receive progress reports. Make yourself available to answer questions or to brainstorm solutions, and then step out of the way.
Now your employee has autonomy. She decides which caterer to call, where to hold the party, what the invitations should look like, and more.
You hired these people because they had talents that you needed. Let them exercise them.
2. Help them understand where their work fits into the bigger picture.
Many employees don’t truly understand what their work actually accomplishes for the team. This is because so much of our work is shunted into silos. Thus, employee tasks can seem disjointed, disconnected, and irrelevant.
Yet everyone’s actions affect everyone else. If Bob in sales consistently promises unrealistic shipping deadlines he needs to understand that he’s putting undue stress on the guys down in the warehouse. And if the guys down in the warehouse are always delivering reasonable shipments late they’re putting undue stress on Bob, forcing him to try to salvage a relationship that he worked hard to earn.
A little communication can help clarify how everyone contributes to the success of the company. By taking the time to offer this communication you offer your employees a sense of pride and a stake in the company’s success.
3. Say “thank you,” publically.
People need and want to be appreciated. A small, off-hand, private thank-you is nice. A public one is even better.
Want Jane to be loyal? Stand up in the next meeting to say, “I really want to thank Jane and her whole team for their hard work in bringing the last campaign to a successful conclusion–and under budget, too!”
See if you can’t “catch” your employees doing excellent work. Call them out on it! Let them learn to associate you with positive feedback instead of criticism. That way, you’re more likely to have their ear–and their honest desire to do better–when criticism is warranted.
4. Treat your employees like they are adults.
Are you constantly afraid that employees are trying to “get one over on you?” Do you feel they will cheat you on time if you don’t monitor their every step?
People try to live up or down to your expectations. If you’re monitoring the amount of time that your employees spend on bathroom breaks (some companies do!) then you’re sending a clear, unambiguous message that you think they’re children. Sooner or later they will disengage and start to act like children in response.
Instead, assume that employees want to give you their best, and if they spend fifteen minutes in the bathroom there might just be a good, adult reason for it. And if your employee makes a personal call, it might just be because there’s an emergency, and not because she wants to waste company time and money chit chatting with her friends.
Trust your employees to serve you, and they will.
5. Get money off of the table.
Look up what each job role is worth. Then pay a little bit more than the median.
An employee who is constantly worried about putting food on the table can’t serve your company with a cheerful heart. He or she is worried about survival. They won’t be loyal, either, and not because they’re bad people. It’s because their needs aren’t being met.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us that a person can only give their best insofar as their needs are being met. Survival is at the bottom of the pyramid. Employees aren’t engaged at survival. Self-actualization, up at the top of the pyramid, is where employees give you all of that innovation, drive, and energy that you’re hoping to see. So while you don’t have to overpay employees to make them happy, it does pay to treat them fairly. Your budget needs to account for that.
Speaking of fair, you might want to close the gap between your top earners and your bottom earners. Employees can accept that it’s fair for highly skilled managers, vice presidents, and presidents to earn 50 times what they earn. They get a bit skeptical when the number rises to 500 times. At that point, employees can start to feel like they’re being used.
6. Get fear off the table.
Employees can’t stay engaged if they’re constantly fearful that you’re going to fire them. While I wholeheartedly believe in “hire slow, fire fast,” you don’t want to fire too fast. If you hired slow, after all, then you worked hard to get an A player. Don’t be so quick to throw that asset away that you create a culture of fear in your company.
Instead, make every effort to help that employee be successful. If one department isn’t working out, try the employee on another. Sometimes it only takes one lateral transfer to turn a struggling employee into a superstar. There’s also a difference between struggling on a project and, say, coming in late 5 days a week. Know the difference.
If your employees see you doing this then they’ll be less afraid to tell you when things are going wrong. They’ll also be willing to work hard for you. You’ve shown you care about them, after all. And if you do find yourself writing up a pink slip, it’s good to know that your other employees will be more than aware that you did everything you possibly could have done to avoid that day.
Here’s the bottom line.
If you really want to motivate your employees it’s necessary for you to develop empathy towards them. Take care of them and treat them like people, and they’ll be far more willing to take care of you.