I recently read another post about why people hate their jobs and what employers can do about it. The post, published in USA Today and titled “The Motley Fool: Why you hate your job,” is just another attention grab. It really contains very little from a fresh perspective.
To their credit, they do cite the well-referenced Gallup survey that 52% of workers are not engaged in their work and that a further 18% describe themselves as “actively disengaged.” The author goes on to drive home the point that American productivity is a victim of this epidemic: “The most strategic act that any organization can take is to better engage and inspire team members.” That’s the best advice in the post.
The post contained three suggestions for how the leadership of an organization can fix this problem of employee engagement. As a response, I’d like to bust three myths about engagement.
Myth No. 1: Employee engagement can be fixed by external stimuli
Do we believe we engage our workers better by allowing them to take all the time off they want or by letting them write their own job descriptions? Do we believe that people are like animals; if we train them properly, they’ll roll over or wag their tails when we wave a treat in their presence?
People want to matter. “Do X, and they’ll respond Y” is a myth busted by treating people as free agents. The best people aren’t better than the non-best people. The best simply appreciate our goal and like doing their job. They want to be a part as “we” achieve the goal. They aren’t better than the other people; they fit better. Fit requires clear understanding of goals. Many people don’t understand their own motives. When they experience disinterest in the organization’s goals, they pursue their own. People who freely appreciate the organization’s goal and provide a valued contribution become more valuable and experience more joy. They freely join and consequently require less energy to manage. They bring their best energy and manage their own engagement as long as the organization holds up the other end.
Myth No. 2: People are generally selfish
This myth treats engagement as a transaction where leaders feed worker selfishness in exchange for workers feeding the leaders’ goals. I often hear that everyone is just working for the weekend or for a paycheck. Sure, based on the Gallup poll, seven out of 10 people are pretty much consuming more than they produce. So that must be the rule. Or is it?
People engage when they believe a goal is compelling. Many, maybe even most, people will sacrifice for what they believe to be noble causes. In the book “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, you can learn how the company evolved to be the best customer-service organization on the planet. People who want to take part in providing WOW and giving people an exceptional customer experience make it happen. They are creative in the ways they solve for that goal. People are family there. Turnover is low, and engagement is very high. Zappos is just one example of what happens when you give people a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Myth No. 3: What works for one person will work for others
There are people who have no interest in your cause. They’re not motivated by your rewards. Sure, we’d like to engage them. But they must fit. If we’re engaging people we like and we’re growing our team, don’t let the people who fail to engage slow you down. Remember the quote from Vince Lombardi, “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired with enthusiasm.” Zappos pursues culture at all costs. It famously pays people to leave. Find people who engage with your goals and culture, and you don’t have to work on engagement.
Please, let’s stop the mechanical “do this, and they’ll do that” discussion about employee engagement. Create a compelling vision. Equip, energize and empower passionate people to pursue a vision they consider worth the effort, and give everyone else a chance to find their passion elsewhere. Those are the keys to creating an environment where people volunteer engagement. You can’t pull it out of them. You create a place where you’re engaged, and, if those reasons appeal to others, they will engage and grow, too.
This post originally appeared on Smartblog on Leadership.