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When I first discovered the term employee engagement I was thrilled. I thought, “Finally! There is something that describes how I want my work to feel! Why can’t my employers get it right?”
I quickly realized that increase employee engagement can’t happen overnight and is quite difficult to improve. It wasn’t just my employers who were struggling with employee engagement.
Of the hundreds (if not thousands) of articles I’ve read about employee engagement, the articles I’ve written, the presentations I’ve attended and given, and the conversations I’ve had with employees and management, the responsibility for engaging employees tends to fall on the employer.
The cycle of non-engagement:
Employers have described how they don’t feel like they have the resources available to make changes. Employees feel like there is absolutely nothing they can do until the employer makes the engagement resources available for which they can engage.
Although I believe systemic change is only possible when the employer is on board with employee engagement initiatives, I was disappointed when I couldn’t find any articles or explicit resources out there on the topic of employees working to improve their own level of engagement.
I decided to reach out to one of my LinkedIn Groups: Employee Communications and Engagement. There are almost 40,000 members in this group so I figured it would be a great staring place.
I asked, “How can *employees* help increase employee engagement?” and described how I recently presented at a conference where all levels of employees in an organization attended. I was asked the question during a Q&A: how can employees who are not in leadership or management positions increase employee engagement within their organization?
My post received over 20 responses with some great feedback.
I wanted to share the results in one place where everyone can access the helpful information.
The primary theme revolved around the idea of employees taking personal responsibility for the way they act (physically and emotionally) and react in the workplace. This is very easy to say, and I think most reasonable people would agree this is important (talk the talk). It’s a lot harder to implement and change the way one functions (walk the walk).
Change won’t happen overnight; it takes little changes over time to make a large impact. Below are ways employees can embrace the idea of employee engagement and start to take responsibility for changing their own personal workplace culture. These “small” personal changes may cause a ripple effect and begin to change the organizational culture as a whole.
Gratitude has been shown to improve the giver’s well-being, resilience, health, and relationships with others. Expression of gratitude also has a ripple effect – cooperative and altruistic behavior can spread from one person to another. Expressing gratitude may inspire other people to do the same. If you find yourself in a workplace lacking gratitude, consciously expressing gratitude may result in increased gratitude by your team members, and possibly even your organization as a whole.
Say a genuine thank you to someone who helped you on a project. Say thank you to the custodian who removes your trash. Anyone can say thank you. Every time you say thank you, you add something back to your workplace culture. Expressing gratitude makes the giver and receiver feel good, while also empowering those around them to share in the moment and to create their own moments in the future.
Take time to reflect on the mission statement, vision statement, and values of your organization. Are you on board with these statements? What sort of emotional reaction do you have when you consider your part in the overall mission and vision of the organization? Organizations with highly engaged employees have communicated their mission/vision in a way that allows their employees to strongly identify with and work toward the mission/vision. Employees begin feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves and are making a difference in the world.
If an organization has a clear set of core values and goals, as well as a clear mission statement, vision statement, and strategy, employees have the opportunity to align their personal values/mission/strategy/goals with those of the organization. When these organizational items are clear, employees may ensure their efforts are focused on the same priorities as their employer. Employees can ask themselves and their leadership targeted questions to seek stronger alignment and bring up ideas for performance improvement. Employees can hold themselves accountable for the results of the organization. This type of alignment can improve organizational collaboration at all levels.
Does your organization have a program in place (regardless of how successful) that attempts to engage employees? If so, can you (as an employee) step up your game and become a little more involved?
If your organization has a networking or affinity group, or an advocacy/community program, how involved are you? Do you genuinely participate in surveys, focus groups, or dialogue opportunities so you can involve yourself in how the organization can improve its performance or culture? Could you volunteer to spear-head a team building or volunteer event?
Employees need to remember that if they want something to change, it is their individual responsibility to engage in social events, attend staff meetings, respond to surveys, and share their ideas. Engagement is never a one-sided effort, it will only be truly successful when both sides (employee and employer) give 100%.
Connecting the Dots
When it comes to employee engagement, it often can feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you work for a company or a boss who doesn’t believe they can do anything about the workplace culture (I had a boss say this once). Maybe your boss doesn’t think there’s anything wrong and is either oblivious or avoidant of the issues at hand.
