I recently spent time studying what a medium-sized bank was doing to engage their employees. I found a lot of interesting ideas, most of which kept a comfortable gap between the managers and those they were given to lead.
Delegating things like team dinners or bowling out to other employees, managers spent an incredible amount of time avoiding the people with whom they were supposed to engage.
According to the recent book Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times, authors Leigh Branham and Mark Hirschfeld say:
A story begins to emerge from these comments about what Best-Places-To-Work employers are doing to create winning workplaces—they are about creating a sense of family, building personal connections between the senior leadership and employees, and eliciting the feeling that you’re part of something special in which you have a significant measure of influence.
Re-read that paragraph one more time, if you don’t mind. There is not one sentence about creating activities that include free popcorn or casual day. It doesn’t start with a roving trophy or a star that can be pinned on the outside of a cubicle.
The engagement begins by creating connection between human beings, particularly between senior leadership and employees. In fact, additional studies in this book reveal that the more distanced employees become from their senior executives the greater their disengagement.
In business, we have the Tooth Fairy of engagement. We plop dollars under pillows in the form of ice cream socials. Then we wonder why people don’t stay engaged. Engagement comes from working with people with whom you feel a connection, of working for leaders you are proud of, and from doing work that makes a difference in the world.
Senior executives need to spend less time looking for cheap rewards and more time looking for ways to constantly connect with employees around them. Managers need to look for ways to communicate daily rather than scheduling more quarterly meetings.
Leaders need to recognize that their job is to engage and re-engage those that work for them. And that effort requires their energy and a connection that goes beyond a dollar under the pillow.