Leadership is Key to Employee Engagement
Author: Kelly Swails MA, CRCST, CHL, CIS, CER, ST | Senior Clinical Educator
Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to their organization and its goals. Engaged employees care about their work and are not just there for a paycheck; they work on behalf of the organization’s goals. Research has shown that engaged employees consider their relationship with their leader to be crucial to their success. Consequently, leaders play a key role in company and employee engagement. Leaders must develop a trusting relationship with their employees and lead in a manner that recognizes and respects employee individualism; focuses on strengths and develops weaknesses; and encourages success.
- Define leadership and the relation to employee engagement
- Identify what makes a good leader
- Explain the benefits of employee engagement
Proud and Successful
Engaged employees are those that care about their work and their company, they may willingly work overtime or pick up an extra shift. They will go above and beyond expectations, and uphold the organization’s mission, vision, and goals. They’re the strength that drives performance results. In the best organization engagement is more than a human resource project; it’s a strategic foundation focusing on employee satisfaction.
Engaged employees are more profitable and customer-focused; they’re happier and more likely to withstand temptations to leave. The best-performing companies know that an employee engagement improvement strategy linked to the achievement of corporate goals will help them become and maintain a successful business. Employee engagement is key to a company’s reputation and accomplishments.
Employees don’t leave their jobs; they leave their leaders. A survey of approximately 1,000 employed adults revealed that 24% of these people would fire their boss. However, only 6% of engaged employees would fire their boss, and 51% of actively disengaged employees would get rid of their boss if they could. Research has shown that engaged employees consider their relationship with their leader to be crucial to their success. The most disengaged employees are those who have a leader who doesn’t pay attention to him or her. Employees who are ignored by their leaders have a 40% chance of being actively disengaged or are consumed with hostility towards their job. An employee who has a leader who pays attention to them, but only on their weaknesses, has a 22% chance of being disengaged. Nevertheless, an employee who has a leader who pays attention to and focuses on his or her strengths has a mere 1% chance of being actively disengaged.
Change can be hard, but it’s a constant thing in life. We know change is inevitable and there is constant change in all organizations. Whether the change is a simple process change or a major project, how a leader prepares his or her employees for the change may determine the success. Employees who are inspired and supported face the change with confidence, understanding, and the desire to succeed. Successful leaders create a motivating workplace, factor fun into work, unleash synergy among all employees, and are passionate about their leadership role. Employees who are engaged in their work are happy, more productive, take pride in their work, and continually look for better ways to do their job. Leaders who lead their employees through the change in a positive manner will have a higher chance of increasing employee engagement.
Motivated and empowered employees are engaged employees. These engaged employees are supported by their leaders and strive to do a good job. These employees know they’re valued and appreciated. Given the benefits associated with engaged employees, it’s important that leaders approach change as an opportunity and guide their employees to do the same.
The top employee retention drivers are about people; specifically, leaders, colleagues, and coworkers. As employees are placing greater emphasis on the value of their work, they’re asking themselves whether their job really matters. They wonder if they’re making a difference, does anyone appreciate the work and attention to detail that goes into providing a quality item or completing a task. The intangible elements of the workplace may set the mood of the environment, the loyalty of the employees, and the overall success of producing high-quality items, completion of tasks, and meeting time constraints.
Companies don’t intentionally disengage their employees. However, much like a garden, if employees are not nurtured, they will not thrive. Companies with disengaged employees have lower productivity, more errors, and higher employee turnover. These companies lack stability, longevity, and commitment. In addition to this they bear the financial burden of high employee turnover and having to constantly hire and train new staff. So, it’s imperative that companies have employees who are engaged.
- Employees who are engaged in their work are happy, more productive, take pride in their work, and continually look for better ways to do their job
- The top employee retention drivers are about people; specifically, leaders, colleagues, and coworkers
- The key to employee engagement is good leadership
- Organizations with engaged employees have a 6% higher net profit margins than organizations with disengaged employees. These organizations also show five times higher shareholder returns over five years.
The methodology of Engaging Employees
Employees need tangible and non-tangible rewards in order to be enthusiastic, engaged, motivated, loyal, and connected. Pay raises and bonuses may be nice incentives but they’re not the key contributors. Non-tangibles play the most important role in employee motivation. Non-tangibles include empowerment, growth, inclusion, purpose, and trust. Non-tangible motivators result in engaged and happy employees.
Empowerment is acknowledging and releasing the power within each employee to do his or her best work, ownership, confidence, and value. It’s responsibility for achieving a goal, completing a project, and the autonomy to implement their own ideas.