If this is the case, focus on yourself. If you have the mindset that there is nothing you can do to change workplace culture, your workplace culture will never change. However, if you can prevent yourself from becoming cynical and negative about your work situation, your perspective change may help change the perspective and attitudes of those you work with as well.
Say thank you, express gratitude regularly and consistently in a genuine manner. Others will follow suit. Revisit what you love most about your company and how you can contribute to the overall mission/vision of the organization. Finally, involve yourself. If there is a focus group or committee forming, take a risk and join. If your HR department sends out employee surveys, participate and take them seriously. You may even be like one of the individuals described in the success stories above and go as far as starting your own lunch workout class!
Leadership at all levels is responsible for setting the tone of an engaged businesses. At the same time, every employee is responsible for creating and sustaining the culture. You are responsible for the way you think and act. Even when it seems impossible and like you’re stuck in the rut of negativity, you can change your perspective and outlook.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
**Special thank you to the members of the Employee Communications and Engagement Group who responded to my post! This wouldn’t have been possible without you.**
Employee engagement is a popular phrase in today’s business world. It is quite common for employees to expect more than just a paycheck when it comes to their work, and employers are struggling to figure out what they can do to meet these expectations.
I have a simple answer for you: human relationships.
It’s really not that simple – if it was, everyone would do it. When it comes down to employee engagement initiatives, most programs fail because organizations forget to focus on human relationships, which I would argue are the building blocks of engagement.
There are many different definitions of employee engagement, and they all revolve around a common theme: emotional commitment and attachment to one’s workplace and fellow employees. Engaged employees feel a profound connection and commitment to their company; they work with passion, they are loyal, and they are willing to go the extra mile.
What separates those organizations with high levels of employee engagement and those with low levels of employee engagement? Culture.
Employees want to be hired and retained by organizations with exceptional workplace cultures. These cultures have many different aspects to them, but they often involve overall feelings of trust, contribution, inclusion, altruism, achievement, and happiness. These feelings are all derived from one thing: human relationships.
A 2016 survey by the Society of Human Resources Management revealed relationships in the workplace are top drivers of employee engagement. Respondents described how relationships in the workplace were vital to their overall engagement in the workplace. 77% believed their relationships with their co-workers influenced their engagement and almost the same number, 74%, believed their relationship with their immediate supervisor influenced their engagement.
This makes sense – if you enjoy the people you work with, the easier it is to enjoy going to work each day. If you don’t enjoy the people you work work with you likely experience the Monday Morning Blues on more days than Monday.
Do you have a best friend at work?
Gallup, a research-based, global performance-management consulting company, has conducted employee engagement research for over 30 years and the best friend question, “Do you have a best friend at work?” is one of the most controversial.
Gallup asks this question for one primary reason: performance. The research shows a “concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job.” They give the example of women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work compared to those who don’t strongly agree: those who strongly agree are two times (63%) more likely to be engaged at work.
Holistically though, it’s becoming more acceptable to want and expect more than just a paycheck from work. As social beings, we want sense of accomplishment, value, and altruism from our work. If positive social/human relationships are missing from your workplace, chances are you feel less energized and motivated by the work you do – even if you are good at what you do. This leads to being less invested and possibly less productive.
51% of employees who strongly agree that their organization encourages close friendships at work (who rate this statement a 5 on the 5-point scale) are extremely satisfied with their place of employment, compared to just 19% of employees who disagree with that statement (by choosing a 1 or 2) – Getting Personal in the Workplace, Gallup
If 75% of employees agree relationships in the workplace influence their engagement, how do companies and management prioritize human relationships and make their workplace more relationship-centric?
Bonfyre describes how human relationships in the workplace are a result of how often people connect and communicate (interaction) and how much people have in common (relatedness). Organizations, leadership, and managers are relationship-centric when they set up their work environment for their employees to become best friends. This is done by increasing the ability to interact with other employees, which may lead to a discovery of what the employees have in common. As Bonfyre describes, best friends are a product of high levels of interaction and relatedness.
You typically can’t discover what you have in common with someone (relatedness) without interacting with them first. Companies looking to become more relationship-centric need to focus on giving their employees the opportunity to interact with each other.
1. Step away from the computer.
Instead of sending an email, take the opportunity to go speak to the recipient in person. It’s been said that 93% of communication is nonverbal. If this is the case there is a high chance that a miscommunication may occur if you only communicate via text-based means.
