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Employee Engagement for You: September 2020 Edition
Employee Engagement for You: September 2020 Edition 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

The honeymoon is over.

That’s actually both a terrible and perfect way to describe where we are right now. The past six months haven’t felt anything like a honeymoon, but they may end up feeling that way in hindsight someday.

When everything changed in the spring, we buckled down and adapted because we had no choice. We dialed up safety precautions. We closed offices and sent people home.

And then the waiting game started. It’s only a matter of time before this is over, we thought.

We are still waiting. And it’s looking like the wait might not be over for a long while. While we wait, the strain of this new working world is starting to break us down.

Employees, who largely stepped up in the early days of work from home, are starting to feel the fatigue and strain. I spoke to an HR leader yesterday who said they’ve seen productivity start to fall and more people calling in sick than ever before.

The challenge of managing and engaging a remote and distributed team is not going away. It’s a reality we must not only face but embrace.

The good news is that the fundamentals are the same. The bad news is that we often weren’t great at the fundamentals before this happened.

If you want to take steps to ensure your employees stay engaged, here are the two actions to take now.

  1. Ask employees about their experiences (through surveys, focus groups, conversations, etc.), listen intently for what they need, and where there are gaps, fix them. We don’t need to guess about what employees need to feel more engaged—we can just ask them.
  2. Ensure manager/employee one-on-one meetings are happening with frequency. There is no more powerful tool for employee engagement than an effective one-on-one meeting. A great one-on-one is scheduled, frequent, and valuable for the employee. Put a focus on appreciation and coaching to maximize the value.

If you do nothing else, put your energy behind these two things. This journey is far from over. Stay focused and keep going. You matter.

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. What is the biggest challenge you are facing with managing remote employees? Hit reply right now and tell me about what you’ve found the most difficult.

Stuff You Should Read

If you want a condensed, useful article with some good advice for how to manage remote teams, here’s one I recommend. Lots of good advice in a small package. Read: 12 Tips For Managing a Remote Team (And Loving It).

This past week, the ADP Research Institute, which is in part led by Marcus Buckingham, released some new data on workplace resilience. The full report breaks down how they measured workplace resilience (including the 10 factors that their research suggests are drivers of it) and the key findings of this research. It’s a unique and interesting perspective on the topic with some surprising findings. Read: Workplace Resilience Study.

My advice lately has been to avoid jumping to any conclusions about what work is going to look like post-pandemic. We are apt to misinterpret signals and assume greater significance in some trends than they deserve. This brought to mind one of my favorite business books of all time, The Halo Effect. It will change how you think about business (and how you read business books) forever. Read: The Halo Effect.

stuff you should hear

What if we randomly selected who we promoted into management? That’s the question I was left Headphonespondering after listening to this recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It will challenge you to think differently about a few things. Proceed with caution. Listen now.stuff you should watch

You know that interview question, “What three people, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?” This month, I got to have a conversation on my webcast with one of the people who is on my list, Gary Hamel. It was a highlight moment of my career and he really delivered the goods in our conversation. Watch: My Conversation with Gary Hamel.

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Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work)
Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work) 700 468 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, I opened the weekly email from a thought leader I really admire, Marc Effron. Marc is probably best known for writing the genius book, One Page Talent Management.

I first crossed paths with Marc in 2006 when we were both speaking at the same event. We were both corporate HR execs at the time. From the beginning, I knew this guy was the real deal. 

And, I’ve been following his work ever since. His company, Talent Strategy Group, consistently publishes great content—much of it oriented towards blowing up status-quo thinking and replacing it with what really works.  

I’m a fan. Clearly. Which is why I was so disappointed to find an article in his newsletter titled, “Why the Fake You will Outperform the Authentic You (and how to fake it).” As I read it, I just sighed and thought to myself, “not you too, Marc.” 

For some reason, it’s become popular over the past few years to push back against the idea that we should bring our authentic selves to work. Adam Grant, another person I admire greatly, wrote in 2016, “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.” Thankfully, his view of authenticity seems to be evolving

My colleague Joe Gerstandt and I have been researching, writing about, and teaching authenticity for over a decade now, which is why I’m so baffled that we continue to get the concept of authenticity so wrong. 

Here’s an excerpt from Marc’s article: 

“At least once a month, I show a decidedly fake version of myself to very important people who have paid handsomely for my services. The fake me may show up in a client meeting, an executive education session or during an important speech. My clients don’t know that it’s the fake me and they don’t care. They simply want a great outcome for their organization.”

I bristled at the use of the word “fake” here. In 2020, we live in a time when literal “fake news” floods our social media accounts daily. Fake in today’s world means “intentionally misleading” or “lies.” 

As authors and thought leaders, we often use words that trigger emotional reactions that we hope will get you to click our email or read our post. That’s part of the marketing game. But, in this case, Marc’s use of the word fake here goes beyond a marketing stunt. It’s harmful. More on that later. 

More for the article: 

“You might consider yourself to be a genuine leader and can’t, or find it fundamentally distasteful to, imagine not being your “authentic” self at work. This is because many people like to believe that their authentic self is a carefully thought-through, practiced and shaped version of who they want to be. In reality, the authentic or genuine you is likely an artificial construct your brain has created – a big bundle of confirmation bias based on your intelligence and core personality and how both have interpreted your past experiences.

The genuine you is a constraint on your success if you believe that your success is derived from it. Once you stop worrying about being the genuine or authentic you, the more you can be the adaptable chameleon that succeeds in more situations. That sometimes fake you (if done well) is guaranteed to be a higher performer.”

Ugh. This almost reads like a moralistic argument for “the ends always justify the means.” And, maybe that’s the point. If you aren’t reading this carefully and thinking it through, this section could easily be interpreted in a lot of harmful ways:

  • Do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it makes you feel like a fraud. 
  • As long as you succeed, then “faking it” is worth it.
  • It’s okay to make things up and pretend to be someone you aren’t, so long as it gets better results. 
  • You will never have an authentic sense of self, so why both looking for or protecting it? Just make it up as you go and become something new in every situation. 

I hope that’s not what is being argued here because that would be a deeply sad and troubling reflection on what gets rewarded and promoted in business and society today. And maybe that’s the point of the article, to shine a light on how the entire system is designed to reward faking it. 

When I peel back the packaging of Marc’s suggestions as “faking it” and just look at the meat of his recommendations, I am not arguing that it’s bad advice. But, I’m suggesting that regardless of what’s comfortable for you or what’s in your natural style, you can learn skills to better promote your ideas, make friends, and show ambition without having to feel like you faking it. 

That’s why this article bothers me so much. At the very least, it reveals how poorly we understand and have defined authenticity. And that’s too important for me to let it slide.

Based on the work Joe and I have done over the past decade on authenticity, here are two critical things that Marc’s argument misses: 

1. Authenticity is a journey. 

One thing that Marc and I can agree on is that there is no single “authentic you” within any of us. As humans, we are constantly evolving and changing. Being authentic is the work we do to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, come to terms with who we are, and then show up in the world in a way that aligns with that. 