Growth is allowing and encouraging employees to grow and develop their personal skills and talents. Encouraging them to share their ideas and participate in brainstorming activities. It’s inspiring them to want to continuously improve and develop.
Inclusion is allowing and encouraging employees to connect with others. To belong is a fundamental need. Whether as a family member, peer group, network, team, or in the workplace. It’s human nature to want to belong, be on the inside, and not be excluded or “not in the know.”
Purpose is why we are here and do what we do. People want to make a difference, know that what they do matters, and want recognition not only for their noteworthy successes but for their everyday quality work.
Trust is the foundation upon which all relationships are built. Employees need to feel their leader has confidence and faith in him or her to correctly do their job and do it well. Employees who feel trusted will do the right thing well, naturally want to do things better, and will strive to maintain their leader’s trust. Trust is the glue that holds it all together.
Empowering employees begins with the leader, but the leader must be credible and to do this the leader must earn the employees’ trust. A credible leader doesn’t have an ulterior motive, is someone who supports his or her employees, and encourages individuals to do his or her best work. Credible leaders lead by example and interact in ways that create an effective and efficient environment.
Organizations desire supervisors and managers with leadership ability because they believe leaders bring special assets to their company. Leadership can be viewed as a trait, behavior, information processing perspective, or a relational standpoint. Leaders who work their way up through a company may be the best leaders because they know what their followers are experiencing and what their obstacles, challenges, joys, and responsibility entails. You must have “walked the walk” in order to “talk the talk” if you want to be a respected, informed, and a great leader. However, some believe a great leader comes from the outside because they bring a new perspective and are not a part of the current culture; these leaders are typically leaders that are hired because change is needed.
Successful leaders tend to nurture their employees; this behavior in path-goal leadership is supportive. A supportive leader is friendly, approachable, fair, and respects their followers. Success may depend on how well a leader leads his or her followers through changes, challenges, the good, and the bad.
The steps below may assist in building the connection between an employee’s interest and the interest of the company:
- Help your employees move beyond the status quo by making the work challenging and fun. Most people want to do better and feel more capable. If leaders explain how an individual’s work adds value to the process, and how what they do may affect the work of others, employees will develop the desire to succeed.
- Set clear standards and goals so employees know what is expected of them. Involve employees in setting performance standards and goals so obstacles, fears, and challenges may be identified and addressed before they occur or hinder processes.
- Define the scope of accountability for each employee. If everyone is responsible, no one is accountable. The more explicit the accountability the greater the chance the employee will meet or exceed the expectation.
- Help your employees buy into successful change by presenting it as an opportunity and challenge. Get your employees' perspective on the change and ask for input on the process, evaluation, and goal. When employees truly “buy-in” they invest their abilities and energies to their full potential.
- Document what you and your employees agree on and give credit when it’s due. Employees who receive credit for their ideas, suggestions, and problem solving are more likely to give input.
- Know who your employees are; not just what they do at work. By getting to know them on a personal level and identify what matters to them you create a relationship with them that is unique to only you two. The employee feels like an individual rather than a number and this increases self-esteem and self-worth. When getting to know your employees don’t forget to tell them about yourself so they know you as more than just a boss.
- Use positive reinforcements to reward and recognize employees. At times you can use rewards as a motivator but don’t forget about unexpected recognition. Tangible rewards such as gift cards, raises, and promotions are appreciated but intangibles have a better and longer impact. A few examples of intangibles:
- Giving an employee more autonomy and responsibility lets them know you trust and respect them
- Showcase their success by asking them to speak at a meeting, write about their success in a newsletter, or present them with an award
- Show your appreciation by thanking them and showing interest in how or what they did; encourage continued success by asking what is next
If you have high expectations for your employees and they know what is expected of them, you must lead them to success. Motivating, inspiring, trusting, and sincerity will provide the foundation to everyone’s success. When the foundation is built, interpersonal needs are achieved or exceeded, which in turn affects the company’s overall performance.
Skills, talent, experience, or education may be the requirements for a leadership position, but by applying the ideas, strategies, and suggestions stated above a leader can become a motivating leader who leads engaged employees.
Engaged employees are more likely to wake up every morning and look forward to going to work. Regardless of where they work or what they do, they can use their strengths and make a difference. These engaged employees have a purpose in their workplace and a plan to achieve their goals. In many cases, these employees are engaged because they have a leader who is enthusiastic about the future, encourages their development, and cares about them as a person.
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