They want to be engaged. Yes, there has been a change in what people demand from work – involvement, participation, meaning and engagement. Organizations and individuals search madly for the next engagement trend or the ideal engagement ‘program’ for employees, but perhaps the key is more simple. Perhaps we need to look across a broader set of contexts to find some engagement approaches that are simple to conceptualize, but perhaps difficult to do. We need to look at concepts that come out of an understanding of what all human relationships require.
There are a host of these that I find fascinating and useful to apply – things like asking questions to understand others before we judge, like taking the time to know people as opposed to relying on our leadership positions to bring about buy-in and influence.
One in particular that I find very enlightening is the idea of real, honest recognition – and I don’t mean gift certificates, bonus programs or formal rewards. We need to rethink this idea and start doing things like what I call, catching people doing something good.
Our natural tendency across most human relationships is to notice problems, mistakes and foibles and to intervene accordingly – to ‘catch’ them doing something wrong. We do this not because we are mean or negative, but just because we default to “leave well enough alone” unless something goes wrong. But what would happen if we caught people doing something right?
When asked to provide feedback about work supervision, many employees today feel that they can do one hundred things well and they hear very little from their boss. But when they mess up, they certainly do hear about it. Managers do not seem to focus enough time, effort or attention on what employees do well, largely because people seem to feel that success requires no action on their part, but that mistakes do.
This is the road to non-engagement. We know that one of the things that provides engagement for people at work is meaning. We also know that, among other things, real recognition – high touch, human recognition – can drive the perception of meaningfulness. Of course, this is true across all human relationships – home, family, work, etc.
In story after story, I hear of star employees whose managers consistently postpone any feedback discussions because the employee “knows they’re amazing – after all, no news is good news”. After a while though, employees may begin to feel as if they are taken for granted and not appreciated. On top of that, I typically see that those employees with more issues are given extra training, tons of face time and numerous discussions with the boss to discuss developmental plans and the like. Meanwhile, the star gets ‘rewarded’ with more work.
One thing I also see, especially among younger employees, is a strong need to bring who we are to work. There is a realization among these employees that work is a crucial context for learning, networks and meaning. Paying attention primarily when things go wrong just will not cut it for this generation. Without that humanness, recognition and meaning, we cannot get the contributions we need.
What seems to be the real tragedy in these situations, is that the concept is quite simple and acceptable to those who get it – be just as outwardly happy when things go well as you are outwardly angry, annoyed, and disappointed when things go poorly. In my experience, merely explaining this concept to most managers really helps. As well, some managers find that purposefully setting time for the purpose of noticing contributions, efforts, etc., can be a simple way to manage this as can structuring formal feedback in a way that includes all kinds.