Home Management Engaging the Whole Employee

Engaging the Whole Employee

by Guest Writter
Bob Kelleher, Author, I-ENGAGE, Your Personal Engagement Roadmap

During the past decade, organizations have increasingly embraced employee engagement as a way to attract and retain the best employees – knowing that a culture of engagement will better position them to capture employees’ discretionary effort (and help the bottom line).

That all sounds good, but it’s more talk than action. Despite some gains in boosting employee engagement in North America, a recent Gallup released study from January 2016 places employee disengagement at a whopping 68 percent. That means only 32 percent of people are engaged. Even the purported “best places to work”––Google, Intuit, Salesforce––don’t have anything close to 100 percent engaged employees. The question is why.

Engagement is an important part of a company’s culture and health and is in fact, also good for the overall economy as it benefits society and the individual. Most companies’ engagement efforts, though, are focused on the workplace, not the whole person. That is a problem, and it’s going to take a significant shift on the part of both individuals and companies to solve it.

Focusing on the I

At work, your level of engagement is dependent on a variety of factors including your confidence in senior leadership (and in particular, your supervisor), your connection to the company’s overall mission, your salary and benefits, your coworkers and the corporate culture. Although technology makes it increasingly difficult, it is possible to leave these things at the office at the end of the day.

What isn’t possible is to leave what happens at home at home. That includes your health and wellbeing and that of your children, or partner, or parents; your relationships with these important people and other non-work friends; your personal values and intrinsic motivators; and any personal stress over your financial wellbeing. These deeply personal factors, as well as fixed traits about you such as your age, ethnicity, and gender identity, are cornerstones of your life, and they may be affecting your overall engagement as much as the work-only factors.

The prevalent misconception is that work/life balance means “work is bad and life is good.” If that’s true, what a miserable way to spend adulthood. It’s time for individuals to take a holistic look at what they’re bringing to their jobs, and for companies to do a better job of considering the whole employee as part of their engagement efforts.

Getting Personal

There is a diverse group of under-engaged folks out there, whether they’re slogging away in jobs they dislike or just entering the marketplace and unsure what compromises are appropriate. Some may be staying in disengaging positions out of fear or pessimism; some may be actively looking for a new job and not finding one because their attitudes don’t appeal to hiring managers. Or some might simply lack the skills the marketplace now demands.

How can we empower this diverse group of employees to take control of their own engagement? It starts with acknowledging that our engagement at work often begins with the state of our personal lives. If your partner is battling an illness or your child is struggling in school or your elderly parent is moving into assisted care, these worries are going to erode your engagement at work. That’s the case even if you love your job.

This in turn can create worries that you’re not performing well, or that you won’t get that raise or that promotion because you’ve flat-lined at work. A situation like this requires two-way communication. Employees with significant engagement challenges outside of work need to make their managers aware of their circumstances, and work with them to make appropriate adjustments in tasks and/or expectations. Conversely, managers have a responsibility to create an atmosphere of empathy and trust in order for employees to feel comfortable approaching them. Based on my experience, the smaller the employer, the greater the impact an empathetic CEO or President can have on creating a culture of empathy and care.  That said, there are many large organizations that have a history of respecting healthy work life balance practices such as Colgate-Palmolive, Wagmans, Johnson and Johnson, and Prudential.

The only way to get that meager 32 percent engagement rate up is to give people the tools to move away from any apathy or helplessness they may be feeling, while arming managers with more insight into their people.

One simple ideas is to move away from the dreaded and dated annual review process and replace it with frequent ‘check-in’s – thus building more frequent opportunities for managers and employees alike to get to know one another at a higher level.  I also suggest using these meetings to ask ‘stay interview’ questions to gauge an employee’s current state.  Too few organizations wait until somewhat departs before asking what we could have done differently.  Don’t wait until they quit.  Proactively ask your employees what they think, what would make them leave, and how you can make their job more enjoyable.  After all, if you’ve only been managing 50 percent of the person, there’s got to be room for improvement. It’s about increasing the degree of freedom that individuals have in the totality of their lives, while boosting the importance of leaders to exhibit empathy and trust in their leadership. Disengagement is a constraint; it’s time to figure out how to loosen its grip. Although encouraging a healthy work life balance is important, it is also is increasingly important for managers to better understand what happened during the ‘life’ part that might negatively impact the WHOLE employee.


About the Author

Bob Kelleher is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and consultant and travels the globe sharing his insights on employee engagement, leadership, and workforce trends. Bob is the author of the best selling book, LOUDER THAN WORDS: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results,  CREATIVESHIP, A Novel for Evolving Leaders, EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT for Dummies, and the just released I-ENGAGE, Your Personal Engagement Roadmap.  Bob can be seen or heard on national media (most recently on CNBC, CBS, NBC News, Business Week, Forbes, and Fortune), and is a frequent guest writer and contributing editor on many national publications.  Bob has presented to the leadership teams of many of the world’s top companies is also is a frequent conference keynote speaker. 

Bob is also the founder and president of The Employee Engagement Group, a global consulting firm that works with leadership teams to enhance their leadership and employee engagement effectiveness.

Kelleher can be reached at rkelleher@employeeengagement.com. For more information, visit employeeengagement.com.

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