When statistics come out showing low levels of employee engagement across the world it can be all too tempting to pick on a single cause. Is it the fault of the leader, the company, the culture, the country, the employee mix, the industry; or is low employee engagement simply down to a lack of ball pools and table tennis tables in company foyers.
Well apart from ball pools and table tennis tables the answer could be all, some or none of the above. And that’s the problem because you could have any one or more of a number of reasons which confuse the engagement picture. Quite simply, employee engagement isn’t a one size fits all solution and every organisation, and every department or division within the organisation needs to adopt a set of engagement methodologies which are right for their own people.
Of course, the statistics don’t help. A survey released at the beginning of this month revealed that the UK is fourth on the world’s good country index mainly thanks to its contribution towards science and technology and its global contribution towards health and well-being. But this report was released within days of another which indicated that the UK’s workforce has more sick days than any other European country and twice as many as the US.
How can we rank so highly in our contribution to global health and well-being and yet so poorly in the number of absence days taken? Well in truth these statistics do look at two completely different areas but it is an illustration of the fact that there is no single answer when looking towards employee engagement and that instead we have to look at underlying factors.
For example, the culture of the organisation may be strongly biased towards good employee engagement and yet one department may be failing due to a problem in leadership. On the other hand a new product line or merger may be causing tensions where none existed before, particularly if communication failures are leading to misunderstandings.
This is where self managed engagement programs can really come into their own. Who knows engagement levels better than the employees themselves? And when things start to go wrong who notices it first, those who are immediately affected or leaders who may rely on annual reviews or formal feedback reports. Whatever the underlying cause or causes of employee engagement failure; at heart it represents a breakdown of the personal relationship which people have with the organisation, its strategy and values. Putting people in charge of their own engagement means that they drive the agenda and they can become the masters not only of their own destiny but of the future of the organisation.
Yes the leadership does have a part to play in building engagement. We hope that for most organisations it wouldn’t be at the ‘hands off’ level exhibited by Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley who when quizzed by a Parliamentary Select Committee recently on the subject of employee engagement said “I’m told we have a process in place, but there would be no point in me reading a report I wouldn’t understand.”
But perhaps even here the benefit of self managed engagement plans would shine through. Rather along the lines of ‘physician heal thyself,’ when employees are able to assess, manage and build their own engagement plans even if the management aren’t engaged as they should be with the workers, at least the workers can be engaged with the organisation.
Why do we have so many sick days? Some say it’s a symptom of employee disengagement. Maybe if we trusted our people more and gave them more control over their own destiny sickness levels could fall, innovation could rise and we could lead the world in so many other ways including employee engagement.