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Posted by on Oct 23, 2012 in Engagement, Leadership, Winning Through Engagement | 5 comments

Avoid the Employee Engagement Trap

We’re digging this post! CEO and author Ed Muzio gives us some great insights and immediate applicability to our work. Doesn’t matter if you’re a manager or an individual contributor, Ed’s post is written for you! 

Engaged employees work harder, produce more, lead happier and more fulfilled lives, and create better societies.  They thrive at work, at home, and in life.  Lucky for your employees, you’re sophisticated enough to grasp this, and evolved enough to want to create it for them.

Actually, that may not be so lucky for them, or for you.  Your perspective on employee engagement creates a trap, and it’s one into which many of your fellow illuminati are falling.  Ironically, it’s caused primarily by your increased attention to engagement relative to your less evolved peers.

Those lesser managers just don’t care if their employees are engaged or not.  Some of them don’t even know it!  They stumble through their management careers under the misconception that if the employees aren’t happy, it’s the employees’ problem.  Employees can quit if they want to, and be replaced.  The unenlightened have no grasp of the hard and soft costs of disengagement.

They’re wrong, of course, and that’s how the trap is set:  If what they’re doing is wrong, the opposite of what they’re doing must be right.  So if not knowing or caring whether your employees are engaged is wrong, then taking full responsibility for your employees’ engagement must be right.

 

They stumble through their management careers under the misconception that if the employees aren’t happy, it’s the employees’ problem.

 

And so, in proper highly-evolved form, you take ownership.  You ask employees, in person and via survey, whether they’re engaged and joyful at work.  On its face, it’s a reasonable line of questioning: “How well are we doing at keeping you engaged, and how can we do better?”

The trap slams shut.  You’ve just notified you’re employees that it’s your job to keep them happy.  They respond with a list of demands.  They can’t be happy until they’re given higher salary, greater responsibility, a more impressive title, a view, and a bean bag chair.  But there are only so many raises to go around, so many projects to do and titles to have, and so many square feet in which to pile the bean bags.  So you find yourself negotiating:  Give Penny the promotion, Tammy the Title, and William the window.  And have HR announce that bean bags pose a trip hazard.

Suddenly, nobody’s happy.  You’ve failed at employee engagement, because you can’t give them what they want.  But where did it all go wrong?  Was it overly demanding employees, scarce salary budgets, or draconian job title guidelines?

 

The trap slams shut.  You’ve just notified you’re employees that it’s your job to keep them happy.

 

Sorry, but it was you.  No matter how well-meaning you are, “I’ll make you happy” is a recipe for disaster, at work and in teen romance.  When you try to take responsibility for another person’s happiness, you create a dysfunctional, dependent relationship.

Avoid the trap.  Attend to engagement without promising happiness.  Build an environment that allows people to grow without putting yourself in the role of Santa Claus.  Tell employees it’s up to them to find their own engagement, and up to you to encourage and support them in doing so.  Be honest about what needs to get done for your team to succeed, and the fact that it won’t all be fun.  And teach employees to troubleshoot their own engagement issues.  Help them to work toward what they most enjoy even as they perform their jobs well today.

As your employees improve at their current jobs, they’ll have more options and directions in which to grow.  As they learn to troubleshoot engagement problems and recognize what they enjoy, they’ll move into work that engages them at a higher level.  Over time, the entire system will evolve toward greater employee engagement, and attract even more talent.  In the process, it will thrive.

 

No matter how well-meaning you are, “I’ll make you happy” is a recipe for disaster, at work and in teen romance

 

That’s engagement done right.  It’s exciting, it’s positive, it attracts and retains great employees, and it builds community through productivity.  And, it’s better than a giant pile of bean bag chairs.

Connect with Ed

Ed Muzio is CEO of Group Harmonics and author of the award winning books Make Work Great and Four Secrets to Liking Your Work.  Best known for his whiteboard videos, Ed is a leader in the application of analytical models to enhance group effectiveness.  Featured in international media including Fox, CBS, BNET, and The New York Post, Ed serves as an advisor and educator to workers at all levels in companies worldwide.

 

Photo by basemsamir

Ed Muzio

Ed Muzio is CEO of Group Harmonics (www.GroupHarmonics.com) and author of the award winning books Make Work Great and Four Secrets to Liking Your Work. Best known for his whiteboard videos www.groupharmonics.com/helpdesk, Ed is a leader in the application of analytical models to enhance group effectiveness. Featured in international media including Fox, CBS, BNET, and The New York Post, Ed serves as an advisor and educator to workers at all levels in companies worldwide.

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  • http://westxdesign.com Renee G

    Great post! Important to realize engagement is not a bag of promises to make employee happy. Thank you!

  • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi Gaskell

    This is a nice reminder that good leadership is heavily dependent upon having good followers. We create this myth that great leaders can turn water into wine, but forget that often success is down to things outside of our control, such as the motivation of our team in this instance.

  • http://maritzmotivationsolutionsblog.com @michpoko

    What occured to me is that managers, leaders tend to opereate in a default frame or assumption that employees basically want the same things- that what makes one employee ‘happy’ or engaged is largely the same for all. It simply isn’t true. Further what is fun or make us happy isn’t easy work. On the contrary, studies show we are most engaged and productive when an appropriate level of challenge exists in a task or project. What motivates people on a personal level can also be quite distinct. Not everyone wants a promotion. And I definitely don’t want a bean bag chair (my knees are shot):-) Leading isn’t easy, but knowing more about who you are leading is a good place to start. Leaders help us make progress toward meaningful work, remove obstacles, ensure necessary support, understand and offer meaningful reward and recognition..

  • http://www.randomactsofleadership.com Susan Mazza

    This is a great reminder that engagement is an invitation, not a promise. The promise ultimately is one you must make to yourself to contribute and enjoy what you do. Thanks for the great perspective!

  • http://www.bensimonton.com Ben Simonton

    Not take ownership of engagement? How can that ever work? Whether employees are engaged or not and to what extent depends on how well management meets their five basic needs. Those are to be heard, be respected, and to have competence, autonomy, and relatedness. You don’t ask if they are engaged because they don’t really know what that means and most bosses don’t either. You ask them face to face, never by survey, what they need to do a better job and if it makes sense, you give it to them. It is the boss’ responsibility to support the workforce with what they need to do their work: training, tools, parts, material, information, direction, discipline, planning, and the like. The quality of this support dictates the level of performance of the workforce. Stephen Covey wrote that the possible performance gain is 500% and my own experience as an executive and manager makes me agree with Covey. Engagement is a science and so is leadership.

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