If you’re like a lot of workforce leaders, a strong hiring year and reported economic upswing may have you feeling cautiously optimistic about retention and increased productivity. However, I wouldn’t count your chickens just yet. A prudent leader would be remiss to overlook two abiding truths: 1) only a mere 30% of employees claim to be engaged at work, and 2) the axiom, “people leave bad managers, not bad companies” has never been more apropos than it is today.
In other words, despite the favorable economic climate change, don’t expect to see “engaged employees” removed from the endangered species list any time soon.
If you’re scratching your head wondering why engagement stats remain flat in the face of marked economic growth, look no further than the changing landscape of today’s labor force. Millennials, who are now joined by Gen Zers, have saturated the market and altered the entire workplace fabric in the process.
Termed the “least engaged generation in the workforce,” millennials are surely noncommittal and professionally indifferent job-hoppers. They want on-site pinball machines, free assorted bagels, and monthly pay raises, right? Quite the contrary. This younger population is sharp, eager, tech-savvy, and highly skilled. They are in dire search of connection, purpose, and engagement at work…. which of course begs the question, “where do they go to find it?”
A recent Gallup study confirms that employees expect and rely on their managers to provide an engaging work environment and compelling reasons to anchor themselves to the company. They don’t just want a “boss,” they want a purveyor of progress, a curator of opportunity. But not all managers are created equal. In fact, managers account for up to 70% of variance in employee engagement.
To help you and your organization jumpstart a prosperous year, MEA is pleased to provide four management strategies designed to foster and improve employee engagement.
1. Provide Purposeful Work
Gone are the days when predictability and a steady paycheck formed the bedrock of job satisfaction. Today’s workforce wants to feel connected to what they’re doing; they want their company’s culture and mission to be congruous with their own personal values. How then, do you as a manager, cultivate meaningful and tailored opportunities for your employees?
The oft-overlooked first step is to identify each employee’s unique skill set. This may require you abandon the standard approach of assigning tasks based solely on a pre-canned job description. Instead, go deeper. Make use of scientifically validated assessment tools to hone in on specific capabilities, preferences, and workplace behaviors, which in turn allows you to discuss and assign projects and duties aligned with employee’s strengths and interests. Pairing aptitude with passion is a winning formula for keeping employees engaged and connected not only to their essential job functions, but to the organization on a more macro level.
2. Position Employees to Influence
Micromanaging is so passé. If you really want your team to flourish, take a step back and loosen the reins. Today’s workforce doesn’t want or need a hovering manager dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s. That approach is stifling and breeds disengagement.
Instead, cultivate trust, confidence, and accountability among your employees by giving them the opportunity to lead. Assign projects that require collaboration, independent research, and the collective sharing of ideas. By empowering your employees to independently produce, you create a sense of value and in turn, employees understand that their contributions directly impact their team as well as their company.
3. Open Rich Lines of Communication
Millennials are no strangers to communication. With the myriad of devices and real-time conversation channels at their disposal, today’s workforce expects regular interaction with their manager. And no, an annual performance review does not constitute “regular communication.”
Sit down with your employees and devise a communication plan that is mutually accommodating and effective. Whether it be Skype check-ins with remote team members, brief, on-site weekly progress meetings, or a combination of face-to-face and electronic/phone communication, millennials both want and need continuous feedback to feel engaged. Allow time for employees to ask questions, voice concerns, and solicit assistance if needed. Communication should not be strictly transactional and rigid, however. Millennials want to know that their manager views them as people first, not just employees. Don’t hesitate to ask them about personal interests and hobbies. Often, extracurricular activities highlight another dimension of an employee’s skill set, personality, and drivers of motivation.
4. Stop Checking Boxes, Start Setting Goals
And finally, it’s time to bid farewell to a one-size-fits-all performance management system. Annual reviews are often a source of frustration for employees and can feel superficial and perfunctory in nature. Today’s workforce wants development and a clear path to growth and improvement…..And endless forms, drop-down menus, and prescribed grading criteria are not the answer.
Sit down with each of your employees to discuss and establish realistic, measurable, and relevant goals designed to maximize individual potential. Another deviation from the standard review is the focus on employee strengths as opposed to weaknesses. Millennials want to capitalize on and further develop their core competencies to produce greater output, work more efficiently, and make impactful contributions. Research shows that a strengths-based work culture yields higher rates of employee engagement. Simply put, develop performance goals that are not only aligned with your company’s mission, but ones that speak to each employee’s unique skill set and professional interests.
Adapting your management style to meet the demands of today’s workforce can certainly be challenging. MEA doesn’t want you to tackle it alone. Contact us today to learn how our wide breadth of training programs, behavioral assessment offerings, and other resources can equip you with the tools you need to generate and maintain high levels of employee engagement.