Why Is Employee Engagement So Difficult?

Full Transcript Below

[ANNOUNCER]: Breaking down everyday workplace issues and diagnosing the hidden sickness not just the obvious symptom, our hosts James and Coby.

[COBY]: Did we lose a patient?

[JAMES]: No that’s just my lunch.

[COBY]: Hey thanks for joining us. I’m Coby, he’s James. Let’s get started with a question. Why is employee engagement so difficult?

[JAMES]: Haha, this is a huge question and like… we’ve built our entire business around answering this question. Training programs, all of our… like what this is what we do. So for the sake of trying to keep this conversation somewhat contained to our 35 to 45 minute goal for our podcast, I think we need to be a little more specific in what we’re going to answer. And the approach that I think is going to be the best starting out is to focus answering the question of why it’s so difficult, by looking at our current approaches and strategies to employee engagement, and how they often make it more difficult. Using our kind of our old standard leaky bucket analogy, what we need to do is start plugging the holes before we start adding more water. So why is it so difficult? A big part of that has to do with how we understand engagement, and there’s a whole number of pieces in there that I want to talk about. But where I want to start is probably not a big surprise, by crapping on social media. In general, social media has ruined, in my opinion, it’s ruined the term engagement. Because engagement, the way that we commonly view engagement now, is through the social media lens of the likes of comments. If you have, if I have responded to you, I am engaged. And this mentality has not just permeated social media, but it has now translated to how we consider engagement in our workplaces. If I ask you a question, if I give you a survey, and you fill out that survey, that is engagement. And that’s how we measure engagement. And that I think is a fundamental flaw that contributes to why it’s so difficult to create employee engagement, or more specifically engaged employees.

[COBY]: Yeah and, like we actually have an article on our Knowledge Suite that breaks down that concept of social media’s impact on engagement, in the around the term engagement, and how we understand it. Because as you said, the new understanding of the term engagement I think is a fundamental linchpin into how we we as individuals, as professionals, as a society look at what engagement is. Successful engagement, what that looks like, and how we measure that. because you’re right, it’s about, it’s more about, like touch points, it’s more about interactions. And the term engagement is almost like, become… you know, a synonym for touch point or for interaction. So when a company is looking to create engagement in employees, they may unconsciously be thinking of it in the terms of touch points and interactions. And then, you know, they so then they’re like “well I hear all this….” there’s actually there’s a lot of great research on the value of having engaged employees. Like Gallup does tons of research annually and there is all kinds of stuff on the internet, or like you know, in business articles and academic studies, and we use a lot of those stats in our training, and our writing,

[JAMES]: We have a lot of stuff on our Knowledge Suite, and in our podcast, YouTube. Like at this point we are going to assume that if you’ve been tracking with us at all, you have bought into the fact that engagement, creating engaged employees, is a priority. It is something that your business needs to figure out how to do well. So I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time on why it’s important. Just what are we doing wrong? And how can we ideally… what are we doing wrong? And how can we do it better? But we’ve got a very short window to accomplish this. So it might be, first, how we do it wrong? And another future episode of how we do it better.

[COBY]: Yeah and that’s, and you’re right. We’re gonna… this is probably gonna be the start of a conversation we’re going to have probably over the next number of months. But the thing is, that when a business wants to reap the benefits that we mentioned, like you know, higher productivity, and more customer retention, and lower turnover, and that sort of stuff. They go “Well you know, all these articles (that we’ve mentioned) say it’s about engagement. So then let’s create a way to engage with our employees”. So we you know create… we get pieces of software, we get measurement tools, we get survey programs, and a lot of these are quite good, quite useful, quite helpful. But the fundamental, I think breakdown, is in this misunderstanding that these surveys, these programs, these companies, that create these great tools will say “here’s a way that you can collect information on engagement with your employees”. Most of them aren’t saying they are engagement, they’re saying here’s a way to measure what your employees are feeling, thinking, doing. But again, if you go back to, when the employer says “well, engagement in social media is it’s interactions, it’s touch points, it’s feedback collected, it’s communication received, then they often feel like the survey itself, or the communication pieces that have been, you know, marked as read – That’s engagement. I’ve created engagement, so where are these benefits towards customer retention, low turnover, and higher productivity?