Marc is correct that while many assume they’ve done the work to live authentically, that’s just not the reality for most people. The journey of authenticity is challenging and not everyone has the know-how or willingness to take it on. 

Where Marc and I part ways is in what to do about it. Marc suggests that since you probably aren’t authentic, just fake it. While this may get you ahead in cut-throat corporate environments (and probably national politics), it’s harmful advice for most people in terms of overall wellbeing and happiness. 

In “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” author Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care nurse who cared for elderly patients at the end of their lives, wrote that the single biggest regret her patients expressed at the end of their lives was this: 

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” 

In other words, I wish I’d lived a more authentic life. While authenticity may not always be the fastest path to promotion, it won’t leave you on your deathbed wondering why you squandered so much of your life trying to be what others wanted you to be.

2. Authenticity includes your intentions.  

One of the biggest things people misunderstand about authenticity is that it’s not about doing or saying whatever you want without consequence. That’s not authenticity. That’s radical individualism. 

The model Joe and I teach of the journey of authenticity starts with self-awareness. And it’s not the traditional self-awareness work like understanding your personality, strengths, and behavioral style. Those things are important, but they’re just the start. 

The more important work lies in discovering and defining things like our values, purpose, intentions, and aspirations. In doing this work, we gain greater clarity about who we are today, but also who we aspire to be on our best days and in the future. When we are clear on these important things, it helps us make intentional decisions about our behavior. 

At work and in our lives, we make compromises and adaptations all the time. If it’s important to preserve a relationship with someone else, we may pause to consider how we are going to say something to another person if our words might hurt them instead of just letting it fly. We may end up saying it in a way that doesn’t feel as natural to us, but protects the relationship. 

As Marc illustrates in his piece, there are times when we have to adapt our behavior in order to authentically represent our values and intentions. You shouldn’t feel like you are faking it when you do this because it’s in integrity with who you are and who you intend to be.

It’s when we aren’t clear on what really matters to us, the winds of corporate politics and bureaucracy can blow us far off course until we wake up one day and wonder how we became a person we don’t even recognize anymore. Without committing to authenticity, you can easily fall into a pattern of faking it so much that you lose any self of who you really are. I believe this is a major contributor to things like burnout and midlife crises.  

Authenticity doesn’t mean no compromise or adaptation. It means that we make those choices with intention and purpose. Here’s a simple example from my work. My favorite dress code for work is jeans (or shorts) and a t-shirt. That’s how I feel most comfortable. If you saw me working around my home on any given day, that’s how I’d be dressed. As a keynote speaker, some would argue that for me to be my most authentic self on stage, I should dress in jeans and a t-shirt. 

But, this perspective overlooks the fact that one of my most important values is impact. I deeply care about the effect of my speech on the audience. And since I speak to corporate and business leaders most often, I know that many people in that audience expect an expert keynote speaker to wear a suit on stage. And, if those people saw a guy walk out on stage in jeans, they may wonder, “Where’s his suit? Is this guy legit? Is he really an expert?” 

Sure, I may be able to overcome those objections during my presentation, but I don’t want to waste those precious few minutes I get with my audience to make an impact over a pair of jeans. Marc would argue that I’m being “fake.” He’s wrong. That suit is an authentic representation of my values and aspiration. There’s nothing non-genuine about it. I’m not faking it. 

We change, grow, and evolve as people over time. The journey of authenticity embraces that change and brings a greater intention to it. When we try on new or less comfortable behaviors in service of our aspirations or values, it’s a step in our evolution as an authentic person. We are all going to be faced with making sacrifices and compromises throughout our lives. When we are living in authenticity, we can navigate these things with a clear sense of what is aligned with who we are and what isn’t. 

Don’t Fake It

The ironic thing is that if you adopt a broader view of authenticity as I’ve described, you may end up making some of the same behavior adaptations described in Marc’s piece. But instead of it being an opportunistic and perhaps morally questionable choice by faking it, it’s a choice in service of your values and intentions. It is the authentic you.  

Here’s my plea to you. 

Regardless of how much you want to get ahead or be accepted or find a little more success, don’t fake it. Instead, commit yourself to the journey of authenticity. Do the work to get clarity about who you are and what you want from life. When you can make authentic decisions and choices in your life and career based on this work, your life will be more meaningful and fulfilled. 

And at the end of it all, you’ll be able to look back and say, “I did things on my terms. I’m glad I didn’t fake it.” 

Burnout and Putting Me Back Together Again
Burnout and Putting Me Back Together Again 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

About two weeks ago, I wrote about my realization that I was suffering from burnout. The response to the post was both affirming and concerning. 

Affirmation came in the form of messages and comments signifying I wasn’t alone. Others saw themselves in my situation. They were feeling the same exhaustion and lack of joy. In those affirmations was born my concern. 

I’ve spent the last two weeks writing and speaking openly about my burnout and how I found my way through it. The more I talk about it, the more I hear from others who are suffering from something similar: burnout, COVID fatigue, stress, etc. 

As a result of what I’ve heard, I feel like I need to share what’s happened since I wrote that post. I took some very intentional and specific actions to get back to feeling like myself again and it’s had a dramatic effect. 

I’m a bit reluctant as I write this post for a couple of reasons. First, I’m in no way an expert on burnout or mental health. I’m only an expert on sharing my story and what I’ve learned from it. 

Second, I have found quickly that there are many different manifestations and intensities of burnout. My hunch is that mine was pretty mild and that I caught it relatively early, but I don’t know. 

Finally, I’m cognizant of the enormous privilege and advantages I have at my disposal. I am lucky. I have more flexibility (I work for myself), support, and resources than many do. Please know I am aware of this and that your situation may look a lot different than mine. 

I’m going to share what I did because it was incredibly healing for me. I literally feel like a different person today than I did when I wrote that blog. I’ll also share what I took from the experience as learnings. My hope is that something in there will be helpful to you or perhaps someone you know who might be stuck where I was.  


My Retreat

As I began to realize how worn down I felt, a friend of mine suggested that I take a few days and really unplug. Unplug from work, from tech, from the news. She suggested spending time just breathing and doing things like watching the sun rise and set. 

It sounded right to me, so I scanned my calendar and found four days where I had very little scheduled and anything that was scheduled could be moved. I blocked them off. 

When I told my wife about my plan to unplug, she made a suggestion. My parents were going to be gone for a couple of weeks camping, so why not go to their house to have some real time “away” from everything. That’s exactly what I did. 

Two days after I posted my blog, I packed my car and headed to my parents’ empty house. Ironically, while so many are struggling with social isolation right now, what I needed was some true time alone. 

Over the course of those four days, I had a few priorities. 

DISCONNECTION  I didn’t check email. I didn’t watch any news. I unplugged. The only people I talked to during the entire four days were my grandparents, who live in an assisted living facility near my parents’ home. Visiting with them in-person was good for the soul. In the evenings, I’d kick back and watch a movie I’d been wanting to see. 

