Why Leaders Should Focus on Employee Investment, not Engagement

The modern workplace is a collection of new technologies, new business strategies, and new leadership methodologies… and the same staggering number of disengaged employees.

What was once an emerging trend is now a full-blown problem that costs US businesses an estimated $450 to $550 billion each year. However, the cost of poor employee engagement is hardly confined to a monetary figure.

Disengaged employees are unhappy and unmotivated. They pass on opportunities to develop as professionals, learn new skills, share ideas, and collaborate with teammates. Careers are derailed. Dreams are dissolved. A person’s excitement in being hired by a great company in a role they’ve always desired — which in many cases takes years of hard work and difficult life decisions — can vanish quickly in the face of a demeaning manager or an unresponsive, unappreciative company.

Only one out of every eight workers is committed to making a positive contribution to their organization. That means seven workers in every eight are wasting a majority of their lives doing something they hate. That’s no way to live, and it’s certainly no way to run a successful business.

The solution to the problem very well may lie in a simple change to the way we view the term engagement. While many company leaders worry about how they are engaging their employees, maybe it’s time they focus more on how they are investing in their employees.

The wrong question is: “How can I get this person to do what I want them to do?”

The right question is: “What am I doing to improve my employee’s quality of life at work, so they will want to work hard on their own?”

Making visible investments in an employee is about acknowledging value, fostering growth, and showing appreciation. Employees want to feel they have value. They want to grow as professionals, and they want to know their hard work is noticed and appreciated.

Value

Every employee wants to feel that they’re valuable to their company, and often this ties into the overall culture of a company. People throw the word culture around as much as engagement these days. It’s typically associated with fun office perks and great revenue. Culture, however, goes much deeper than that, which is why it must be clearly defined by a company’s leadership.

It starts in hiring by communicating key attributes that every team member should possess, across the board. It continues throughout company messaging, goals, and actions. If a company’s culture is based on growth, ambition, integrity, and accountability, its hiring process must be designed to identify candidates that possess those characteristics. If the messaging is clear during hiring and stays consistent, there should be no doubt that a person was hired because they are the caliber of person that fits that mold — meaning the company sees those key values in them.

It’s then up to the manager and their team to find ways to continue reinforcing that value in each employee moving forward. In the face of adversity and after failures, it is especially important to encourage and assist employees, not criticize and isolate them. This will show that the company supports and believes in them.

If a company’s culture is based on growth, ambition, integrity, and accountability, its hiring process must be designed to identify candidates that possess those characteristics.

Growth

Giving encouragement and assistance is not the same as ignoring problems and overlooking poor results. If a company truly sees value in its employees, it must invest the time and energy into helping them grow and develop as professionals. If an employee makes a mistake or fails to reach a goal, ignoring the problem won’t lead to change. However, negative feedback and disappointment won’t, either.

A company must create regular opportunities to exchange constructive feedback through open dialogue. Whether it’s through officially-scheduled reviews, weekly department meetings, or monthly one-on-one sessions, employees and managers must maintain clear communication about expectations and progress. While some managers may dread being critical, one study shows a majority of employees actually prefer corrective feedback over praise and recognition. It’s up to the manager to have that conversation in a constructive way, working collaboratively to evaluate the problem and find a solution rather than forcing employees to carry that responsibility themselves.

 If a company truly sees value in its employees, it must invest the time and energy into helping them grow and develop as professionals.

A company should provide opportunities for employees to prove themselves and earn new responsibilities, as well, be it through new tasks, promotions, or simply soliciting their opinion on company issues. Creating a calendar of job-related events in the area, paying for employees to join local industry associations, or finding ways to play a role in employee’s continued education are also impactful ways to invest in employee growth.

Appreciation

The final piece of the employee investment puzzle is showing appreciation for the value an employee brings to a company and for the growth they achieve as a professional. To do this, a company must first be able to effectively track progress and understand which rewards mean the most to its employees.

One recent study shows that many office-based employees believe digital engagement software and the addition of game elements would improve their job performance and increase their motivation during daily tasks. This form of engagement has seen success because it can create a visual representation of progress that both employees and managers can track and celebrate. However, it still revolves around having realistic goals and expectations, then continuously working together to ensure success.

For many, a raise and a promotion are the most impactful rewards. There’s no doubt they are the most visible forms of company appreciation. However, it’s not often that employees are in position to receive such rewards, so efforts must be made to deliver regular praise and appreciation outside of these opportunities.

A short personal email or a phone call expressing appreciation can go a long way to making someone’s day and boosting confidence. Public applause from peers in team meetings or weekly agenda emails are also effective and easy. Learning about favorite drinks, snacks, or hobbies creates opportunities for small personalized rewards. It’s also important for companies to be flexible in granting employee requests for office supplies, furniture, and accessories that improve the comfort of their workspace. Not every employee values the same types of appreciation, so it’s important for leaders to invest time in learning what rewards would have the most impact on their employees.

Not every employee values the same types of appreciation, so it’s important for leaders to invest time in learning what rewards would have the most impact on their employees.

Employee engagement is a serious problem that has no quick fixes or easy solutions. Companies must invest time in learning and caring about their employees as real people. Leaders must communicate value, encourage professional growth, and show proper appreciation if they’re going to create and sustain a more motivated and committed workforce.

Do you have any examples of how your company invests in its employees? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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Copyright: nexusplexus / 123RF Stock Photo

Rob Bellenfant is a millennial entrepreneur and investor specializing in IT, sales, marketing, and talent development. He is the founder and CEO of TechnologyAdvice, a Nashville, Tenn.-based Inc. 5000 company that is dedicated to educating, advising, and connecting buyers and sellers of business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

  • Good thinking, Rob. That said, managers need more, more specifics. They need to know that their power lies not in their power to direct because people cannot be directed to be highly motivated and fully engaged. No, their power lies in their power to lead because people can be led to be that way and in that state they will be over 300% more productive than if poorly engaged. So what do we do to lead them to that state?

    Leadership is simply the transmission of value standards to employees, standards which they then use to do their work and treat their customers, each other, and their bosses – how industriously, respectfully, openly, enthusiastically, honestly, knowledgeably, etc..

    How to transmit the highest standards of all values? This article explains and be sure to view the video on listening near the bottom since listening is any managers most important leadership skill.
    http://www.bensimonton.com/good-vs-bad-leadership.html

  • Alfredo Carrera

    It begins with the hiring processes. We need to understand that as a leader, the person you are about to hire will be a long term commitment. The employee is valuable based on you being able maintain them interested in their jobs and by challenging them to grow with cross training and transperancy. The culture must be that a company is formed by the people who work for the company and in turn the company will reward with what the employee believes is success for them. This can be better pay, benefits or a more flexible schedule.

  • Beth Ipock, PHR

    I really appreciate the change in perspective. I have struggled with knowing that employee engagement is very important, but THEY choose. So your focus on our investment is so much more helpful.

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