“Engagement” Is A Buzzword Worth Making Noise About

By Rex Huppke
Chicago Tribune.

I’m no fan of buzzwords. I dislike them so much I created my own buzzword to describe the fight against overused workplace gibberish: dynamic jargon disruption.

It’s a phrase I’m hoping will catch on, but even a nationally renowned dynamic jargon disrupter like myself will admit that some buzzwords have their place. One of those is “engagement.”

You hear it a lot these days, and with good reason. Engagement, which is essentially how much you dig your job, has been shown quantitatively and qualitatively to have a direct impact on productivity.

It’s a simple concept, really. If you like your job and care about your job and feel invested in the work you’re doing, you’ll work harder and the company will retain quality workers.

Gallup recently released a report titled “The State of the American Manager” which showed that a strikingly low number of managers feel engaged at work, only 35 percent. The rest are either not engaged, 51 percent, or “actively disengaged,” which means 14 percent of managers couldn’t care less and have one foot out the door.

This creates what the report calls a “cascade effect,” where disengaged managers lead to disengaged employees, and that costs money: “Their managers are not engaged, or worse, are actively disengaged, and through their impact, Gallup estimates that these managers cost the U.S. economy $319 billion to $398 billion annually.”

I spoke with Kevin Sheridan, a Chicago-based expert on employee engagement and author of the book “Building a Magnetic Culture: How to Attract and Retain Top Talent to Create an Engaged, Productive Workforce,” and asked him first to give a detailed description of what it means to be engaged at work.

He broke it into four parts:

_You have “an emotional and intellectual bond to the organization and its mission and purpose.”

_You plan to stick around. “An engaged employee isn’t going to leave at the drop of a hat or when another employer waves a dollar more per hour in their face.”

_You’re willing to take on new tasks, mentor others and put in extra time whenever needed.

_You are a “willing owner of your own engagement.”

That last one is a little buzzword-ish, but it makes sense: Engaged workers aren’t waiting around for a manager to fire them up, they’ve bought in to what the company’s doing and they care about it and are excited to make good things happen.

Still, Sheridan said, getting workers to that point requires engaged managers. And clearly there aren’t enough of them out there.

“You have to hire the right managers, Sheridan said. “We’re hiring bodies. We’re getting butts into seats as opposed to having an interview process that’s an absolute gauntlet. You have to be very scrutinizing for who you hire for what positions.”

The Gallup report identified several management behaviors that boost employee engagement: being open and approachable; helping workers “set work priorities and goals”; and focusing on putting employees in positions that play to their strengths rather than trying to improve their weaknesses.

Sheridan believes the manager-employee relationship is also key, and often overlooked.

“One of the things I abhor is a manager who views employees as pawns on a chessboard of productivity, as opposed to human beings who have lives and families and children,” he said. “Just take a genuine interest in them as human beings. That’s not happening often enough.”

In workshops he gives, Sheridan asks managers to think about the best boss they ever had and write down the three qualities about that boss that made her or him so great. Then he tells them to mirror those qualities and make a commitment to become somebody’s best boss.
That’s a pretty reasonable approach.

Gallup puts the level of worker engagement at a measly 30 percent. (Other studies of this dynamic have shown similarly low numbers.)

But the report shows how much engaged managers can lift the people who work for them: “Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59 percent more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.”

So the key is getting better people in management positions, not simply promoting workers up the corporate chain because they’ve served their time.

Sheridan put it rather bluntly: “If you have actively disengaged managers, get rid of them. Do not coach and hope. There is no way you’re going to transform that actively disengaged manager into one who’s actively engaged. Can you train managers in the middle, ones who are not disengaged but also not very engaged. Yes. Train them on what engagement is and get them absolutely jacked to become engagement champions. Make sure they’re willing to be accountable, willing to give clear expectations of what they expect of the people who report to them.”

That’s when the cascade effect can work in your company’s favor. You put the right people in place, you weed out the people who have checked out and you get people connected to their jobs, excited about what they’re doing and, hopefully, happy to come to work.

Engagement isn’t something that will happen overnight. But it’s a buzzword worthy of serious attention.

And you know that means something coming from me, a thought-leader in the burgeoning field of dynamic jargon disruption.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune

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