[JAMES]: Right, I think a big problem that I see, and like on the software piece, we are conditioned that the answer to all of our problems can be is technology.

[COBY]: There’s an app for that!

[JAMES]: Oh yeah, right. There are some great pieces of technology out there. Some great tools out there, that will help you create engagement, but they are not engaged in themselves. And you talked about surveys. Surveys is kind of a, kind of a hot button topic for me. Because I love them, and I hate them. They are, they can be incredibly useful and Incredibly off-putting at the same time, right? The problem with what I’ve seen of a lot of the engagement surveys that are put out there, is that they’re trying to measure, they’re trying to attach engagement to happiness. They’re trying to… how happy are you in your job? They’re trying to collect data from people to find out; are people generally happy? And happiness, satisfaction, job satisfaction, is an indicator of engagement, and it’s a good one. But the problem is, that we jump right into it without any understanding of what it actually… what foundation needs to be put in place? What we actually need to do to create engagement? And the problem that I have with most surveys, is that they are asking people to respond to questions that without providing for a safety net. Without providing for the ability to… like yes, a lot of these are anonymous, but if you put some effort into, outside of generic answers of yeah, I’ll give you the four on everything so that… and I’ll sprinkle a few fives in there so it looks like I didn’t just click four out of five on everything. Like that’s generally the type of response that you get, that’s not engagement. That’s not an engaged employee. That’s somebody ticking a box to get their manager off their back.

[COBY]: Yeah and the survey fatigue is is pretty common. But I think one of the fundamental ways to really help someone understand the difference of the common misunderstanding of thinking of engagement as the touch points, and as the interactions. And what engagement actually is, and what it really should be, and where the actual value to productivity, and customer retention, kind of everything comes from. Is to talk about it in terms of employee engagement as a verb, and as a noun. And we actually have an a video on our YouTube channel that breaks this down really nicely, so if you’re interested check that out. Actually, I think I’ll put a lot of links to some of the articles we’re going to reference on our YouTube channel on the video of this episode, our YouTube channel on Solutions Explained by Roman 3. Just if someone wants to learn more about these topics I can just cite those articles and put the links right there, embed them in the description. But for now I want to break down employee engagement as a verb, and break it down as a noun. So employee engagement as a verb describes the process of soliciting feedback and keeping staff in the know. It’s important, but it is a communication activity, it’s about engaging with employees. And that’s the touch points, and that’s the interactions, and that’s the surveys. You have have engaged with them, and you have collected something from them, but you’re mostly, it’s mostly about communication, or about a box to check. Whereas we talk about the value of employee engagement, the way that Roman 3 talks about employee engagement, and its vital role in your workplace culture, is using the term as a noun. Having engagement in employees. And that refers to the level of optimism, enthusiasm, and motivation that employees have in their jobs. How they find meaning, how they find encouragement, how they find respect, and how they get that from the job and from the culture that they work in. And that noun of having engagement, the motivation, enthusiasm, and optimism is what we truly… when we talk about engagement before social media turned it into a measurement system, a metric, it was seen as the level of enthusiasm, optimism, and motivation. And that’s the way we need to remember it, so one of the fundamental things to take away from this talk today, is to remember to see in the term engagement as the noun, and not as the verb.

