A negative spiral that's avoidable

Friday, March 22, 2013

If you read most business journals or newly released business books, you will see “employee engagement” as a prominent topic. It has become the newest in a long line of business expressions regarding the work environment. What does engagement mean?

According to a Towers Perrin study, employee engagement is the willingness and ability to contribute to company success; and the extent to which employees put discretionary effort into their work, in the form of “extra time, brainpower and energy.” Simply put, employee engagement is when one is fully involved and enthusiastic about his or her job and the organization.

In an environment where providers are dealing with significant reductions in reimbursement, increases in the cost of doing business and the constant threats of audits, employee engagement seems to be the last area where a company can have a positive impact. But consider this: In a study conducted by Gallup across multiple industries with companies of various sizes, it was found that disengaged employees cost U.S. companies more than $325 billion annually.

According to that same study, only 29% of employees are fully engaged in their work. A startling 54% have mentally checked out, and 17% are actively disengaged and sabotaging the efforts of co-workers. On the flip side, engaged employees are 26% more productive; twice as likely to be top performers; and miss 20% fewer days of work.

We have all seen the signs of disengaged employees: low morale, absenteeism, tardiness, poor sales results, customer complaints, lack of cooperation and constant complaining about the company. Most employees come on board as engaged employees wanting to make a difference. We might not like to hear it, but  ineffective leadership is the primary reason employees become disengaged. The good news is that this condition is reversible. 

Since most employees start their employment engaged, we have to start at the beginning to establish the systems necessary to maintain or improve engagement. First, companies should have a detailed job description for every position. The job description should provide a summary of the job and the major responsibilities of the position. If your company has created a set of values or a mission statement, it should be included with each job description. Both manager and employee should sign the document confirming that they have met and discussed details of the position. This activity should be part of the onboarding process when a new employee is hired. 

Next, managers should make sure that every employee has the resources necessary to meet the expectations as outlined in the job description. Regular meetings should be held to discuss job performance versus job expectations. I always recommend a minimum of one monthly meeting that is focused on KSS: What do you need to KEEP doing? What do you need to STOP doing? What do you need to START doing? Documentation is very important in whatever format a manager uses.

Managers must realize that good communication is the key to enhance employee engagement. Good communication begins with listening. Good listening helps managers and employees better understand the dynamics that drive productivity. Good listening helps a manager respond rather than react. Good listening shows the employee that a manager cares about him or her and his or her success.

The bottom line: Engaged employees know what is expected, have what they need to do the job, and know their manager cares about them as people. Every company at any size can make this happen.

Richard Davis is president of McClain Group, LLC. He can be reached at richard@mcclaingroupllc.com or 800-448-9907.