leadership

Why people are not engaged at work and what you can do about it

Karen Morley /

Much of how we see our success as individuals is tied to our everyday experiences of our work. On a daily basis, we make judgments about how important our work is, and how much effort we will put in to it. We decide whether we like the people we work with and whether our bosses are competent.

If people don’t feel their work is valued, if they don’t feel pride or happiness in their work, then they will disengage. Gallup’s analytics show that less than a third of the workforce is engaged. About one quarter are actively disengaged. Only 14% of Australian and New Zealand employees show up to work each day excited about their work.

The main reasons why people are not engaged are:

  • Lack of feedback about their progress;
  • Too much emphasis on setbacks, failures and bad news;
  • Unclear goals, conflicting demands and insufficient resources;
  • Little autonomy or opportunity to contribute ideas; and
  • Lack of encouragement.

Even super smart people and top performers don’t engage as much as they could if they don’t have the support of their leaders. Employee satisfaction and perceptions of their organisations, their leaders and their colleagues matter. When people are motivated and engaged they are more productive and have a more positive outlook.

Here’s what you can do to increase engagement:

  • Focus on progress

As a part of any work, it’s important that you provide feedback, that you notice the efforts and results of your team’s work. How do they know they’re making progress? What feedback do you give them on their progress? How often? How good are you at noticing and celebrating their progress?

Bad is stronger than good; the power of the negative far outweighs that of the positive. The power of setbacks to increase frustration is more than three times as strong as the power of progress to decrease frustration. Do you notice when your team members experience that sense of a setback and take action to help them to recover from it?

  • Provide clarity and structure

Unclear goals, too much control and insufficient resources are disengaging. If leaders remove these barriers, people’s own intrinsic motivation will get the job done.

People need:

  1. Clear and meaningful goals;
  2. Autonomy;
  3. Sufficient resources;
  4. Enough (but not too much) time to get work done;
  5. Help from others;
  6. Learning from problems and successes; and
  7. The ability to allow ideas to flow.

There are three main ways for you to provide clarity and structure. First, you can show good consideration for people and their ideas. You can also make sure systems and procedures are well coordinated and, thirdly, you can ensure clear, honest, respectful and free-flowing communication occurs.

While the overall organisational climate also has an impact, by far the strongest influence is the direct relationship of team members with their line manager.

  • Encourage and support others

People need to be encouraged and supported at work. Show them respect, provide emotional support and establish warm and friendly relationships. Help people to resolve interpersonal conflict. Provide opportunities for people to know each other better and to celebrate and have fun. These all nourish the human connection.

Leaders who create supportive and positive connections engage and empower their teams. The best team leaders contribute about 48% higher profitability than average managers do. They do that by creating a high development experience for their team.

The more people experience their leader as caring and supportive, the deeper the trust. When people perceive their leaders to be authentically benevolent, they trust more and are more highly engaged. They work harder, longer and are more likely to go above and beyond what’s required.

NOW READ: Employee engagement is a choice

NOW READ: Where are all the highly engaged employees?

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Karen Morley

Dr Karen Morley is author of Lead Like a Coach. She helps leaders to grow their coaching capability.

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