How You Can Boost Employee Engagement Right Now

I came across a startling statistic that I need to share with you. According to a recent Gallup Poll, a full 85 percent of employees worldwide are disengaged at work. In the United States, that number just a little better at 70 percent.

It’s safe to say that employee disengagement has gone from a nagging tickle at the back of the throat to a full-blown plague. If you are looking around your office and wondering why morale is low and nobody seems to care, your company may have succumbed to this crippling epidemic.

If employees are disengaged, then innovation is impossible. It takes risks. It takes passion. It takes courage. When workers don’t give a damn, the company’s opportunity for differentiation and competitive advantage leaks like a sieve, right out the door. Many experts, including Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton, put the blame squarely on management.

What the whole world wants is a good job, and we are failing to deliver it — particularly to millennials,” Clifton wrote. “This means human development is failing, too. Most millennials are coming to work with great enthusiasm, but the old management practices — forms, gaps and annual reviews — grinds the life out of them.

Both Clifton and business writer Jacob Morgan point out that most workplaces are not changing with the times and adapting to a different kind of workforce. Today’s employees want careers, not just jobs. They want personal growth and satisfaction. They really do want to feel empowered and be part of the team.

Many companies still operate as though employees are expendable, assume that managers are powerful leaders who should control all the information and remain stoic, and that there needs to be a bureaucratic pecking order to how things get done,” Morgan wrote in Forbes.” When it comes to the future of work, organizations must focus on closing this gap.

I agree, but I think there’s a level of sincerity and commitment missing in most employee engagement efforts. Take corporate hackathons, for example. Yes, these events are fun. Yes, they result in hundreds or thousands of ideas. But then what? Nothing happens. The lack of execution of any of those ideas makes engagement worse because managers failed to follow through. That’s a great disincentive for future innovation.

The complexities of the modern office make it hard to see how the work of an individual employee affects the organization as a whole. But if managers don’t figure out how to truly engage their employees and allow innovative ideas to bubble up from below, it doesn’t matter how many feel-good internal marketing campaigns they come up with or how many offsite retreats they hold. The best and brightest will leave in search of greener pastures. Eventually, those short-sighted managers will be stuck with a brownfield full of bitter, angry, gossipy, disengaged folks who are as withered and lifeless as the grass beneath their feet. Nobody is happy. Nobody wins.

Here are some quick ideas to start down the path of better employee engagement.

  1. Shake things up.

Business literature is littered with examples of companies that blew up their corporate hierarchy and started over. Sure, it’s a risky move. But if you’re dealing with crushing stagnancy, what do you have to lose? Flatten the corporate structure to eliminate layers of bureaucracy, or reorganize the workforce into teams that can achieve a greater degree of collaboration and break through the silos that stifle innovation. Offer incentives for the best ideas, then actually implement those ideas. Better yet, let the staff implement them so they feel vested and empowered. If you’re short of ideas, borrow some from somewhere else and adapt them to your specific company. Don’t let a lack of creativity be your excuse.

  1. Take the “corporate” out of corporation.

Too often, companies rely on their HR departments to push engagement efforts. It’s as if there’s a one-size-fits-all solution written in a dusty handbook at the bottom of a filing cabinet somewhere. The success of engagement efforts are largely measured by satisfaction surveys, which do not measure impact or business-relevant results. Rarely is it tied to compensation until there is a mass exit of talent. While HR can help facilitate change, do not expect them to originate it. A culture shift is necessary, and that starts with managers.

  1. Follow the leader.

The leader I’m talking about here is not the supervisor. Follow the INNOVATION leader. Every manager has at least one intrapreneur on his or her team. The intrapreneur is the person who works within the confines of a company but thinks with the freedom of an entrepreneur. It’s your job to unleash the intrapreneur and let that person create exponential impact for the organization. This is a particularly tough task for some managers because it’s human nature to want to shine brighter than the stars beneath you. But empowering your superstar will bring you plenty of personal benefits, trust me.

  1. Stop seeking perfection.

This is a topic I explored in a blog post earlier year, and it’s still relevant. One of the biggest obstacles to moving ahead with innovation is the pursuit of perfection. So much is at stake with the next project/idea/design that we don’t want to launch until we are reasonably sure it will succeed. Preparation, analysis, evaluation and testing is key, but at some point you have to press the red button. And if the idea is a colossal failure, don’t write it off. Retrace your steps and figure out what when wrong. Sometimes a slight adjustment is all that’s needed.

As I read Clifton’s piece on worldwide disengagement, I shared the same sense of alarm and slight panic he imparted in his words. He believes disengagement is the top reason why productivity and GDP rates are declining. “If this trend isn’t reversed immediately, it means the end of civilization,” he wrote.

I know that sounds dramatic, but you tell me how it all works out when the dangerously low number of good, full-time jobs as a percent of the population continues to destroy us? Think beyond your own workplace. Think a coast-to-coast Detroit in America. Many U.S. cities are slipping into that right now. Imagine a worldwide Venezuela.

There is a way to stop this trend, and it starts with managers who are willing to stand up to the status-quo, set their egos aside, take risks and create a nourishing environment for their employees. In short, managers who want innovative employees have to set the example by being innovative themselves. Are you up for the challenge?

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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