The Half-Truth of Employee Engagement
By: David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

Recently I have been thinking about how growth and professional development influence employee engagement. Clearly, employee engagement is a critical issue since less than a third of our employees are engaged in their jobs. Years ago, we would have encouraged managers to look at empowerment as a method of engaging employees., however when I did my research regarding employee engagement, the top driver is the relationship between bosses or senior leaders and the employee. Although that is what my research found, I don’t think I agree with that. I believe growth is the real key to driving employee engagement. Let me explain why.

When I would teach about empowerment, I would ask the students to think of a time when they couldn’t wait to go to work. Without hesitation, they would recall a day when a new machine, project, or opportunity was being presented. When I would ask about a day when they dreaded to go into work, it was a day when they had to deal with an employee that needed to be dismissed or meetings about projects that were failing. We would then discuss the drivers behind feelings of empowerment; progress and control. The feelings of positive progress and situational control make us feel good about going to work, whereas the negative feelings of difficult situations or lack of control make us dread going to work.

As I noted above, the research on employee engagement states the number one key is the employee’s relationship with their boss or senior management. But what in the relationship will truly drive engagement? Sure, we all want to have a boss we like being around. A boss who is fun and compliments us, but is that what we really want and need? I recall a time in my career when I had a boss that I really liked. A job that was fun, in an industry that was exciting, but something was missing. I wasn’t sure what, I just knew something was missing. I went to my boss and asked how I was doing. He replied “You’re doing great. Keep it up.” When I asked for more details, he admitted that he really didn’t know what I was supposed to do but added that things were going well so “keep it up.” I didn’t feel any better about my job. I liked my boss, we had a good relationship, but something was still missing.

I believe the key, the missing piece to the puzzle, is growth. When we are growing, we feel empowered. When we have a boss that takes an interest in us, in who we are, and helps us develop our growth plan, we are engaged. We wake up in the morning wanting to go to work to contribute to the team. I believe employees who are following a professional growth plan are more engaged and more productive.

Please join Marisa and me on The Next Page podcast as we discuss ways to get teams growing and ultimately more engaged.

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