[JAMES]: Yeah I think I’ll just to jump on that. I like the distinction between engaging with, and being engaged. Because those are two very different concepts. Both are important, you need to engage with people, and the act of soliciting feedback, and finding out where the problems are, and you know identifying issues, that’s important. But that alone, and this is primarily what we’re saying is, that activity alone does not create engaged employees. So kind of the next kind of big topic that I want to talk about, is the problem I alluded to it earlier, and it’s we jump into engagement, we see the benefits, we’re told of the benefits of creating and having engaged employees, you know, the productivity, how much better your recruitment and retention efforts will be, it impacts your market competitiveness, all of these key business metrics, can be improved by having engaged employees. So we say “Great! That’s what I want. I want engagement. Let’s buy an engagement software, let’s do engagement”. Engagement, creating engagement in somebody, or creating a workplace culture that is engaging where people want to actively engage in the work and provide the best quality work, does not happen by accident. And it does not happen with just a piece of software. There are, we’ve got… so one of our core concepts is our Workplace Culture Hierarchy. Which describes how a workplace culture is built. And engagement is high up on the hierarchy. In order to have success at engagement, you need to first work on the foundational pieces, and it starts with a reducing or eliminating job dissatisfaction. Our base level is compliance, and we’re not talking about just complying with legal legislation, you have to comply with legislation let’s be clear, but that’s not what we mean when we’re talking about compliance as a stage of the Workplace Culture Hierarchy, we’re talking about; are you complying with employee expectations? Do the factors of your workplace comply with the expectations that they are competitive, that they are sufficient, and that they are equitable? You have compliance, you have psychological safety. Because if you don’t create an environment where people actually feel safe to share, to speak up, to explore without the fear of reprisal. It’s not about, and I mentioned this in previous conversations and psychological safety is not about confidence. How confident somebody is to stand up and talk. It’s about how safe people feel to stand up and talk without the fear of reprisal, right? You’re never going to get honest feedback in your surveys, in your engaging with, if you don’t have psychological safety. The next stage before, and just…. I mean maybe we’ll throw a link to the Hierarchy because there’s… this is the problem with this question is there’s so bloody much that we can talk about. I’m trying to cram as much as I can into a short period of time, but compliance, psychological safety, the next stage is inclusion. Because before people can give their true, their full self to the job they need to feel like they actually belong. How do you create belonging for everyone in your workplace? We’ve talked about inclusion versus integration, check it out, it’s a great talk. But all of this to say that engagement is the fourth level of the Hierarchy. And we jump in guns blazing, thinking we are going to do engagement. We will create engagement, we will implement this one tool, software, and we will have engaged employees. Without recognizing all of the things that have to happen to have lasting success. You can white knuckle it, and just push these things through, and have some success with engagement, without meeting every of the earlier stages. But your time, effort, and energy will be sucked up and just like that leaky bucket analogy, you can keep pouring more and more water, and the water is your money, the water is your time, the water is your energy, you can keep turning up the faucet and just dump more money at it, and throw more money at the problem, and just watch it leak out through all of the cracks in your foundation, and all the cracks and or holes in the bucket.

[COBY]: Yeah and really it is about thinking that you can just kind of insert strategies, or approaches, or software, or tools into a culture that doesn’t enable people to actually connect with it. That’s when you get the kind of survey solutions, that you just kind of talking about, where it’s more about getting the survey done so your manager doesn’t bother you to finish it, than actually reflecting on “how do I actually feel how engaged am i” and want to share your true and honest feelings. Because the thing is that sometimes when you have this approach, we’re going to do jump in and do engagement, it’s more about.. it’s something to complete, we’re going to complete the engagement pieces, we’re going to check those boxes. But employee engagement is not something that you complete. Employee engagement is the actual individual, everyday interactions, communications, and feel. It’s the how excited they are to come to work, you know, Monday morning. It’s those kinds of feelings.

[JAMES]: Or how they feel about work Sunday night.

[COBY]: Yeah exactly right. It’s not about, you know, well we did these, sent these emails, we put this… we redid the break room, we have the annual company picnic, so engagement boxes have been checked. That’s not what engagement is though. That’s still seeing it more as the verb, and not seeing it as the actual noun. And the Hierarchy again, the stages of complying with expectations, creating psychological safety, providing inclusion and belonging, and then creating engagement is how you sustainably work your way up to it. Because when people have had the job of satisfaction removed, feel psychologically safe, feel included and connected, then they can actually start to have enjoyment, and motivation, and optimism, and enthusiasm for their work, and their co-workers, and the company as a whole. Because otherwise you’re trying to almost like bug people into engagement or buy them into engagement. And like James said, you can kind of white knuckle it, and you can throw lots of money, and that’ll work for the short term. But it won’t work for the long term. You have to secure the foundation to actually get yourself to a point where it becomes a natural consequence of effort. Rather than a forced approach that you, so you can check the box.

