managing uneven employee engagement (manufacturing happiness)
Without a certain level of commitment on the part of employees, businesses run into some very tangible problems, which soon show up in their profits.
This fear has gripped the imaginations of managers and policymakers in recent years, and not without reason.
Various studies of employee engagement have highlighted the economic costs of allowing workers to become mentally withdrawn from their jobs.
Gallup conducts frequent and wide-ranging studies in this area and has found that only 13% of the global workforce is properly “engaged,” while around 20% of employees in North America and Europe are “actively disengaged.”
They estimate that active disengagement costs the U.S. economy as much as $550 billion a year.
Disengagement is believed to manifest itself in absenteeism, sickness and—sometimes more problematic—presenteeism, in which employees come into the office purely to be physically present. A Canadian study suggests over a quarter of workplace absence is due to general burnout, rather than sickness.
This is about engaging employees … or maybe it is about activating disengaged employees … uhm … or maybe it is about making employees happy … or finding the unhappy employees and painting a smile on their face.
This is simply about managing an employee base.
Employee bases are inherently uneven. This drives management crazy. They want consistency and focused direction and dynamic purpose driven energy.
All the time.
Unfortunately … if you have any meaningful number of employees there will be unevenness.
Everything in Life & business has uneven features … I have written about uneven and brands as well as uneven and growing up:
Let me explain.
While we like to think of organizations as a ship sailing into a tumultuous sea … it is actually a fleet of smaller ships being pushed & shoved by tides and waves through storm & calm … all trying to go in one direction together <without crashing into each other>.
And each smaller ship has a captain and a crew <often skilled in managing that particular ship>.
Therein lies the biggest issue in employee engagement discussion.
As soon as someone speaks out about employee engagement, or disengagement, or ‘building a dynamic organization’ or even ‘motivating employees’ they inevitably suggest one big ship making progress in some direction. They are wrong.
While direction may be consistent the speed in which individuals, teams, departments is different. Some may be engaged and be as slow as snails and some may be engaged and faster than Usain Bolt.
The disengaged are still moving and, on occasion, can be compelled to move a little faster. And, on occasion, these same people and groups may seem to be disengaged … and yet they may only be recuperating <and, boy oh boy, a shitload of managers misread that scenario>.
All this unevenness, combined with the fact that everyone knows a happy employee base is a more productive employee base, means the business world has become quite creative <often in some very absurd ways> to manufacture synergy, happiness and engagement.
What may seem even more absurd? Manufacturing employee happiness has become a new profit center within a business.
Well. At least we are treating it like a business objective.
Even the research of happiness has become a business … but suffice it to say … research consistently states a happy employee base is a more productive employee base.
Once again we have dumbed down an issue to a point where we have lost sight of the real issue.
The real issue? Engagement versus happiness.
Business seems so focused on creating happiness … when it really seems like we should be seeking engagement <and they are different>.
By the way … one <me, you, any leader> can create engagement in a variety of ways not directly associated with happy … any passion – curiosity, interest, excitement, etc. – can create an engagement connection.
Simplistically … our objective isn’t to make employees happy … it is to make them care.
And how do you make them care? You show them they, and what they do, is valued and has value.
And once someone understands they have value and what they do has value?
They are happy. In other words. Happiness is a byproduct of value.
The difficulty is that managers enthusiastically promote happiness in a well intended, but blind attempt, to overcome the real employee value issues … basically ignoring the underlying root of the ‘they are not as happy as I want.’ <or … “dammit! … I need to make them happier so they can be more frickin’ productive !!”>
In addition <the first one> … because the efforts are misdirected, or misguided, the enthusiastic efforts typically exacerbate the root issues.
In addition <the second one>.
The enthusiastic ‘generate happiness’ efforts are grounded in a mish mash of psychology of motivation and engagement theory <depending on who is peddling what> but basically you may get threads of karma, sports, health & nutrition, how to have fun, tune in to tune out, lots of donuts, Buddhism, flow psychology with a good dose of The Secret.
In addition <the last one>.
In general all the enthusiastic efforts seem to assume there is one ideal way of Life <and people>. Someone wrote somewhere that the ‘ideal employee’ is hardworking, happy, healthy and with wealth.