SLEEP  I felt exhausted heading up there. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been sleeping. My Fitbit would have told you that I was getting about seven hours of sleep per night even as I was burning out. It wasn’t enough. Over my four nights away, I slept 9.5, 9, 9, and 8 hours respectively per night. My batteries were clearly run down.

SELF-HELP PODCASTS  The week before I left, a friend who had navigated through her own experience of burnout mentioned how much the Brené Brown podcast, Unlocking Us, had helped. I took her advice and binged a bunch of episodes along with several from the Dan Harris podcast, Ten Percent Happier. These were exactly what I needed. It was the closest thing I could get to some counseling or coaching as part of this experience. It was a reminder that just because you heard something or knew something at one point doesn’t mean you don’t need reminders and refreshers. One would think I should know that. Regardless, these podcasts and a few other random episodes from other sources gave me the tools I needed to reset my mindset. 

JOURNALING  Each morning, I spent about 30-45 minutes journaling. I use a technique for journaling where I decide in advance how much space I’m going to fill in my journal and then I write, without stopping, until it’s full. This part of the process was vital to pouring out my thoughts and making sense of what had been going on inside my head. By putting in the self-help content early, I had a lot to process and sort through over four days. Other than sleep, journaling was probably the most vital part of healing.  

EXERCISE  This is admittedly a regular part of my self-care routine. I run between 20 and 25 miles per week during the warm months. While on retreat, I kept up my running but also mixed in some long walks as well. Exercise alone isn’t enough for me, clearly, but it’s an important element. 

MEDITATION  Each morning, I spent 15-20 minutes meditating. I am still largely a meditation novice, but I love it and find it extremely valuable. I use the Calm app for guided meditations. 

Beyond these things, I allowed myself a lot of open space to do whatever felt like the right thing to do. One day, I went for a sight-seeing drive and listened to a podcast. Another day, I went for a meandering walk around town. Just the feeling of being off a schedule allowed some of my stress to ease. 

When I returned home from the retreat, I felt like a different person. I’d been able to isolate some really problematic mindsets and reset them to a more positive place. Plus, I felt whole and rested. I had energy and the joy had returned. I am not overstating this. It was transformative. 

What I think I learned

As I’ve had time to think about how I ended up in need of a retreat and how the retreat restored me, I’m going to hang on to a few things to hopefully help me prevent this from happening again in the future. 

  1. Retreats are powerful. The word retreat is defined as “an act of moving back or withdrawing.” That’s what I needed and it feels like what a lot of people need right now. We need to move back from the front lines of our lives, even if it’s just for a few days. When we move back and get away, we are able to get out of the busyness and see our situation from a different perspective. Creating space for retreat is incredibly important and valuable. 
  2. Ongoing self-care is vital, and exercise alone isn’t enough. I think when the crisis took hold in March, the adrenaline of needing to adapt and respond carried me through several months. I suspect that my exercise and sleep routine actually helped me stretch out how far that carried me, but I wasn’t tending to my mental health, and eventually I broke down. Going forward, I have a plan to be as disciplined about my mental health self-care as I am about my physical health. 
  3. We all need help in getting and staying well. I am fortunate that I have friends (and a badass wife) who provided me with suggestions and ideas for what I needed to do. I’m also grateful that I opened myself back up to some self-help content. My learning style responds really well to self-help, but it could have been counseling or coaching instead. The point is, it’s hard to climb out of a rut without some help. It’s also much easier to recognize and avoid the rut in the first place with help. 

As Paul Harvey used to say, “That’s the rest of the story.” My hope is that maybe it will be useful to you, someone you care about, or maybe in thinking through how to support your employees right now. 

And, if you are curious about what the mindsets were that needed a reset, the short version is this: I needed to replace judgment with empathy and scarcity with abundance. If you want to talk more about that, reach out and ask.  

Take care of yourself and those around you. We’ve still got a long way to go.  

working human
Employee Engagement Essentials Post-COVID
Employee Engagement Essentials Post-COVID 1000 555 Jason Lauritsen

I originally wrote this post for my friends at Workhuman. I asked their permission to share it here as well because I thought you might find it valuable. If you’d like to view the original post, you can find it here:  https://www.workhuman.com/resources/globoforce-blog/employee-engagement-essentials-post-covid

This week, all over the U.S., schools are reopening and millions of kids are heading back to the classroom. As educators and parents navigate their way through this process, there are big questions to be answered.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another post debating school openings. Rather, as I’ve been both watching and experiencing this process personally, it struck me that the challenge of school reopening isn’t too different from what organizations are wrestling with in terms of what the “workplace” looks like post-COVID.

At the heart of both issues is the reality that we are living through a global pandemic that no one was fully prepared for. The past several months have produced change at a pace we’ve rarely experienced. We’ve all been knocked off balance.

As we look to the future for both schools and our organizations, one thing is for sure – the future won’t look anything like the past. Too much has changed and there are too many new forces in play now. But not everything has changed.

The key to success on the road ahead is identifying the important things that have stayed the same and keeping sight of those as you navigate the key changes. Here I unpack what’s changed and what hasn’t for organizations that want to continue to engage employees through and beyond COVID.

What employee engagement essentials haven’t changed?

Let’s begin with two things that haven’t changed and likely never will for employee engagement. I like to call these the fundamentals. No matter how much the world changes, there are core needs employees need satisfied to stay engaged in their work. These were important before COVID, they are vital now, and they will continue to be critical in the future.

Communication

Communication is an essential ingredient to employee engagement and should stay at the heart of any effort to improve engagement and performance.

But I’m not talking about sending more formal email updates or posting memos on the company intranet. To drive engagement, communication is about creating greater clarity and reducing uncertainty for each employee.

The importance of communication can be summarized in three words: uncertainty kills engagement.

Uncertainty is dangerous because of how our brains have evolved to keep us safe. The fight-or-flight response means that our brains will frequently interpret an unknown stimulus as a threat and will trigger a response that preserves our safety. This helps us stay alive. If you are walking through the woods at night and hear a sound you can’t identify, it’s not bad to have a fear response and do what you need to do to stay safe (run, turn on a flashlight, etc.).

The problem is that the brain isn’t particularly discerning about the type of unknown stimulus. It generally reacts to that uncertainty in the woods in a similar way as it does to uncertainty at work. When we are uncertain, our brain fills in the details in a way that creates a fear response to help us find safety.

This is what makes uncertainty in the office really dangerous to engagement. Think back to the last time your boss requested an impromptu meeting with you and provided no explanation. You likely had at least a flash of anxiety or panic as you imagined all the negative things that might have prompted the request (“OMG, I’m getting fired”). Or maybe you started racking your brain for what you may have done wrong recently.

When we don’t know what’s happening, our mind creates a story that is often much worse than what’s actually happening. It’s our brain’s way of preparing us for something bad to happen so we can protect ourselves. We don’t need to be prepared for unexpected good news, so the default setting when we fill in the details is the worst-case scenario.