[JAMES]: Absolutely and there’s one thing that you mentioned in passing that I’m going to harp on. I know big shock. And that’s the breakroom. Okay Pizza is great, everybody likes, 99% of people love pizza. Providing pizza to your employees, cool. I’m all for pizza myself. Food may make somebody enjoy their lunch, while they are miserable with a micromanager. A foosball table in the breakroom may, you know, give people some enjoyment while they’re on their break, and then they go back into an environment that doesn’t respect them, that doesn’t trust them, that doesn’t provide for psychological safety with a manager who doesn’t respect them, who micromanages them. All of these things, these are good things to have, and they are good things to provide, and they are nice little perks. But we confuse providing perks with creating engagement. And it drives me nuts, I’m all for pizza parties, I’m happy to show up at anybody’s workplace and you can feed me pizza. But doing that doesn’t actually change the workplace culture, right? And that is a huge missed opportunity.

[COBY]: Yeah so I mean if we look at kind of so the two points almost like the common mistakes. The first one as we said was the misunderstanding engagement and thinking of it as the verb of engaging with employees, rather than the noun of having engaged employees. Then the second point is this we’re not creating the culture that enables the engagement. We’re jumping over all of the fundamental pieces. Because I mean, if you think about, like, that sometimes, again, throwing the money at the situation. Throwing money at the breakroom, or the free pizzas, or free lunches. I’m sure that in the short term, if you have an engagement problem in your company, and you invest in a pinball machine and pizza Fridays, I think in the short term people would love them, while they’re using them. But then they go back to, as you said James, to the dissatisfaction that they have because of being micromanaged. One thing that I know we’re going to get into kind of the solutions in a later conversation, but a fundamental problem that creates these cultures is spending money on the perks and not investing in leadership development for the managers, that are creating that. Because there’s a stat from Gallup that talks about, like you know, I believe it’s around 70% of an employee’s engagement, motivation, enthusiasm, is a direct result from their manager, their supervisor. So if you want to throw money, I suppose, at the problem of the culture part of poor engagement, then investing in effective training that will improve the management and leadership skills of your, of the supervisors, that have the most impact on employees.

[JAMES]: Middle level managers, providing them with the management skills that they need to effectively manage, and manage their people. That’s where you’re going to get your best bang for your buck. Because and, I’d go so far as to say, you don’t actually create engagement, you create a workplace culture that fosters engagement. Engagement comes from your culture. And the way that you create a workplace culture that will foster engagement is following those stages of the Hierarchy.

[COBY]: Absolutely, yeah so I think let’s move on to the third main point that we kind of wanted to to talk about. Again trying to keep this contained and not make it a seven hour podcast. And we kind of…

[JAMES]: I can do it! Challenge accepted!

[COBY]: I’m sure I’m sure even our most arduous fan would skip out on hour two.

[JAMES]: I think that if somebody makes it to hour two I’d be impressed.

[COBY]: Yeah there’s a t-shirt for those make it to hour two. But I think the main point that we’re talking about, where we’re kind of now, is these band-aid solutions. These quick fixes, these ‘set it and forget it’ approaches to incorporating the engagement. Whether it’s seen as a box to check, or I don’t know what to do, I hear companies do these types of cool events, or team building, or this or that. So we’re going to do those.

[JAMES]: Google did bean bag chairs in the office. So let’s copy that. [COBY]: Bring your dog to work day or whatever the cool… l

[JAMES]: Great your dog can be miserable at work with you.

