By Don Rheem
Most American employees, it turns out, aren’t all there.
In other words, the majority of U.S. workers aren’t engaged in their jobs. In its recent Employee Engagement Index, Gallup found 71 percent were not engaged in their work. Gallup defines “engaged” as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.
Don Rheem, one of the nation’s principal authorities on leadership science, has a reason, and it starts at the top. Managers need to overhaul how they treat employees.
“In almost every area of business, companies are at the cutting edge of science,” says Rheem, author of Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures. “They have the best equipment, software, and technology. When it comes to human behavior, however, most organizations are at least a decade behind the science,” says Rheem.
The notion that employees are lucky to have a job and that they should just do what they are told is still prevalent among leaders. “What most managers don’t realize is the velocity of change — especially regarding a scarcity of work-ready labor and a radical escalation in what employees expect from work,” he says, “and those who can’t adapt more quickly will struggle to attract and retain high performance personnel.”
For companies to be successful, Rheem says, it is imperative they find new ways to connect with employees. “As leaders contemplate ‘What should I do to engage my employees?’ they need to move away from the mindset of ‘If I do this, then I will get that in return,’ “ Rheem says. He gives three tips for taking a different approach to engage employees:
- Begin with science, not leadership fads. In Rheem’s view, quantifying engagement is an essential starting point. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Rheem says. “Measuring the details of what increases engagement for every department provides tactical focus. The data provides managers with clarity on how they can influence real culture shifts across the enterprise.”
- Forget satisfaction. Rheem says an employee can be satisfied but not engaged. “The key difference is employee satisfaction is an attitude that can change at a moment’s notice,” Rheem says, “and engagement is a behavior that predicts future conduct and increases satisfaction. Improving employee engagement is not a barter system where managers can simply exchange ‘casual dress’ days for a two percent improvement in staff productivity. This is an all-too-common approach for companies focused on satisfaction rather than genuine engagement.”
- Focus on managers first, employees second. Rheem’s engagement survey found most disengaged employees work under poorly-equipped managers. ”People join companies but typically quit managers,” Rheem says. “Companies need to better equip managers for the complex demands they face daily related to employee performance and to building a workplace culture influencing strong performance.”
“We all love to have fun, and we certainly need more of it in the workplace,” Rheem says. “But we don’t wake up every morning with the intrinsic need to play ping pong or foosball. We begin each day with a hardwired need to connect, be valued members of a team, and work in an environment that is predictable and consistent.” When managers focus on brain-based drivers of behavior, he explains, they get real and lasting results.