It seems almost a given that most employees do more than just tolerate their jobs—at least if we are to believe the number of coffee mugs sold with the phrase “I Hate Mondays” each year. Why does it seem like so many people go to work with the mentality of “Just get through today?” Likely, these employees are not engaged, and that lack of engagement is a problem—with a solution that starts with leadership.
The Key to Engagement
“And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.” –Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowksi, noted poet and author, perfectly captures in a 1986 letter the same ennui that most employees seem to feel today, even 30 years later.
So what can be done to keep employees from feeling this way? Accord to Paul LaRue in a post on the Lead Change Group blog, it requires a change of attitude from leadership. The focus needs to turn from profits to people.
“There is a great need to transcend beyond the ‘results at all costs’ thinking,” LaRue writes. “To rise above the transference mindset of detachment towards a true connection that penetrates the human spirit. To enable people to rally around a greater cause than themselves because they see the bigger picture as well.
“When a leader can transcend their way of thinking above the norm to a people-centered culture, one can truly instigate dynamic workplace changes and produce results far beyond the common mechanical transference approach to people. It’s a proven principle that needs to come into vogue.”
Three Questions to Ask
As we can see in Bukowski’s letter, the “profits over people” mentality has a long history in business. And what LaRue is saying isn’t necessarily new. But more and more, research is showing that the most successful companies, the ones that actually make the most profit, are the ones that flip the equation. They put the focus on the people, keeping them happy and engaged. The profits follow.
Leaders of companies with disengaged employees should ask themselves these three questions if they want to transition from a culture centered on the bottom line to one focused on engagement.
Do our employees know why they are important? Make sure that your people clearly understand how their role in particular is important to the company. This understanding needs to go beyond “producing more product means more profit.” Make the “how” specific and give your employees the opportunity to see and understand the direct effects of their work in the context of the success of their teams and the company at large. Employees want to know that they are contributing to something greater than themselves, but you must also give them the opportunity to see why they themselves are great.
Do our employees know our mission? This ties into the first question: Employees want to know that they are working for a company that has a mission—and that the mission has an impact. Maybe it is to help make the world a healthier place by selling healthy food products. Maybe it is to make life easier for the busy family by selling things that simplify everyday tasks. Whatever the mission is, make sure your people know that there is a guiding principle behind every decision the company makes, and that the end goal is about more than simply making money. When employees can see the effect of their own work in context of the effect the company has on its target market, they will have more reason to make a personal investment into their work.
Do we recognize good work? Recognition is about more than compensation or bonus structures. Recognition is about taking the time to really thank a person or a team, and let them know that what they have done has actually contributed to your organization’s success. People not only want to feel like they are contributing to something important, they want to be recognized and celebrated when that contribution has made a difference.
Where is your company’s focus? Is it on people or profits? Take this moment to make sure that your people do not “simply empty out;” put the color back into their eyes by giving them clear reasons to engage and celebrating them when they do.