business / Contributor / leadership

3 Rules of Employee Engagement I Learned From Being a Dad

Written by Greg Witz, edited by Jared Kligerman, initially published for Witz Education.

I’m sure those with children will agree there is no worse sound in the world than your crying child. While some are signs of hunger or discomfort, very often they stem from my child being disengaged or bored. In fact, I can even see it happening as she begins to stop playing with a toy, looking around for something else.

In our workplaces, disengagement can be harder to see. According to research conducted by Gallup, 51.9% of employees are not engaged but make it seem as though they are. They complete tasks and put in the time but are no longer passionate about what they do. Another 15.7% are actively disengaged and are busy undermining the success of others and the organization.

A Towers Perrin 2005 Global Workforce Survey found that it is the unique elements of the work environment that have the strongest impact on employee engagement. In other words, it comes down to your organization’s culture and your leaders’ communication and leadership styles.

Through my efforts to keep my little one engaged, I recognized 3 rules that I use at home that apply to keeping our teams engaged.

1. Figure out what they want

When my child is crying, the quickest way to end the noise is to give them what they want! Our teams are made up of a diverse set of personalities so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that what motivates and engages one person won’t work with someone else.

Surveys are a great way to learn about what motivates your team. Rather than using multiple choice, consider using open ended questions that allow for multiple suggestions. If you offer suggestions, make sure you are able to deliver as nothing is more demotivating than broken promises! If you aren’t sure what to ask, Gallup’s Q12 survey is a relatively inexpensive option and, being only 12 questions long, is quick as well.

2. Get involved

Often giving my little one what they want isn’t enough. She wants me to play or interact with her. This is mirrored in our organizations.

While employee-focused initiatives such as bonuses and offering work-life balance initiatives such as flexible work hours are important, no amount of perks will mend a poor relationship between team members and their leader. Leaders must show that they value their employees and appreciate the contributions they make. To accomplish this, employees need to trust their leader and feel comfortable in raising ideas. This requires leaders to be clear about the direction of the organization, clarify the roles and expectations of their teams, and be transparent when making decisions. Many organizations have open-book management styles, where leaders rely on their teams to flag problems, make suggestions, and drive improvements. In some cases, this may require a leader to report into a team member!

3) Celebrate the positives, learn from the negatives

This comes so easily when we are interacting with children, however we often forget this when we arrive at work. Starting with the initial survey, we need to present the process as a collaborative initiative to improve workplace culture. Highlight what is working well and recognize those who have identified ways to make things better.

We become so caught up in completing tasks that we dismiss wins and make a big deal out of failures. Studies have found that employees feel they receive immediate feedback when performance is poor or below expectations, but rarely receive praise and recognition for strong performance. Furthermore, by only highlighting failures we decrease the likelihood of team members bringing issues forward as we create the perception that we do not handle bad news well. Failures are times to highlight what went wrong, but more importantly, how to avoid this from happening in the future. It is an opportunity to further engage the team to identify and implement solutions.

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