Disengaged Employees? Well, What Do You Expect?

By

Roshan Thiran

9th Jun 2017

7 min read

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A culture of love and compassion MAY be your best solution to eradicate disengaged employees

roshan.thiran@gmail.com
Did you know that only around half of employees have a clear idea of what they’re expected to do in their role? While people might look busy during working hours, are they being productive in line with their organisation’s goals, or are they just…busy? And are disengaged employees?

During the industrial revolution, when factories operated for 10 or more hours per day, busyness was the key metric of performance: people had a function to perform, and so long as they kept to the beat with their repetitive tasks, the factory was able to maximise its output and thus the owners were kept happy.

Fast forward a couple of centuries later, the world of business has seen and benefited from some extraordinary social and technological advances that has enabled industries to expand and grow, survive and thrive. However, when it comes to leadership, some remnants of the distant past remain present with us. How is it possible that 50% of workers can fail to have a strong sense of what an organisation has hired them to do?

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” —Henry David Thoreau

Sadly, this is a question for which the answer lies squarely at the feet of leaders. While some might suggest that employees should ask if they are unclear about what their role entails, it’s my belief that, in a strong organisation with effective leadership, employees shouldn’t need to ask: what’s expected of them is clearly set out and fully discussed.

In many cases, we leaders can get carried away with our visions – our castles in the sky. Make no mistake, visions are important: without an end goal in mind, there’d be little use for everything else.

That said, we can become so invested in the bigger picture that we neglect to look at the details that, if left untended, can be the difference between a crisp Caravaggio masterpiece and a chaotic Jackson Pollock expression. In other words, we can lose all sense of perspective and direction by failing to be balanced in our approach.

So how exactly do leaders end up with people who aren’t sure about their role? It has to do, mainly, with setting out expectations…which is to say that they’re sometimes not set out clearly, if at all.

Industrial leadership is uni-directional and one that delivers instructions on the assumption that they have been articulated clearly and, most importantly, understood by those on the receiving end.

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.” —Paulo Coelho

For today’s organisations, if they are to succeed and keep pace with increasing competition, the approach to leadership has to be one that seeks to have a continual dialogue with employees who are helping to shape the organisation’s success and drive it forward from strength-to-strength.

Clear communication and insightful dialogue are central to the lifeblood of a company that is to stand out and be a pioneer of its industry. But this is not just a two-way dialogue between the leader and the troops. It has to be a multi-dimensional dialogue between peers, subordinates and leadership.

To bring this vision about, leaders must engage and re-engage their workforce in a way that is meaningful to employees and let them know that their voices are being heard.

Every team member who comes through the door in the morning wants to make an impact each day through the contributions they make. In fact, Gallup research has found that when people feel that their needs are being met (i.e. they are being motivated, respected and valued) they are six times more engaged in their role compared to those who feel unsure and underappreciated in theirs.

community of love

That’s an incredible statistic, and it centres on leaders being clear about what they expect from each of their employees and for those employees to understand how their contributions add to the value of the organisation as well as benefit the clients and stakeholders it serves. This requires an organisation to be more like a community than a workplace.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” —Yogi Berra

If you’re in an organisation where a lot of people appear unsure of what they’re doing or where they’re headed, the remedy might simply be a case of the leaders within the organisation taking the time to invest in engagement: to find out people’s values and beliefs, explain clearly what’s expected of them, and be a part of a two-way conversation whenever it’s needed so that employees feel that they are heard and that they truly matter.

Of course, there’s also an added benefit in this for leaders: meaningful engagement often gives leaders the opportunity to learn as much from the people they lead as these people learn from them. These dialogues will help leaders to “build a community of love.”

Community of love

So, what is this community of love? In most organisations, love is a taboo word that should not be used in the workplace. Love removes disengagement. No one in love is disengaged.

The quotes below signify how powerful love and work can co-exist.

“One can live magnificently in this world if one knows how to work and how to love.” —Tolstoy

“Love and work… work and love, that’s all there is.” —Sigmund Freud

According to Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill, love is not often used in the workplace as most people mistake love for romantic love.

Love in the workplace is better termed “companionate love” which is love that is warm, affectionate and connecting rather than passionate and intense. According to their study, “employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.” They also tended to be present at work more often. Their study also concluded that “people who worked in a culture where they felt free to express affection, tenderness, care, and compassion for one another were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organisation, and accountable for their performance.”

So how do you build this community of love? At Leaderonomics, part of our vision is to enable all organisations to “build communities of love.”

We truly belief that when co-workers in an organisation truly care for each other, show affection and “companionate” love amongst each other and demonstrate compassion, grace and tenderness even in times of distress to each other, you will have a highly engaged organisation.

But how do you get there? I believe the leaders of the organisation have to set the tone. They have to start by showing ‘love’ amongst the senior leadership team.

This might interest you: Can You Really Power An Organisation With Love?

A number of years ago, I spoke at a conference and shared the stage with Patch Adams, the famous “love” doctor. Patch taught me the importance of personally ‘touching’ people on a one-on-one basis and the power it holds in building a community of love. It has to start with the most senior leaders.

Once they have engaged, they have to take the effort to reach out to engage and dialogue with line leaders and employees. The emotions expressed on a daily basis creates or breaks the community.

I recently learnt that leaders have between 15,000 to 20,000 touchpoints daily with their people. Their smile, laughter and greetings at each of these touchpoints are the basis for building or depleting this community of love.

Finally, leaders have to work hard to ensure employees start to embrace this community of love. Policies or culture may have to be amended to enable such a community to thrive.

Sometimes, our culture dictates productivity as its mantra. It may have to be amended to add new rituals that enable employees to show gratitude to each other, or be able to take some time to lend a sympathetic ear to each other, or even to rally behind a different team or division that may not be executing well.

community of love

Final thoughts

Building a community of love takes time and effort. In most organisations, the default mode is a community of fear (where no one dares to challenge status quo) or a community of indifference (where nobody cares or bothers) and disengaged employees.

A community of love is initially hard work for the leaders. But once it is set up, leaders can know that employees have their back and that the organisation is moving forward in a positive and caring manner, enabling no one to be left behind.

When you have employees who are fully engaged, you will start to see engaged customers and before long, your organisational goals will be achieved – and all this is done through love.

Let me end this article by asking you to ask yourself these seven questions which can help you kickstart your journey to building a community of love in your organisation:

1. When was the last time you did something unexpectedly nice for someone at work? Start doing it weekly if you can.

2. When was the last time you thanked or recognised someone for a particular special effort for the company?

3. How often do you meet on a one-on-one basis with different employees in the business? (not just your direct reports but employees across divisions and functions too!).

4. Who goes the extra mile routinely (for example working late or doing things technically not part of their job) that you take for granted? Are you personally thanking them and writing “love” notes to them?

5. What are the rituals you could regularly administer to enhance the feeling of “love” in your workplace or to build this community of love?

6. What are the actions that you can take to truly “love” your customers? (Not actions just for marketing reasons)

7. What can you personally do or change in your organisation to bring love, care and gratitude to the workplace?

Related article: Here’s To Road Trips, Great Colleagues, And The Opportunity To Share Ideas

Connect with Roshan on Facebook, LinkedIn or via Twitter for more insights into business, personal development, and leadership. Roshan is the CEO of Leaderonomics, a social enterprise democratising leadership for the poor and underprivileged. His passion is in growing and developing leaders in the hope that these leaders will build communities of love transforming the nation in the process. To invite Roshan to be a keynote speaker at your organisation, email roshan.thiran@leaderonomics.com

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