You might not know it, but there’s a crisis in the cubicles.
On average, only about 33 percent of workers nationwide report feeling engaged in their work. And common efforts by managers and HR professionals to motivate tuned-out employees are falling up short.
Maybe it’s because they’ve been trying to solve the wrong problems, says Jamie Notter, co-author of the new book, “The Non-Obvious Guide To Employee Engagement (For Millennials, Boomers And Everyone Else).”
“Our engagement efforts focus on making employees happy and satisfied at work,” Notter said in an interview with WashingtonExec. “While there is nothing wrong with that, it is very different than engagement and is not really the cause. The cause of engagement is being successful at work. If we refocused our efforts to find and fix the ways our organizations get in the way of success, engagement would go up significantly.”
Key to upping those engagement scores is rethinking your workplace culture.
Many organizations are simply ignoring how their company’s longstanding practices may be getting in the way of employees feeling fulfilled on the job, Notter says.
“Traditional management takes a very engineering-based approach (rather than a human one), so it’s no surprise we have low engagement,” he says.
Notter’s book is aimed at helping organizations identify patterns in their workplace cultures that can either drive or mess with success and then offers tips for reinforcing or fixing those practices as needed.
The book is written in playbook style giving managers helpful steps to follow and also offers case studies of organizations that have successfully shifted their cultures.
For example, QLI, a healthcare company in Omaha, Nebraska found success with a “flexible and fluid hierarchy” in which the person who knows the most about a patient’s needs is responsible for driving internal company conversations — regardless of that person’s position.
Another organization, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, a small nonprofit in Chicago, completely redesigned its office space, choosing an open design, without individual offices, where the CEO and other senior managers worked from desks in an open space.
“They didn’t choose this because they thought open offices were the next big thing,” Notter says. “They did it because they asked their employees what would make them more successful, and one of the biggest issues was having instant access to senior leaders.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution or magic button for boosting employee engagement. It all comes down to what makes the most sense for your organization, Notter says.
“One of the first key steps is to figure out what drives your success, and then make interventions in your culture around that,” he says.
Notter, who previously wrote about how the influx of millennials has changed company cultures (“When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business”) has been studying employee engagement and workplace cultures for the last decade. Overall, workplaces are changing with the times, becoming more digital, more transparent, more fluid and flexible, and faster-paced, he says.
And it turns out there are particular reasons why millennials are at risk for feeling disengaged from their work.
“The biggest shift that managers need to make when managing millennials is being able to explain ‘why,’” Notter says. “Millennials are used to seeing everything — transparency is built into the internet that they grew up with.”
Older generations grew up in a very different world, Notter says, one where they didn’t question authority as much and didn’t expect to know all the behind-the-scenes information behind an organization’s decision-making.
“So as managers, they are not very good at explaining ‘why’ things are the way they are,” Notter says. “But if we as managers could become better at explaining that, the millennials would likely become much more engaged.”