The next issue, beyond assuming everyone has the same ‘ideal destination’, is that because motivation mumbo jumbo is so intangible all these enthusiastic efforts are next to impossible to measure.
We are in the midst of an outcome driven and measurable or ‘not measurable is a waste’ business generation. Everyday managers aspire to tangible … uhm … like attaching productivity … because that is what they get measured on and that is what makes them feel comfortable.
I chuckle as I write this … because all this mean is that management can go to some fairly absurd levels to actually measure happiness and engagement “productivity”.
I understand it is a weird spot this manufacturing happiness business is in … most managers, without any hard formula on how to generate happiness, are stuck with efforts and programs and initiatives which are implemented with the best of intentions but are assessed by “you know it when you see it” <that would also suggest a lack of objectivity>. And that is where engagement gets even trickier and harder <as if I haven’t made it sound horribly easy to do the wrong things> for most managers.
We know unhappy workers are unproductive workers. But it is actually not just about individuals but rather groups … and individuals.
Therefore managers have to learn how to talk to a combination of individual employees as well as cohorts of employees if they wanted to increase engagement and ultimately extract greater productivity from them.
They also have to understand the unique psychological properties of social groups to increase engagement … and how to incentivize happiness … and, unfortunately, that is clearly not as simple to break down to an individual incentive.
I say that because it is a business organizational behavior truth that a thriving, transparent and collaborative group identity can do far more for an employee’s happiness than almost anything else.
If you buy into that and agree the group or cohort drives happiness then you have to take a moment and think about this one guy, a business happiness guru named entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, who argues that the most successful businesses are those which deliberately and strategically nurture happiness throughout their organizations. He proposes that businesses should employ chief happiness officers to ensure that nobody escapes workplace happiness.
He also proposed firing the 10% unhappiest employees so that the remaining 90% will be freed up to be happy <and more productive>.
What a bunch of bullshit. And bad bullshit advice <give him a donut & ask him to leave>.
Let me be very clear.
I am not opposed to happy employees. I am a huge proponent of what other people call work-life balance … although I actually believe from a pragmatic business perspective it is actually assessing different types of work, work energy investment, work fatigue and recuperation.
I do recognize employee fatigue or stress and the corollary … recuperation.
And I do recognize we have been talking about this topic & concept for quite some time:
Hans Selye, an Austrian doctor, recognized that what engineers saw as “wear and tear” in, say, a bridge, was the same problem as what he had termed “General Adaptation Syndrome” in the human body. General Adaptation Syndrome was effectively an indicator of the “rate of wear and tear in the body.” In the aftermath of World War II, he re-christened the syndrome as “stress.”
I understand people wear out and they not only get physically fatigued they also get mentally fatigued. And I understand it must be methodically addressed.
What I am not a huge proponent of is manufacturing happiness or engagement and the corollary to the manufacturing attitude … tracking analyzing and monitoring happiness <like it is a production line>. In fact … I am not a proponent I think it’s bullshit.
This is the old late 1800’s science management style of worker performance <ergonomic fatigue studies> … just now being applied to happiness rather than labor efficiency.
We are trying to not only manufacture happiness but we are also trying to make the intangible tangible so that managers can assess effectiveness <and report it I assume>.
Anyway. I think manufacturing happiness is business bullshit. You want people engaged. You want people involved. You want people committed. And , yes, I understand that money plays a role but if people find value in what they do … and you show them you understand their value … money has a tendency to follow rather than drive terms in an engagement model.
While this may sound too philosophical for a business environment … the threads within the following philosophical resonate with creating an engaged employee base.
“People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction.
Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.”
In the end … employee engagement is not about happiness or manufacturing happiness … it is about finding self-value, team value and organizational value.
And sometimes it is about eliminating shit <mental and physical> to free up the attitude you desire.
All I can suggest is that when self-value, team value and organizational value are aligned then ignorance, selfishness and greed tend to be pushed off to the side and productivity increases <and everyone is happy>.
I am not suggesting this is easy … but it is the objective.
Employee Management Thoughts: