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Is engagement a personality trait? Are “positive” people always engaged and cynical people always disengaged? Can we just fire our grumpy employees and get on with hiring for traits like a positive mental attitude? Fortunately for our HR teams, there’s no need to clean house. Engagement is NOT a personality trait. It’s an ever-changing measure of the relationship between the employee and the organization and an extremely reliable reflection of the effectiveness of each supervisor.

The good news is that we’re finally to a point where companies recognize that there’s a difference between Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement. The vast majority of companies today are making some effort to MEASURE engagement, and are distributing the results to varying levels of the organization, often sharing team-level results with each work team.

Do The Work

Unfortunately, going through the motions of measuring engagement isn’t the same as doing the work of meeting employee needs and developing the levels of engagement that get noticed by team members, customers, and vendors. Think about it this way: it’s the difference between walking on a treadmill a couple days a week and hiring a trainer to push you to your next level of fitness. Working hard to achieve our goals bears no resemblance to going for an easy walk in the park (or on the treadmill).

What happens at work when we set goals like improving employee retention but don’t do the work of engaging our employees to address the core issues driving turnover? We’re seeing the results today… over half of the nation’s employees are looking for their next opportunity somewhere else. Breaks become more frequent, time is skimmed off both ends of the workday, and higher levels of employee churn begin to feel like the new normal.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If we as leaders focus on removing barriers to engagement, our employees are then free to focus on relationships with customers, innovations, and continuous improvements for the organization.

What do engaged employees look like?

Engaged employees can be found in companies everywhere. For profit, not for profit, academia, heavy industry, high tech, and everywhere in between. They spend their time thinking about potential solutions to the issues they see. They say things like “I’ll stay to finish this up.” and “It would be my pleasure.” They feel a connection to their organization and feel a sense of ownership and pride for the work they do.

In retail, an engaged employee walks you to the item you have inquired about while discussing the options you will find when you get there. They may further engage in conversation depending on the feedback they receive. These engaged employees ask

if there is anything else they can assist with. In other areas it may feel similar but the behaviors and conversations may vary. In food service they will individualize the service experience to customer desires at a glance. Engaged employees make an effort to pick up on cues to discern which customers are in a hurry or don’t want to be disturbed vs. the ones who have plenty of time and prefer an engaging conversation.

In business-to-business sales, engaged employees strive to build deep and broad relationships. They are focused on making a positive impact for their clients; on clearly understanding the communication preferences, specs, and expectations of each client they serve. They stay close to projects/products they have sold to ensure the client is getting what they want.

In contrast, disengaged employees may say things like “it’s over there”, “you will have to wait- I’m WITH a customer”, or may ignore customers altogether. In retail, they may favor gossiping with coworkers over serving customers or point customers in the general direction of the items they were asked to help locate. In food service, they are devoid of urgency, mix up orders, tarnish the brand, and fail to meet basic customer expectations. They may infuriate customers by wasting time.

Disengaged employees in business-to-business sales seem to be more like order takers. They make promises they don’t follow through on. They fail to communicate clearly with internal team members once a project or product is sold, and this failure often results in deliverables that don’t meet client specifications or needs.

When we keep in mind (and continually remind our executive teams) that engagement level is NOT a personality trait, it reminds us that it’s up to us as leaders to hold our organizations accountable for doing the work of building engagement.

Activate is here to help organizations do the work of engaging employees and customers. To learn more, contact Activate Human Capital Group at 530-713-6359 or here. Our team will help you navigate the murky waters of engagement starting today.



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