Participation, It’s Not The Same As Engagement

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Disengaged Employees

One of the hottest topics in Human Resources, Wellness and Employee Development is Engagement. It’s sounds like a nice word but why is it so important? We’ve all heard managers say, “I pay my employees to ‘do their job’. They’re not children so I shouldn’t have to ‘hold their hand’. As long as they show up and put in the hours what do I care?”

Well, as a manager you should care A LOT because it’s costing you tons of money and more! The current global workforce is said to be only 15% engaged (Gallup). In the US, it’s slightly better at 30% engaged. That means, in the US, 70% of the workforce is NOT engaged.

Why should managers care? Well, let’s say your organization has 100 employees but only 30 actually do any work. Would you be willing to pay 70 salaries for little to no contributions? Let’s re-state this… what if each of your 100 employees only did about 2 hours of “real” work per day. How would you feel about that? That’s what happens when people aren’t engaged.

For the Wellness Industry, or for those purchasing wellness products, a lot of emphasis is placed on participation. One reason is because we falsely assume if people are using the program then they’re engaged at work. For example, What percent of employees completed the Wellness Survey? What percent had the “voluntary” evaluation where if they didn’t they’d be fined? What percent committed to a 30-day “eat healthy” or “step” challenge?

Even when we see 80-90% participation in such programs our employees are still disengaged with their work. How can that be? We provided the programs and people did them. They must be engaged if they’re doing the programs, right? WRONG.

Participating in programs and activities at work is completely different than being passionate, excited, deeply interested and engrossed in your work. When a person is fully committed to their job and the organization at an intellectual and more importantly, an emotional level, THAT is engaged.

Emotionally committed, at work? This is business, not a relationship. WRONG, again. If you’re a member of the human species then you’re emotional. If you’re working with other people then you’re in a relationship too. It’s obviously not romantic but it is most certainly emotional. Emotions are what drive our behavior more than anything else. The behavior here is engagement or lack thereof due to unhealthy or not-so-great relationships.

As a manager, the more you can do to connect, as a person, with your employees, the stronger your relationships will become and the more emotionally invested you ALL will be. By strengthening your relationships you’ll be showing your employees that you really do care about them and value who they are and what they contribute to the overall effort.

Afterall, they’re your employee and a big part of why they were hired is because there was some kind of subconscious (or conscious) bonding happening during the interview process. So, now it’s time to nurture that relationship because like exercise, if you don’t practice it often you’ll lose it. And then not only will you have an engagement issue but also a retention problem too.

People have a basic need to feel loved and like they belong. If we don’t feel heard or valued then we don’t feel loved. And if someone doesn’t feel loved then why would they ever extend themselves and become passionate and committed to the cause much less truly emotionally invested in their job or the organization. By holding back they’re also protecting themselves from pain…. it’s not physical pain, it’s emotional. When a manager doesn’t value his/her employee it hurts them and it’s real and it’ll show in their behavior.

The next time you’re thinking about your workforce and why they’re not engaged even though they show up, participate in happy hours, birthday celebrations, surveys and challenges, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself how well connected you and your staff really are, as people first.

A little bit of sincere interest in others and sharing who you are can go a long way in helping people engage. Heck, if you’re company truly values its employees and they feel it you can probably even reduce salaries by 10-15% because more often than not a person will forego money for happiness… and they’ll work harder too! Imagine that!

– Kevin

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