2. Invest in technology that promotes social relationships such as video chat software and/or collaboration software.
If you must communicate in ways that are not in-person, invest in video chat or collaboration software that will enable your employees to interact on a more personal level. Of course emails and phone calls are a popular communication means, but you can make it more personal by providing a different social element.
There is no such thing as too much gratitude. The benefits of gratitude are numerous both in the professional world as well as in your personal life. In my article 3 Ways Gratitude Promotes a Culture of Engagement in the Workplace, I describe how gratitude increases productivity, job satisfaction, and may increase feelings of psychological safety. It’s important to know your people: some may like public displays of gratitude, others may prefer a private thank you in the hallway.
4. Ask for employee input.
Have you heard of the Ikea-effect? This is the idea that if you help build something, you will love or value it more. If your employees feel heard and like their input matters, they will feel valued by the organization and their engagement can increase. Giving employees the opportunity to collaborate and co-create will promote positive relationship building, trust, and belonging.
5. Talk the talk and walk the walk.
When it comes to culture changes employees typically won’t buy-in or join-in until leadership and culture champions show they are dedicated to the change in culture. If you are genuine with your efforts to change the culture your employees will notice.
Connecting the Dots
Employee engagement initiatives fail because organizations forget to focus on the basic building block of engagement: human relationships. Organizations promoting relationship building between employees gives employees opportunities to discover what they have in common with other employees. This discovery can lead to close friendships; possibly even best friendships. If an organization is looking to become more relationship-centric its leadership and culture champions must invest in face-to-face interactions, whether this is in-person or virtually, they must become comfortable expressing genuine gratitude on regular and consistent bases. When employees feel like their input is valued and considered they feel a deeper connection to their work, fellow employees, and organization. All of this is irrelevant if leadership and management don’t create and stick to patterns of behavior that is consistent with building a culture of trust, contribution, inclusion, altruism, achievement, and happiness.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your organization’s level of employee engagement and improve positive workplace relationships, please review my services here and contact me here.
This was originally posted on LinkedIn on May 18th, 2018. See the full post here.
I saw someone once write on a social media post: as an employer, it’s hard to find someone who actually wants to work. No matter how much you praise them or do nice things for them they aren’t loyal to you in the end.
When I first read their comment, I cringed. As an employee, I wouldn’t want to work for someone with that type of mindset because I believe it sets them up for failure as an employer. If my employer believes I will not be loyal to them, no matter what they do, it makes me think they won’t do anything out of the ordinary to keep me around, which makes me feel less loyal to them. But, from an employer perspective, if you feel like you’ve been good to your employees and they leave anyway, how could you not feel this way?
On the other hand, as an employee, why is it so easy to remember the bad things (the bad bosses, the bad work situations, etc.) and so hard to focus on any of the good (or even okay) things?
What if I told you there is scientific evidence backing up why our brains focus on the negative aspects of employment more than the positive? By no means is this breaking news; in an article published in 2001, titled “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” researchers describe how humans and other animals may be evolutionarily wired to react this way:
From our perspective, it is evolutionarily adaptive for bad to be stronger than good. We believe that throughout our evolutionary history, organisms that were better attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased probability of passing along their genes.
To make a point, the authors reviewed over 230 studies on the following topics: relationships, emotions, learning, neurological processes, child development, social support, information processing, memory, stereotypes, forming impressions, self-concept, feedback, and health to name a few.
The consistent factor between these 230+ studies revealed the impact of bad things is significantly worse than the power of good things. In other words: when one bad thing happens, five good things must happen to counteract the bad thing.
The research suggests our desire to get out of a bad mood is stronger than our desire to get into a good one. Bad interactions, ones that feel unfriendly or conflictual, are interpreted in a stronger way. These bad interactions have bigger effects than equally friendly, nice, or harmonious ones. Thus, the bulk of our emotion regulation is directed at escaping from bad moods and negative emotions because bad moods and negative emotions have a stronger effect than good ones.
How does this apply to employees, bosses, managers, and organizations?
One bad apple can ruin it all. Bad things like negative emotions, abuse, dysfunctional acts (like intentionally slacking off), hostility, destructive relationships, and incompetence can ruin organizations striving to incorporate civility, competence, effort, and other kinds of “goodness” into their environment and culture. What can we do about this?