This is what makes communication so important. The key is to keep ongoing, two-way communication happening at all times. This includes manager check-ins, team meetings, senior leader forums, and employee surveys. Any activity that identifies areas of uncertainty for employees and attempts to replace that uncertainty with clarity is engagement communication.

If you want to fuel engagement today and in the future, invest more time and intention on communication to combat uncertainty.

Appreciation

Nearly twenty years ago, Don Clifton and Tom Rath from Gallup published the book, “How Full Is Your Bucket?” This was in response to a finding in Gallup’s employee survey data that 65% of employees reported receiving zero moments of positive recognition in the previous year at work. That’s two-thirds of employees who said they showed up to work every day for a year and no one ever offered up even a simple “thank you.”

On my optimistic days, I want to believe we’ve gotten better at this over the past two decades, but my experience suggests that any gains we’ve made have been small. Far too many employees still feel undervalued and unappreciated at work. And this was before the new era of remote and distributed work ushered in by COVID.

If we weren’t expressing enough appreciation to one another when we were in the same physical space together, this won’t likely improve when we are physically apart. This is a problem because we know that feeling valued and appreciated are drivers of employee engagement.

To meet this challenge, we have to think more broadly about how to create moments of recognition and appreciation. Employees should experience acknowledgment and appreciation from their manager through regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings. But co-workers can also play an important role. If you want to make huge leaps in helping your employees feel more appreciation, there are two places to focus.

First, you need to make appreciation and recognition a part of how you do things. This might mean having “shoutouts” as part of your team meeting agenda. It could also mean implementing a technology tool to enable peer-to-peer recognition and make it easy for all employees to share and receive. The other key is to teach people how to show appreciation. If we were naturally great at it, this wouldn’t be such a huge issue. Simple training, guidance, and role modeling have a big impact. The more people see and experience genuine appreciation, the more likely they are to pay it forward.

How has employee engagement changed post-COVID?

While the core drivers of engagement, like the two just outlined, haven’t meaningfully changed, there are some essential factors that have. These are not necessarily new considerations, but rather some factors that have been elevated in importance based on external forces.

Flexibility

A number of years ago, when I was involved in Best Places to Work research, we conducted some exploratory research to check our assumptions about what was most important to and valued by employees in their job. The results surprised us. Flexibility emerged as one of the most highly valued elements of the work experience.

Employees’ desire for greater flexibility isn’t new. Some organizations (pre-COVID) even used flexible work arrangements as a competitive advantage in attracting talent. This was effective because so many other organizations were telling employees that flexibility considerations, like working from home, were not possible.

Now that employees know what’s possible, there’s no going back. Employees now know that it was never a matter of it not being possible, it was that leadership didn’t trust them. Employees have proven that they can be productive away from the office, even at home under really hard circumstances.

Notice I’m using the phrase flexibility, not “work from home.” What’s changed isn’t necessarily that everyone wants to work from home. When the dust settles and it’s safe to go back to the office, the key question isn’t “do we or don’t we?” Instead, the opportunity will be to step back and, with feedback from your employees, to redesign how, when, and where work best gets done.

If your organization values having people physically together, work with employees to imagine and create a workplace experience that employees crave. Create a place where they want and prefer to be. Then you can give them the freedom to choose.

The bottom line is that post-COVID, if you intend to limit or dictate when, where, or how an employee does their work, you had better be able to defend that with a clear and legitimate business reason. Leader and manager comfort or preference won’t cut it.

Safety 

This may seem a bit obvious, but I don’t think it can be understated how important safety is in terms of an employee’s experience of work. When we don’t feel safe, that same fight-or-flight fear response that interferes with communication also causes all kinds of other issues (both psychological and physiological) that are detrimental to our ability to do our best work.

While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs clearly illustrates the vital importance of safety, most organizations have not focused on this area unless they rely on manual labor to create value.  Even the concept of “psychological safety,” which has become popular recently, is relatively new.

COVID has reminded all of us how fragile our sense of safety can be. Even if we cared about safety in the past, most of us took it for granted, particularly at work. Going forward, feeling safe is now a primary consideration. It is essential to our ability to be at our best and engaged fully in our work.

To foster a feeling of safety at and about work, remember that safety is intertwined with trust. When you consider the people in your life with whom you feel the safest, it’s likely people who you also trust the most completely. You know they have your best interests at heart, would never do anything to intentionally harm you, and would do everything in their power to protect you from harm.

For employees to feel truly safe at work, they need to believe the same to be true about the people who employ them. Not sure where to start? Ask your employees. They will tell you what’s working and what needs work. Take that feedback and do something about it. Over time, they will develop deep trust that whatever needs to be done to keep the workplace safe (and otherwise functioning well) will get done.

More human employee engagement post-COVID 

The common theme running through the four factors highlighted here is a deeper understanding of and connection to the core needs of the human being who’s doing the work. COVID forced us all to stop and take some account of what really mattered as organizations. At the top of that list was making sure our people were OK.

Employers are more intertwined in people’s lives than ever before. This is both an invitation and a wake-up call. We’ve learned that our people are resilient, capable, and committed. We’ve learned that work can get done in ways we didn’t recognize before. And we’ve been reminded that our employees are people who are also spouses, parents, children, and community members.

When we put the employee at the center of how we design and manage work with the focus on how to enable them to do their very best work in the context of their often complicated lives, everyone wins.

Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me
Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me 1000 555 Jason Lauritsen

I thought I was doing pretty well.

When our lives (and my business) got turned upside down in March, I hunkered down. I’ve been through some tough times before, so I knew that I could survive whatever was to come.

My wife and I figured out the “school from home” mess and made the best of it. And I went to work on pivoting my business for this new world. It felt like a puzzle to solve. While the circumstances sucked, they challenged me to learn and innovate. I even felt sort of energized at first.

I knew what I needed to do. Work hard. Focus on solving problems. Take risks. Go as fast as possible.

I’ve got this.

Then the start of the school year was suddenly upon us. Like many parents, Angie and I were confronted with decisions that felt impossible. Most critically, in-person or at-home school? We went back and forth for a while and finally made a decision.

Confronting the school decision seemed to somehow break me. I started to notice that I was exhausted all the time. When Angie would ask me, “how are you doing?” it became harder and harder to say, “I’m good.”

I started to notice that the energy I drew from “solving this puzzle” was diminished. Even the things that have always made me feel happy and joyful didn’t seem to be having the same effect. My resilience was waning.

I knew something was off but couldn’t figure out what it was. So I started doing a little reading and research. Before long, a lightbulb went on.

I’m burned out.

It’s been over five months now since the COVID bomb dropped on us. I’ve been grinding ever since. The stress and anxiety is ever present and I haven’t been doing the work I need to do to manage it.

I had plans to take some time off this summer to just hang out with the kids, but I always found work to do and suddenly summer was gone. I had a goal to meditate daily, but I let the habit lapse. Worse, I had replaced that with the comfortable numbness of a couple glasses of wine each night and whatever comfort carbs I could find.