[COBY]: It’s almost like creating the cool perks as a way to create engagement, but those are nothing short of band-aids when the culture is a problem. When the poorly trained or unprepared leadership is the problem, then you’re trying to fix, you know, a surgery problem with a band-aid. And it really is, and these are kind of how James always described it when he talks to clients and in creating courses, but it’s about the simple solutions to complex problems. Only wanting to use, and find, the easy answers.

[JAMES]: And I get it, like as I said, kind of one of the first things that I talked about was that we are conditioned to look for a technological solution to all of our business problems, right? You can find a piece of software out there that will promote itself as being able to fix virtually any issue that you have in your business. Tech companies pop up all the time to address business problems. That’s I mean, that’s the fundamental rule of business is to figure out a problem that people are having, create a solution to it. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to be an effective solution.

[COBY]: By itself at least.

[JAMES]: By itself, right. There are some great tools out there, that if you incorporate them as part of your overall strategy, you’ll be doing so well. But these quick answers, these I don’t know what to do so I’ll buy… I will find a software that will… an engagement software. And because it’s called an engagement software it obviously must create engagement, right? As I’ve said, some of these are great tools, but they just will not be effective if you haven’t built the foundation. There are very, very few times in life, are there simple quick answers to complex problems. What’s true in our personal lives, what’s true in life is true in business. For something that is complex, like people. And you’re trying to manage the complexities of individual motivations, and where people, you know, people’s backgrounds, and experience, and to bring them all to the same level of engagement, using one strategy, using one piece of software; it’s just not realistic.

[COBY]: Yeah, I mean and it’s funny because, like you know, it’s often, I think the desire for the quick fixes, the Band-Aids, it’s again it’s not that people are undervaluing, I think, the effects. Almost like, but they’re… I think it comes from they’re busy, they need a solution that will make a change now. but part of it is, that you kind of step back. And say these issues are from complex and complicated people. When you consider human psychology, when you consider the diverse needs, and abilities, and backgrounds, and mental health issues, and the labor market, and the cost of living, and all these things, and personal stress, and interpersonal conflict. To think all these things, where the problems come from. So an automated communication tool is going to solve the issue? Like I mean, it’s and again, it’s that you need to just take a step back and realize that the ‘set and forget it’ approach or these short-term fixes. People will be like “Hey cool, this is fun for five minutes”. That those drop in the buckets are going to actually end up doing more harm than good. Because if you invest in it and you see success and then success doesn’t last. Then you, then a business might say “Well, nothing makes these people happy, forget it. We’ll just, you know, deal with unhappy employees, because it’s impossible to make them happy”. And then they don’t actually do the real things that would give them the effect they’re looking for. And so there’s danger in these band-aids, if you don’t see the full picture. And again but part of it too is like, you know, not to make sure that you’re trying to fix the the real problem with the wrong solution. Like trying to fix micromanagement with a company picnic.

[JAMES]: Yeah and I get it. I know why this happens, I see the good intent in investing in these softwares, because it’s still an investment, right? it’s an investment to purchase the software, it’s an investment to implement it, it’s an investment of time, money, energy, that you are investing in because you want to create an environment where people feel engaged. the challenge is we often default to a technology solution. Because we’re all operating at capacity, right? We’re all, like as business owners as manager like we’re busy, we’re busy splitting our time between working on our business, and you know building, growing the actual business and structure itself while we are also in the midst of it, right? There’s a ton of stuff that’s on our plates that we just we need to find a way to… so we need to find a way to offload some of that. So we look to technology to do that. We know the importance, so we find a technological solution that will help us do that. The challenge is that to… actually you need to… the best thing that you can do is to actually invest in training your supervisors and managers, to provide them with management skills. To avoid those deaths of The Three Deaths of management. The micromanagement, the Self-Sabotage… The Three Deaths of Leadership that we talk about these things require time, energy, and dedication they are worth it though. If you’re still with us after this I don’t know how long we’ve been ranting so far, but yeah probably half an hour or more at this point. If you’re still tracking with us it’s because you want to create an workplace culture where people can feel engaged. The best thing that you can do is to learn more about the Workplace Culture Hierarchy, Coby already said he’s going to drop some links in the YouTube video description, when it’s up on YouTube. You need to build the foundation of removing job dissatisfaction, creating psychological safety, developing creating a culture where people are included and feel like they can belong for who they are. And then moving towards creating engagement. If you follow those steps you will be successful, but it requires dedication time and energy to do so.

