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Want to drive employee engagement? Focus on job misery!

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Employee engagement is a hotly talked about topic these days. It’s an easy buzz word to throw around but what is it? What does it mean? And most importantly, how do you create it? In our role advising and working with leaders around the globe, we find we are commonly asked that very question.

If you follow the thinking of Patrick Lencioni, American business leader, speaker and author of numerous impressive business books, you’ll find that it’s not about employee engagement at all; it is in fact more about what he calls “job misery”! In Lencioni’s book “The Truth About Employee Engagement” Lencioni introduces us, in his typical fable-esque style, to “Brian”, a founder/CEO of a mid-sized sports company who’s just sold his business as part of an acquisition and has found himself frustrated at his newly discovered lack of purpose.

Through Lencioni’s natural gift of storytelling, he spells out his model for driving employee engagement and how to overcome what he calls “job misery”, as Brian designs and tests out his thinking through a new venture and the subsequent ventures he gets into.

Exploring the cost of “misery”

Lencioni argues that “productivity suffers greatly when employees are disengaged”. Lack of employee engagement impacts an organisation’s bottom line but equally has a negative social effect on an organisation as a whole. Lencioni describes the “ripple effect” that can spread through an organisation when job misery sits at large inside a company’s culture.

As employees, what we deal with at work we naturally carry home to those we love, which has a natural knock-on impact to our relationships at home and shape our life outside of work.  Equally too, what we deal with at home (financial worries, health scares, relationship issues) impacts our ability to bring our whole self to work and the quality of work that we do. As Lencioni describes, “a miserable employee goes home at the end of the day frustrated, cynical and weary” and this can spread both at work and at home.

In the Footdown world, leaders we have worked with regularly coin the phrase as “drain-like” behaviour. A ‘drain’ is no fun to be around and sucks the productivity and enjoyment of others through ‘drain-like’ behaviour. As Lencioni says; “even the most emotionally mature, self-aware people cannot help but let misery leak into the rest of their lives.”

Rooting out the true cause of “job misery”

In the closing stages of his book, what Lencioni spells out through Brian’s story, and further in his explanation of the model, is simple but highly impactful. He shares a simple three-point model that he believes informs an employee’s level of engagement.

Definition of “Anonymity”…

People are unable to achieve fulfilment in their work if they don’t feel like they are known. This isn’t as simple as knowing someone’s name, it’s actually being known and understood. Feeling understood is where someone takes the genuine care to get to know you; what you like, what you have going on in your life etc. It leads to you feeling supported and appreciated both as an employee and as a colleague. Lencioni describes the need that all humans have to be “understood and appreciated” and when that’s lacking for an employee, their engagement drops significantly.

Definition of “Irrelevance”….

Similar to the above, if people feel that their work or role has no meaning or has no purpose they continually ask themselves “why bother?”. As Lencioni shares through the book, “everyone needs to know that their job matters to someone”, without that, there is no ability for someone to find lasting fulfilment in what they do day-in, day-out.

Definition of “Immeasurement”…

Completing the model, if an employee needs to feel valued and have a sense of purpose in what they do, this needs to be measured, in order to be able to create purpose. Whilst Lencioni recognises that he’s invented a new word in “immeasurement”, it describes perfectly how a lack of appropriate measurement of an employee’s performance can drive up job misery and drive down engagement. Lencioni shares that “without a tangible means for measuring success or failure motivation eventually deteriorates.”

Benefitting from improved employee engagement

The truth is, these three signs are surprisingly common in organisations worldwide. These job-misery defining issues can easily be associated with how employees’ engagement levels become less than they could or should be.

This is where the benefits lie in leaders actively working to create greater employee engagement. Work to overcome these three misery-creating issues show people that they are valued, and employee engagement will naturally increase.

If successful, a leader is then able to:

  • Increase productivity– people who are happy in their roles bring greater levels of enthusiasm to their work which in turn drives increased levels of productivity and outputs.
  • Improve retention and lower costs– people who feel valued and who have a sense of purpose stay longer in their jobs. This in turn, attracts people to want to be part of a company where people are happy.
  • Cultivate a sustainable culture– over time, a group of enthused and highly engaged employees shape the culture of an organisation. As Lencioni highlights, managers who work to reduce job-misery enable employees themselves to begin to take a greater interest in their colleagues. They “help them find meaning and relevance in their work, and find better ways to gauge their own success”.

What about the role of technology in tracking employee engagement?

Yes, this is important and yes, there are numerous tools available out there but a few pointers first. …

Before a leader (notably an HR leader who is often tasked with bringing these technologies into effect) engages with a software company, ask the following: Can I be sure whether employee engagement is the true problem I need to solve? In other words, don’t treat employee engagement software like a tick-box exercise. If you don’t give it the due diligence and attention it deserves, a leader will often end up implementing a solution that misses the point altogether.

It’s good to know how happy your employees are and whether they feel they are being paid fairly but as Lencioni points out through his “job misery” definition, often the problem might lie elsewhere in something more fundamental or basic, which many software platforms can’t track or identify (yet).

Get the basics right first, before getting into employee engagement. First, spend time knowing if employee engagement is an issue and whether it is the right problem you need to solve. Only then can be sure to make a genuine difference to the lives of the employees under your care.

 

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