Now that I’m aware of it, I am taking steps to heal myself. My energy is slowly starting to come back.

As I started to share this with friends and colleagues, I soon discovered that many of them were either feeling the same way or had navigated through the same challenge recently. I was surprised by how common this experience seemed to be.

Maybe you are in the same boat. Or maybe you recognize it in your partner, friend, or colleague.

This was just another reminder for me how important it is that we collectively work to support the mental health of our friends, family, and employees. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that their average weekly data for June 2020 “found that 36.5% of adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from 11.0% in 2019.” That’s a huge increase in what was already a big problem.

If we don’t care for the mental health and well-being of our employees, even the best engagement programs in the world can do little to preserve performance levels over the long haul. This may be one of the biggest challenges that lies before us.

Today at the bottom of the blog, I’m sharing some reading and resources related to this topic that I hope you will find helpful. Now is the time to lean into caring for your employees (and yourself). Things will likely get worse before they get better, so we need to be prepared.

You matter. Your work matters. Now more than ever.

Mental Health Reading and Resources

  • As you strive to support not only the mental health of your teams, but also their overall wellbeing, there is perhaps no better resource than the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). I’m sharing a page here where they provide access to several free resources related to mental health in the workplace. Resource: Mental Health at the Workplace
  • The most powerful thing we can do throughout this time for one another is to develop our empathy. This short post is a good reminder of how easy it is to assume we know what others are going through and, in doing so, miss an opportunity to really connect and help. Now is a time to use our natural curiosity to check in on those we care about. Read: Empathy Starts with Curiosity
  • Mental health isn’t a new challenge, but it’s becoming a more widespread and urgent one. COVID just poured gasoline on the fire. Now is a good time to get educated on mental health and why we’ve struggled with it traditionally. This can help us navigate a path to finding real solutions and support through work. Read: We Need to Talk More about Mental Health at Work
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No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home
No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home 1080 599 Jason Lauritsen

A lot has changed over the past several months at work. This virus showed up and lit the status quo on fire. A majority of office workers now work from home. And we’ve been scrambling ever since. 

The most intense disruption has been felt in jobs and work that once happened in an office setting but is now happening outside the office, primarily in what we call “work from home” (WFH). 

According to data published by Stanford in late June, 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home full time. When considered against the fact that 33% of the labor force is unemployed, that’s a huge share of working people now doing it from home. And it’s a reality that was almost unthinkable six months ago.  

As a result of this major shift, there’s been a wave of articles and proclamations made recently that “the future of work is here” and that the move to WFH is here to stay. 

In the words of the great Lee Corso, long-time college football analyst and coach, “Not so fast, my friend.”

In the midst of a whirlwind of change and uncertainty, it’s natural to grasp for certainty. It’s also natural to want what’s happening to somehow be the end of the changes. We are all craving some normalcy and a world that slows down a bit so we can start trying to make sense of it again. 

But it’s far too early to start drawing any definitive conclusions about how the way we work is going to look when this pandemic is finally over. Given that even the most optimistic experts suggest that early 2021 might be when things begin to turn, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us yet. 

It’s more useful to step back and consider what we know and what we’ve learned. These insights can then guide us as we try to prepare our organizations for what lies ahead. 

What we know

The pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse when viewed through the lens of work and how work happens. On the one hand, it’s ushered in a lot of challenges and hardships in the form of safety and financial challenges. 

On the other hand, the necessity of survival forced changes that were long overdue. 

  • Employees who had been told for years that their job couldn’t be done remotely were equipped to do so in days. 
  • Employees not only demonstrated an ability to work from home, but in many cases their productivity has actually improved
  • According to many I’ve spoken to, projects that would have taken years to complete in the past have been completed in months. 
  • The artificial barriers between “work” and “life” were broken apart as the new workplace involved bedrooms and living couches shared with children, spouses, and pets.  

As the proverb says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

There has been more disruption to the way work gets done in the past few months than in the previous decade. This virus forced us to cut through bureaucracy, red tape, and old school management practices to find a way to survive.  

And yet, both Gallup and Quantum Workplace have reported data that shows a dramatic improvement in employee engagement trends during the pandemic when compared to past years. 

What do we really know for sure at this point? 

We know that remote work is more viable and feasible than most expected. And we know that the reason we had not been allowing remote work in the past had little to do with it being possible and everything to do with management’s distrust of employees. 

We know that employees are far more resilient, resourceful, and committed to their jobs than most organizations assumed. Even in some really challenging situations (i.e. childcare, school from home, partner conflict, etc.), employees found a way to maintain productivity and get their core work done. 

We know that we are properly motivated, we can get things done and make things happen, even big complex things, a lot faster than we thought. Our slow, political, bureaucratic processes have been like anchors holding us in place. The bigger your organization, the heavier that anchor. 

What don’t we know?

The list of what we know is short. The list of what we don’t know is very, very long. That’s what makes jumping to any conclusions at this point dangerous. 

For example, we now know (and more importantly our employees know) that a majority of jobs can be done remotely. What we don’t know is whether they should be done remotely? Or if they should be done remotely all of time, some of the time, or none of the time. 

We have only been in this new reality of remote work for less than six months. We don’t really know yet how employees and their feelings will evolve.  When I started working from a home office, it took me years to fully make the transition and to learn how to be most effective in this setting (and I have the advantage of an actual home office). 

Some recent research from Quartz and Qualtrics revealed that “55% of people who switched from working outside the home to remote work at home said they prefer working from home when polled in early June.” But when you dig in deeper, the number is higher for those who work at a big company and lower for those who work in a small company. 

That data is from early June, before employees spent another few months isolated from colleagues and confined to their homes. We can only speculate at this point how employees are changing in both their attitudes and capabilities through this experience. Our workplace is going to emerge forever transformed. So too will our workforce

We don’t know yet the true impact of a fully distributed workforce. How could we? The fact is that we are running a giant remote work experiment during a pandemic. For me, working from home in the past was a combination of being in my office, on my couch, walking outside, using a conference room at a co-working space, and spending hours and hours in coffee shops both alone and in conversations with others. And that’s when I wasn’t on the road traveling. 

Today, employees are confined and limited to where and how they can work remotely. Work from home means “stuck at home” in a lot of cases, and it also means supervising children’s schooling, sharing space and duties with a spouse or roommates who are also stuck at home, etc. When the pandemic is over, a lot of variables will change and that means that some of what we think we’ve learned about how to shape work in the future may not be as valid as we think. An employee might come to hate working from home during a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want to do it under different circumstances. 

What should you do now? 

Given all of this, how can you prepare your organization for a new reality of work that hasn’t fully arrived yet?