As an employee, we must try to focus on the positive. Increasing our number of positive interactions will help us defeat the negative interactions. The researchers suggested it is possible for good to triumph over bad by sheer numbers. Many good events (at least five) can overcome the psychological effects of a single bad event.
Using techniques from positive psychology, such as expressing gratitude can help us focus on positive interactions and experiences. Remember: a little kindness goes a long way.
We must also be self-aware. When employees are not self-aware, conflict in the workplace can be toxic and destructive. We need to take a conscious look at how we express ourselves at work and how we interact with others.
Most of the time, conflict is based on some underlying fear and is an issue of interpersonal, psycho-emotional dynamics. If we are self-aware, we can ask ourselves why we react a certain way, and if this reaction is supportive or limiting to our team, department, and organization. If we are honest with ourselves, this self-awareness and insight will allow us to view and improve the way we communicate and interact with others.
When we are self-aware, and those we work with are self-aware, workplace conflict can be minimal and constructive.
Bosses, managers, and organizations:
As someone in a leadership or management position, we must try to overpower the bad with good. This involves expressing gratitude to our employees on a regular basis and constantly assessing and evaluating our employees’ level of engagement.
When it comes to stopping a bad apple or a toxic employee, the first obvious thing to do is not hire them in the first place. However, this can be hard to do even with multiple rounds of interviews.
Dr. Robert Sutton gives a few suggestions on how we can defeat the toxicity in his article, “How a Few Bad Apples Ruin Everything.”
- Screen employees in realistic job conditions. Bring candidates in for a day or two and give them a short job to accomplish. Watch not only their technical skills, but also their personality. How do they deal with setbacks? Do they know when to ask for help and to give others help? Is the candidate the kind of person they want to work with? Candidates with interpersonal weaknesses may be screened out using this process.
- The best organizations make explicit their intolerance for bad apples; they spell out which behaviors are unacceptable in the workplace and act decisively to prevent and halt them.
- There are times, of course, when an organization can’t—or won’t—remove a destructive personality. Maybe the person is a star as well as a bad apple, for instance, or is otherwise crucial to the operation. In such cases, leaders might try to use coaching, warnings and incentives to curb the toxic employee’s behavior. Another tactic is to physically isolate the bad apple.
- Beware: Leaders who believe destructive superstars are “too important” to fire often underestimate the damage they can do.
Connecting the Dots
Scientific evidence shows we are wired to focus on the bad instead of the good, which is why it is so easy for one toxic person to ruin a company’s attempt at instilling and promoting a culture of engagement.
From an individual standpoint, we should try to consciously focus on the positive and increase our self-awareness. From a managerial or organizational perspective, we need to openly value our employees and we should not tolerate toxic behavior. We need to clearly spell out unacceptable behaviors and their consequences, and we need to be willing to fight the bad so we may protect our employees from its destructive properties.
This was originally posted on LinkedIn on November 9th, 2017. See the full post here.
Over the last two weeks I’ve shared articles about the 3 Ways Gratitude Promotes a Culture of Engagement in the Workplace and 4 Reasons Why You Should Express Gratitude Both In & Out of the Workplace.
Now that we understand the why and how of gratitude, we are left with the question: If gratitude is so important, how can you begin to show it? Below, I’ve detailed 10 ways you can begin to express gratitude.
1. Say “thank you” more.
Start your practice of gratitude by saying “thank you” more in the workplace and at home. From 3 Ways Gratitude Promotes a Culture of Engagement in the Workplace, I give the following suggestions:
- Be specific. When thanking someone, be specific. “Thanks for your help,” feels less genuine than “Emily, thank you for your help on the design project this weekend.” This could also apply to the out-of-office environment: “Carly, thank you for doing the dishes tonight.”
- Tailor your thank-you to the person. Some people do not like public recognition – in these cases, an email or handwritten note to show your appreciation may be enough. Others may want more public recognition, such as a thank you during a meeting or family gathering.
- Be consistent. Consistently thanking and appreciating people for what they do will help build positive relationships, and make them feel valued. Feeling valued helps build trust and appreciation.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
2. Make yourself a promise.
According to Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert in gratitude, research shows making a promise/oath/vow to perform a behavior increases the likelihood the action will be performed. Write your own gratitude vow and post it somewhere where you will be reminded of it every day. Set a goal to express your gratitude at least five times a day, and check in with yourself before you go to bed.