[COBY]: Yeah and so for those listening on the podcast platform, you can find a lot of this information on our Knowledge Suite at academy.roman3.ca. And the one last point I want to I want to kind of just briefly mention before we kind of tie this whole thing up is, you mentioned this too about happy employees aren’t necessarily the golden standard for identifying engagement. We actually have a webinar we talk about the Workplace Culture Hierarchy and in the engagement level of it we tell a story of client of ours, and it’s actually representative of a lot of different clients of ours, where a very gregarious, happy, supportive CEO. That had a very, it was very inclusive and very, psychologically safe workplace, but he didn’t he didn’t have the management skills to create the motivation, enthusiasm, and self-drive in his employees. He figured if they’re happy, that inherently creates the engagement. But the whole point of…

[JAMES]: You can be happy and complacent.

[COBY]: Yeah, but actually what it was, was he was resting on his Laurels when it came to the happiness. Then he kind of assumed that they’re happy, they would find their own internal motivation. But he didn’t have the management skills to provide the leader… to provide the metrics, the autonomy, the structure, actually a lot of the stuff we talked about in our in our last episode about managing expectations and all that kind of stuff. So he succeeded in creating happy, but they were absolutely disengaged. Because they were complacent, they just did the same thing every day, and it appeared like everything was going well. They had very happy and go lucky events and those kind of things, but they were not productive. They did not, you know….

[JAMES]: They were happy and busy.

[COBY]: Yeah, but like they couldn’t keep younger people who wanted to kind of make a career for themselves. They only kind of kept the old guard that protected the status quo. And so it is really important for us to talk about the value of these types of things, but in engagement is not the same as happy. Often happy people are easier to engage, but you still have to have the management structure, skills, outcomes, measurements, you know, rules, and empowerment to actually allow people to find the enthusiasm and the motivation to bring their best self to work.

[JAMERS]: I think that’s a good thing to leave off on. Because I’ll just start ranting about the next topic.

[COBY]: Okay so to keep, keep James at bay, I’m just gonna, I’ll just do the wrap up. But mostly I think I’m I can summarize kind of a lot of this conversation by kind of identifying three don’ts. So when it comes to how you think about engagement, don’t think of engagement as a metric, or as a verb. You need to think of it as the level of motivation and enthusiasm that people have. Because having or being engaged is what we’re really talking about, and that’s what you really want. Number two, don’t think that you can create engagement in an organization that is plagued with problems like, job dissatisfaction, like low morale, like no psychological safety, or poor inclusion, bad communication, micromanagement, etc. Those problems have to be addressed first before you can start to see improvement in motivation and enthusiasm. And don’t number three, don’t think that the fundamental motivation and personal connection that people have for the jobs, or for their career, can be fixed with short-term band-aids. It is about understanding that it’s the culture. And that culture is something that has to be built with intention, built with patience, and built for the long term. That these short little fixes can actually do more harm than good, if you’re not seeing the success you expect from your investment, you may not invest in the real solutions when when presented to you. So I think those three don’ts are can help someone understand the holes in the bucket that they need to plug before they can actually start to look at the best practice, to start incorporating real effective engagement strategies. All right, anything else James?

[JAMES]: No it’s safer if I just be quiet now.

[COBY]: All right so that about does it for us. So for a full archive of our podcasts and access to the video version hosted on our YouTube channel visit our website at roman3.ca/podcast. Thanks for joining us.

[ANNOUNCER]: For more information on topics like these don’t forget to visit us at roman3.ca. Side effects of this podcast may include improved retention, high productivity, increased market share, employees breaking out in spontaneous dance, dry mouth, aversion to the sound of James’s voice, desire to find a better podcast…

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