  1. Talk to your people. There’s been so much change and most of us have been just rolling with the punches, trying to take it all in stride and do the best we can. But it’s hard. You feel it and so does every one of your employees. Now is the time to dial up your frequency of employee communication and feedback cycles. Surveys, focus groups, one-on-one check-ins, and any other means of keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with your employees is critical right now. Ask them how they are holding up and where they are struggling. Ask them how you can help. Ask them what they need. And do something to show them you care.
  2. Treat all of this as an experiment. Things are going to continue to change, the variables are going to keep changing. So, continue to try new things. A good experiment starts with a hypothesis (what do we think will happen?), followed by a specific and intentional action or set of actions, followed by measurement. The goal of an experiment is to prove or disprove the hypothesis and then use that information to start the next experiment. In other words, keep trying new things and measuring the impact. Learn as much as you can about what’s working and what isn’t so you can build on that in the future. Take full advantage of this unprecedented time to explore and learn.
  3. Focus on enabling employee performance. Employees have proven they will rise up to the challenge of remote work, but they’ve had to bear a heavy load to do it. Figure out what employees need and make it easier for them to perform what’s expected and make it happen. If employees are working from home, then supporting them in how to make that home work for them is just as important as it was to make the “workplace” a productive environment in the past. This could mean providing stipends for office furniture and technology. It might mean new technology tools. It might mean providing support and resources for childcare.
  4. Recognize that WFH is only one version of remote working. To say, “work from home” is the new norm or that it’s here to stay is wrong. You can say this: the days of telling people they have to work from the office and that their job can’t be done remotely without providing a really clear business reason are gone. What many employees have long wanted from work is flexibility. And now they know it’s possible and they will demand it in the future. 

Focus on people, don’t jump to any conclusions, and learn as much as you can. The future is always uncertain and unpredictable. The best thing we can do is pay close attention to what’s happening and apply what we are learning as we go.  

If you like this content, then you might really like my new online Engagement Leader Community. The work of engaging employees is getting harder. If you are wrestling with how to keep your employees engaged, happy, and productive during these crazy times, you will find some answers and support here. Check it out.

Employee Engagement for You: July 2020 Edition
Employee Engagement for You: July 2020 Edition 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

When I feel overwhelmed or stressed, my go-to strategy to find my way back to feeling calm and centered is gratitude.

That allure of comfort is powerful. But that path leads nowhere. The old normal is gone. And good riddance. We can do better.

As I write this today, I’m feeling a bit of both. And, while I’ve got a lot to be grateful for in my life, I want to specifically focus on you.

I’m grateful that you allow me to visit your inbox. I’m grateful that you care enough about making work better to spend some time reading and thinking about how to make it happen.

And, I’m really grateful for your support. It means a lot when you show up for a webcast, forward my post to a colleague, or send me back a note.

Thank you. Sincerely. I am grateful for you.

The work you do matters and I’m so appreciative that you allow me to join you on that journey.

(Yep, I feel better already.)

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. I’m doing a cool webinar series with my friends at Limeade on how well-being drives performance. If you are interested, you can check it out and sign up here.

Stuff You Should Read

starAs we attempt to navigate the possibility of permanent remote work within each of our organizations, we should understand the implications of any decision we make: all remote, no remote, or hybrid. This article from the CEO of an all-remote organization can prompt you to think about aspects you may not have yet considered. Read: Hybrid Remote Work Offers the Worst of Both Worlds

starWe must pay close attention to issues of equity and inclusion as we chart what work looks like in each organization moving forward. We have the opportunity to close many gaps but we can also make things worse if we aren’t very intentional in what we do. This HBR article highlights some examples of where things can go wrong and what to do to prevent it. Read: Why WFH Isn’t Necessarily Good for Women

starRemote work or not, the challenge to engage your employees remains. This post by Nir Eyal outlines the concept of “Unconditional Positive Regard” which resonates with me both as a good personal practice and a framework for how to treat employees at work. Read: The Surprising Benefits of Unconditional Positive Regard

stuff you should hear

HeadphonesWhat if we randomly selected who we promoted into management? That’s the question I was left pondering after listening to this recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It will challenge you to think differently about a few things. Proceed with caution. Listen now.stuff you should watch

Few things are more vital right now than trust. Trust is difficult to address both at work and in our personal lives. So, who better to provide us some clarity on the issue than Brené Brown? This video is one of the best twenty minutes you can spend to understand and take action to build trust.

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embracethesuck
Embrace the Suck
Embrace the Suck 700 468 Jason Lauritsen

Embrace the suck.

This is a familiar phrase for those who have served in the military. It’s a way to remind yourself or others that what you are doing is hard but important and that you need to keep going.

The difficulty and discomfort of the experience are a necessary part of the mission or process, so there’s no point in wasting energy complaining.

My oldest son, Dylan, served as a United States Marine. If you know a Marine, then you may have heard that boot camp is one of the most challenging experiences anyone can endure. It’s thirteen weeks of being pushed to your physical, mental, and emotional limits.

Dylan knew going in that it would be hard. He’d been given a lot of advice and guidance for how to best navigate the experience. Chief among that advice were those three words:

Embrace the suck.

Dylan didn’t enjoy boot camp, but he recognizes that “the suck” was a critically important part of shaping him into the Marine and the man who emerged on the other side of it. The struggle and unpleasantness shaped him in ways that will remain with him throughout his life.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this lately.

In almost every conversation I have right now, at some point the topic turns to the uncertainty and challenges we are all facing as we try to make important decisions day to day in the face of tremendous uncertainty. There’s a lot of “suck” to go around.

We are being forced to give up, reconsider, and change so many things in our lives that it can feel pretty overwhelming. And it’s really unclear when it will end.

On my end, the middle of March represented a moment when much of the way I make my living was put on hold indefinitely. Conferences were cancelled or postponed. Corporate trainings were delayed. And given the economic turmoil since then, there was no easy way of replacing that work.

A whole lot of “suck” hit me overnight.

Out of necessity I started experimenting and doing things that I hadn’t done in the past. I’ve helped produce and host two online conferences since April. And I launched a new employee engagement online learning community.

These weren’t things that I’d intended to do this year. And all of this has been far more difficult than I expected. Like many of you, I’ve worked harder since March then I have in a long time, partly driven by anxiety about the future and partly due to the fact that so much of what I’m doing now is new to me and requires a lot of learning.

I share this because I suspect that it’s probably similar to your own story or experience. You’ve probably had to learn to work differently and support others who are doing the same. Maybe your organization’s business was disrupted like mine and you are trying to reinvent on the fly. Or maybe you work in healthcare where you face situations daily that were unthinkable only months ago.

So much “suck” is all around us. Discomfort and struggle have come to feel like the norm. This is where I keep coming back to those three words that helped Dylan get through boot camp.

Embrace the suck.

None of this is fun. I’ve not struggled and failed as much as I have recently in a long time. It doesn’t feel great. But that’s only part of the story. When I step back and try to see the bigger picture, there are a few things I keep reminding myself.

This won’t last forever.

Another piece of advice that my wife drilled into Dylan’s mind before he left for boot camp is also relevant right now. She told him that no matter how bad things got or how much he felt like he wanted to quit, to remember and repeat this phrase to yourself:

“This too shall pass.”