3. Express gratitude: commit to your practice.
There will be days when you feel like doing anything other than finding reasons to be grateful, but pushing through these days will empower you and help you build the strength and resilience necessary to push through other challenges.
4. Allow yourself to be human.
It’s alright to miss a day once in a while, and it’s alright to feel grumpy about having to follow through on your commitment when it’s the last thing you want to do. We are human, we are not perfect, so cut yourself some slack if you do miss an opportunity for gratitude.
5. Put your phone away when you are with others.
According to Tiny Buddha, a popular website and blog, one of the easiest ways to express your gratitude for other people is to do your best to be fully present in their presence. Putting your phone away when you are with others will allow you to be more appreciative of the experiences you have with them, and they may be more appreciative of your attentiveness.
6. Do something little for someone else.
This might include helping with the dishes when you go to someone’s house for dinner; telling a co-worker’s boss how they are doing a great job and are contributing to the company; giving your server or barista a larger tip than usual; praising someone on Yelp and/or recommending them to the people you know; or buying someone lunch or a treat to show your appreciation.
7. Compliment yourself.
Give yourself a compliment while you are looking in the mirror or write a compliment for yourself on a sticky note and place it somewhere in your house. In our society today it seems more “acceptable” to put ourselves down or refuse a compliment because it makes us seem humble. Rachel Yahne, an award-winning blogger and lifestyle writer, wrote The Scary Reason You Can’t Accept A Compliment. In her post she says, “We spend so much of our time putting ourselves down (using inner-monologue to tell ourselves we’re not good enough, smart enough, attractive enough)…If we complimented ourselves more, we’d be more willing to take compliments from others. Not only would be better equipped to react and accept compliments, we’d actually realize there are traits about us worthy of complimenting.” This realization could help increase our overall self-esteem.
8. Model and teach gratitude.
According to the Positive Psychology Program, modeling is often the best way to teach any skill or trait to children, but, what about extending your gratitude practice to those around you? Researchers from Princeton University showed cooperative and altruistic behavior can spread from one person to another. Expressing gratitude may inspire other people to do the same.
9. Remember the challenges.
According to Robert Emmons, it is helpful to remember the hard times you once experienced so you may be grateful in your current state. Remembering the difficult times compared to where you are presently helps create a contrast. “This contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness.”
10. Keep a gratitude list, journal, or jar.
Taking the time to write down what you are grateful for can help reinforce positive thoughts, which is helpful because the brain tends to naturally focus on what goes wrong. According to the BYU School of Education, a gratitude journal can help us recognize opportunities to express our gratitude. As we notice the things we are grateful for, we will be more inclined to express gratitude to others, thus multiplying the positive benefits of our gratitude. Below are a few pointers on how to get started:
Pick a time when you will take a few minutes each day to write in you journal about things you are grateful for. Think of both your immediate and extended family. Think of your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. You may even think of the physical things in your life like your home, or your health.
Think of at least three things throughout your day that you are grateful for. It can be something as benign as a coffee at your favorite coffee shop, or as grand as the love of your significant other or dear friend. Do this every day, write down what you are grateful for on little slips of paper (bonus points for colored paper!), and fill the jar.
Over time, you will find that you have a jar full of a many of reasons to be thankful for what you have and enjoy the life you are living. If you are ever feeling especially down and need a quick pick-me-up, take a few notes out of the jar to remind yourself of what is good in your life. To learn more about how this activity can enhance your life, you can read about it here.
Connecting the Dots
These 10 suggestions for ways to express gratitude in your life aren’t the only options out there. Be creative in your own way of expressing gratitude and showing appreciation for those around you. Wondering how you are going to fit another “to-do” item into your busy schedule? Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself by feeling like you have to do everything listed above. Even the smallest increase in your expression of gratitude can make a positive impact on your life and the lives of those around you.
Thank you for reading!
Interested in learning more? Check out my article 3 Ways Gratitude Promotes a Culture of Engagement in the Workplace and 4 Reasons Why You Should Express Gratitude Both In & Out of the Workplace.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your personal expression of gratitude, or the expression of gratitude in your workplace, please review my services here and contact me here.
This was originally posted on LinkedIn on October 26th, 2017. See the full post here.