At the start of the new year, people who acknowledge the reality of their waistlines often start their list of New Year’s resolutions with a goal to exercise more. Similarly, many organizational leaders who acknowledge that the people in their organization are not as engaged as they would like, place increasing employee engagement at the top of their resolution list. Most of those disengaged people are not the worst performers, they simply lack energy, purpose, or passion. They put in their time, but not their best effort nor their best ideas. The challenge for organizational leaders is that, while they recognize the benefits of their resolution, they don’t always know how to foster the behaviors that change intentions to change into consistent habits that lead to increased energy and engagement.
What is Engagement?
People who want to do more exercise, and leaders who want to increase employee engagement, face similar challenges – their goal is easy to conceptualize, but difficult to pull off. For the goal of increasing employee engagement, the first challenge is getting people to agree on the definition and meaning of engagement.
The concept of engagement has its roots at the intersection of employee motivation, well-being, and performance. Nearly thirty years ago, William Kahn proposed a theory and definition of work engagement and disengagement that formed a foundation which is still in use today by both academic researchers and business consultants.
Based upon his observations of people at work, and their stories about their work experience, Kahn built his theory upon three core psychological states—meaningfulness, safety, and availability – and the energy that comes from people’s either positive or negative experiences, versus their expectations within those states:
- Meaningfulness is the sense of purpose that people find in performing their role.
- Safety (or psychological safety) comes from the belief that a person can be oneself at work without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.
- Last, availability is about having the physical, emotional, and psychological resources and motivation necessary for investing oneself in work roles and relationships.
Engagement, then, is the energy that comes from finding the meaning and purpose in one’s work that fosters an emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their relationships. They don’t work just for a pay check, or just for the next promotion, but they work on behalf of the goals of their team and team mates. The question this raises is, “how do I tap into that energy and increase engagement given all the other priorities and pressures I face every day?”
Keeping Your Resolution – Three Actions for Tomorrow Morning
- First, they ensure clarity of each team member’s purpose and position, and the alignment between the two.
- Second, they establish and reinforce healthy team norms – especially psychological safety and conversation equality.
- Last, they focus on relationships between teammates, across teams, and between them and their team members. Specifically, they seek to understand people’s expectations versus their actual experiences, and they work hard to consistently close any gaps.
Increasing Engagement (and Effectiveness) is a Habit
Purpose, norms, and relationships. Addressing those three elements will improve your team’s energy and engagement, and put ‘increasing team engagement’ in the New Year’s Resolutions success bucket. Sounds easy, and in some ways, it is. However, as a practicing team leader that puts increasing engagement on my resolution list every year, I can tell you that it takes patience and perseverance to develop the habits that lead to increased engagement. I can also promise you that the rewards of greater individual well-being and team effectiveness are well worth the effort.
Good luck with achieving your 2018 resolutions, and in developing engaged, highly-effective teams in the year ahead.
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Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33, 692-724. doi:10.2307/256287