We are in the thick of it right now. These times are calling on everything we’ve got and everything we’ve learned along our journey to this point. We’re being pushed in ways that we’ve probably not been pushed in a long time. And while that doesn’t feel good in the moment, it is reshaping us.

It’s sort of like doing an intense full-body workout. It’s not very pleasant while it’s happening and it can be really tempting to just give up when it gets really hard. But then it’s finally over and you are relieved. And while you may be a little sore for a short time, the experience makes you better in ways you probably won’t recognize until later.

When we finally arrive at the other side of these current crazy times, we will emerge transformed. I’m betting that much of it will be for the better.

We are learning, growing, and getting stronger.

When we are faced with new challenges like those we are wrestling with today, we have no choice but to learn quickly. We ask new questions, we seek out new insights, we experiment to see what works. In other words, we develop our knowledge and skills at the pace of change because we have no other choice. I’ve had to do more focused learning in the past few months than in the past few years.

A lot of our learning is being forced upon us by external factors and changes. Some of it is also a response to our own failings. Regardless, when we learn, we grow. This push to learn and grow is like the resistance in our full-body workout. It doesn’t always feel good or comfortable, but it makes us stronger.

Progress is being made.

Just like with our workouts, it’s not always easy to see progress on a daily basis. The result of the “suck” of workouts only comes over time. I am confident that we are making some progress in ways we may not understand yet.

As I’ve talked with people over the past few months, I’ve been encouraged by the stories I’ve heard of leaders who have stepped up to communicate with their teams in ways they never have before. I’ve heard about innovative programs that have been rolled out to support employee’s well-being through the pandemic. And we’ve made a decade of progress on flexible work arrangements in just weeks.

There’s some evidence that engagement has actually improved during the pandemic. Josh Bersin highlighted this in a recent post you can read here. While this may seem strange given the historic levels of unemployment, I actually think it makes some sense. Many of the things I just mentioned align with what we know fuels engagement: communication, care about employee well-being, flexibility, etc. Plus, those who still have a job are likely to be a bit more grateful today given the current circumstances.

Despite all the discomfort, there is progress being made. And I am confident that much of this progress will be lasting–even once the virus has finally be defeated.

Embrace the suck. 

Things aren’t going to get comfortable or less uncertain in the foreseeable future. To get through it and emerge stronger, we need to lean into the discomfort and the stretch we are making to survive. Everything we experience and learn along this weird and unexpected journey will make us better and stronger in the long run.

Perhaps you and your teams can channel a bit of inspiration from those Marines who face down things far worse than this on a regular basis. Use their inspiration and strength to propel you to the other side.

I’ll meet you there. Stronger. And ready for a real vacation.

If you like this content, then you might really like my new online Engagement Leader Community. The work of engaging employees is getting harder. If you are wrestling with how to keep your employees engaged, happy, and productive during these crazy times, you will find some answers and support here. Check it out.

What Does Employee Engagement Mean? Everything You Need to Know
What Does Employee Engagement Mean? Everything You Need to Know 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

“Employee engagement” has become such a common term that it’s easy to assume everyone knows exactly what it means. The words have a positive ring, for sure. (Most of us associate engagement with marriage and that’s a pretty happy time.) But what exactly does engagement mean at work? And how is it related to other similar phrases, such as employee satisfaction, employee experience, culture, and the rest?

I have dedicated the past 20 years of my career to employee engagement. As a result of being deep in it for so long, it’s easy for me to forget how confusing this language and concept can be for someone who doesn’t have that level of exposure.

If you’re not sure what this term really means or why it matters, this post is for you. Please know that you aren’t alone in your confusion.

In a nutshell, employee engagement is the connection between how an employee feels about their work experience and their performance on the job.

Employee engagement is an important concept that should be incredibly helpful to any organization or leader who cares about helping employees perform their best at work. But the idea was hijacked years ago by consultants and technologists who are more interested in selling you products than ensuring you understand how it works.

Let’s start by clearing up a few things.

Employee engagement is NOT a survey. Although businesses do use surveys to measure it.

Employee engagement is NOT a buzzword. It can feel that way but don’t be fooled. This is important work.

Employee engagement is NOT a fad. This work isn’t going anywhere. We are just getting started.

Enough about what employee engagement is not. Let’s dig into what it is and what you need to do about it.

employee

Employee Engagement Theory: Where It All Began

Over the past 30 years, the concept of employee engagement has become a central tenet in any discussion about workplace performance and culture. Today, people discuss engagement so commonly that it’s easy to assume that everyone knows what it is and how it works.

This is certainly not the case. While we have come to accept that employee engagement is a generally positive thing that we should want more of in our organizations, when you dig a little deeper, a real lack of clarity emerges.

The key reason for this is that employee engagement is an abstract concept. Employee engagement isn’t a tangible, concrete thing that is easy to identify and measure like sales revenue or customer retention.

Engagement is a framework made up by academics and consultants to help us measure and talk about things that happen in the workplace that are hard to understand individually–things like feelings and motivations.

The employee engagement idea was first brought to life in December 1990 by Boston University professor William Kahn. He was the first to publish research using the concept of “engagement” at work. The first sentence from his 1990 paper captures the challenge and promise of this work and why it’s still relevant 30 years later.

“This study began with the premise that people can use varying degrees of their selves, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, in work role performances, which has implications for both their work and experiences.”

Kahn put this work into motion. What followed has been an avalanche of research and tools for measuring and understanding employee engagement. The Gallup Organization also played a vital role in the popularization of the employee engagement by introducing their Q12 measure of engagement and using that as a foundation to benchmark employee engagement levels globally over the past two decades.

Thanks to Kahn and the other early pioneers, we have a more profound understanding of how the employee’s experience of work drives their performance, morale, loyalty, and more.

Ironically, what hasn’t emerged over the past 30 years is a common definition for employee engagement. There are nearly as many definitions of employee engagement as there are researchers and consultants. So let’s turn our attention to that next.


Employee Engagement Definition

As someone who’s been working in the field for well over a decade now, one of the most perplexing things about the work is the lack of a clear standard definition.

Consider that some estimate that organizations globally are spending over $6 billion a year on technology to improve engagement. That’s just the technology spend. The overall investment in initiatives and programs is probably two to three times that number.

All for something that those same organizations often can’t clearly define.

This is baffling. Getting clear on definition is crucial for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that definition is the first step of measurement. If we hope to measure our progress toward creating a more engaged workplace and quantify how it impacts organizational results, we must have an explicit definition for employee engagement.

Can you imagine an organization investing immense time and energy in the “financial health” of the organization without being crystal clear on what that meant?

employee engagement

Even at a personal level, the need for definition is clear. Nearly every person I know has at one point told me that they were trying to get “healthier.” That same thing has been true for me.

If improving your health is a goal, what exactly does that mean? If you don’t define what that means for you, how can you ever know if you are making progress?

For one person, health might mean weight loss. For another, it might mean stopping destructive behaviors like smoking or eating fried foods. Someone else might define it as getting 30 minutes of physical activity each day.

Only when you clearly define it can you effectively go to work on both measuring it and making intentional progress toward your objective.

Much like health, employee engagement is a broad concept that can mean a lot of things. Before starting your work to improve engagement, it is vital that you clearly articulate a definition.

The definition for your organization may be slightly different than the definition at another organization. The important thing is that it is articulated clearly in a way that can drive both action and measurement.

Below is the definition of employee engagement I use:

ENGAGEMENT is the degree to which an employee is both willing and able to perform to their potential.

It’s a simple definition. The outcome of engagement is high performance and the work of engagement is about facilitating the employee’s willingness and ability to be at their best at work.

A definition like this, while still broad, helps to clarify what this work is about and why it matters. It can also help you focus on what and how to measure your progress.

You will know that you have a clear definition of employee engagement when you (and the other leaders in your organization) have no issue explaining what it is and precisely why it’s essential to achieving your organization’s objectives.

employees on zoom

What Drives Employee Engagement?

A definition helps us clarify the meaning of the term, but most conversations about employee engagement focus on a different question: “How does it work?” If we want to improve or enhance this thing, where should we focus?

Fortunately, Gallup, the Great Place to Work Institute, American Psychological Association (APA), and many in the academic community have been measuring employee engagement for decades. Their research provides us with rich insights into how employees experience work and what motivates them to higher performance.

Regardless of what research or data you look at regarding employee engagement, you are likely to find some of the following factors listed as significant factors or “drivers” for employees:

  • Feeling valued
  • Trust
  • Caring
  • Appreciation
  • Belonging

The more employees experience these things at work, the more likely they are to be engaged.

What jumps out from this list is how relational each of these factors is. They sound more like what you would expect to be drivers of a healthy relationship than work. What these research findings reveal is that employees experience work in the same way they do any other meaningful relationship in their lives. When the relationship isn’t working or healthy, they are less likely to be or do their best.

Most organizations treat work like a contract with the employee rather than a relationship. In this way of thinking, employees receive pay and benefits in exchange for their work effort, and most management efforts are oriented around enforcing compliance with that contract.

Policy manuals, job descriptions, and performance appraisals are all management tools designed to help enforce the contract. The problem is that they do little to foster a healthy relationship with the employee, which leads to decreased employee engagement and higher turnover.

To create an experience of work that is engaging for employees, we need to embrace that work is a relationship for employees. This doesn’t mean that we throw out the policies or performance processes, just that we approach them in the spirit of fostering relationships.

That means designing management and team processes that encourage feelings of belonging, trust, caring, and appreciation. In the next section, we turn our attention to the specific strategies and practices that will most effectively help you to accomplish this.

zoom check in call

Employee Engagement Strategies: How to Improve Employee Engagement

Improving employee engagement requires a plan. And that plan will need to take into account the needs of the people you lead, the goals of the organization, and your personal aspirations.

To create an effective strategy, know your people and engage with them to create the best course of action. Your goal should be creating a work experience that feels good to employees so that they can do better work. What this looks like will be different for every team and every organization.

The single most powerful strategy for improving employee engagement is to talk to your teams about their experience at work and find opportunities where you could work together to make that experience better. Start with four simple steps:

      1. Check in with your people individually, as a group, or both. Ask about their experience and how it could be better.
      2. Listen intently and ask follow-up questions.
      3. Clarify what matters most and together identify what actions employees and managers should take to have the greatest positive impact.
      4. Take action to make things better.

For large groups, you might need to use tools like employee surveys or focus groups to check-in and listen to feedback, but the fundamentals of the process are always the same. Ask, listen, identify the issue, and take action. Rinse and repeat over and over forever.

If you are married or are in a serious relationship of any sort, you already know how vital this process is to ensure the relationship stays healthy. It’s when you quit checking in with one another that relationships tend to start cracking and falling apart. The same is true at work.

Make this process the foundation of your engagement strategy. It will ensure that you are engaged in an ongoing conversation with your people about how to make the work experience better. And if you do nothing beyond just this simple process, you will have taken a huge step to improve engagement on your team. This will result in both better performance and higher retention.

Employee Engagement Articles

Hungry for more reading that will help you deepen your knowledge of how to engage your employees? Here’s a short list to get you started.

If you’d like more content like this to arrive in your email box weekly, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.

Employee Engagement For You: The Latest News June 2020
Employee Engagement For You: The Latest News June 2020 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

Do you feel like you are standing at a fork in the road?

On one path, we attempt to circle back to return things to normal. We seek the comfort of how things used to be before COVID. Before George Floyd. Before everything changed.

That allure of comfort is powerful.  But that path leads nowhere. The old normal is gone. And good riddance. We can do better.

The second path is to recognize the opportunity in this moment. In the current disruption and chaos is the chance to shape a better future and leave the past behind.

To accomplish this will require more of us…

  • To learn and grow faster.
  • To ask bigger and better questions.
  • To unite and stand up for what really matters.

We can reshape work to finally work better for the humans who do it.

This is our moment and we must not miss it. If we work together, we can emerge from this time into a better, more just, more fulfilling future at work and beyond.

I’m taking the second path. I hope you will join me.

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. Thank you for the interest in my new Engagement Leader Community. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I’d invite you to take a peek and let me know what you think. The good news is that I’ve extended the introductory pricing. It’s a new way I’m hoping to help you amplify the impact of your work as we move forward.

Stuff You Should Read

starWhat will the post-COVID workplace look like? This question is perhaps one of the biggest we are all grappling with as we think about the path forward. This article from the NY Times provides a look into how Salesforce is preparing to bring people back to the office. It’s another reminder that normal as we knew it is gone. Read: Farewell to Gummy Bear Jars

starAs the U.S. experiences ongoing protests and calls to address systemic racism and injustice, employers and leaders are rightly being called upon to step up and take action. This HBR piece provides some helpful guidance on what that can look like. Read: U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism

starA lot of people, perhaps you are one of them, are going through some really hard times right now. I’ve always struggled with knowing how to be supportive in the right way to those in crisis. This article describes how to use Susan Silk’s Ring Theory to guide behavior to provide support to those who most need it. I found it really helpful. Perhaps you will too. Read: 10 Tips to Offer Comfort to People in Crisis

stuff you should hear

If you haven’t discovered the Michael Lewis podcast, Against the Rules, today is your lucky day.work is a relationship icon It is currently in season two, which explores the rise and importance of coaching in all areas of our lives. It’s both entertaining and enlightening. Enjoy. Listen now. 

stuff you should watch

Since everything has been pretty heavy lately, I thought I’d end with something lighter. One of my favorite discoveries of the past few months is the Holderness Family on Youtube. Their parody videos are a way to find some real humor and joy in the weirdness that is our lives right now. This video, in particular, really nails a lot of what’s happening at our house this summer.

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